Understanding the setting
Planned Parenthood presentation was run appropriately
Published: Sunday, November 24, 2013
Updated: Sunday, November 24, 2013 20:11
On Nov. 20, the College Democrats brought a Planned Parenthood representative to UB for an information session. The event was open to the public and would include a presentation on the organization’s local chapters and its services. Never was the event advertized as an open discussion; it was a speaker event organized by a Student Association club.
When members of Students for Life, an anti-abortion club, showed up to the event, they were acting well within their rights to be there. And the College Democrats were also acting well within their rights by ascribing a set of rules and regulations that attendees would have to comply with to attend the lecture.
That stipulation, however, is something that Students for Life members either don’t understand or are unwilling to accept because they would rather inflame a reaction in order to direct attention toward themselves. Their response has been to voice claims that are built on a specious storyline.
They say that the event was “censored” and was a blatant breach of the very values the club maintains it promotes. They take issue with how Quinne Sember, president of College Democrats, enforced a series of rules for the presentation, and that she specifically selected the questions that were addressed, leaving no room for dissenting opinions.
In a letter to the editor submitted to The Spectrum by Students for Life member Anne Mulrooney, she wrote, “Besides being a violation of the attending students’ civil liberties, these offenses were shockingly undemocratic … The forbidding and censorship of honest questions is the prerogative of dictatorship, not democracy.”
This narrative ignores several realities important in assessing this situation. Requiring that attendees follow a set of rules at a speaker event is certainly no violation of students’ “civil liberties.” In the Distinguished Speakers Series that the university runs – which hosted Hillary Clinton in October – they organize the event, set rules and determine which questions to ask. As an event that the university organizes, they are entitled to run it however they see fit.
Wednesday’s speaking event hosted by the College Democrats is no different. When an SA club brings a representative of a non-profit, private organization on campus to inform community members of its services, the club is under no obligation to respect the requests made by non-members. It is non-members’ choice of whether they want to attend to event, and if they choose to do so, that choice entails compliance with the rules that have been put in place.
And Students for Life members are confused if they are comparing an SA club to either a dictatorship or democracy. It is this type of jargon that exposes the delusions of grandeur embedded into the narrative that Students for Life has tried to propagate.
Mulrooney indicated that the College Democrats’ refusal to allow her group’s questions to be addressed is an evasion of the tough issues that Sember’s club chooses to ignore.
“I wanted to know how abortion could make up only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services while earning them over $150 million in revenue (according to their own publicized statistics),” Mulrooney wrote.
The dubious insinuation that those findings don’t add up was certainly not in line with the event’s intention of allowing attendees the opportunity to learn about Planned Parenthood’s services outside of abortion, as that is only one of the many services it provides. It should also be noted that the statistic of abortions representing 3 percent of the organization’s total services (and roughly 10 percent of its clients receiving abortion treatment) is supported by the Annenburg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and various other bipartisan think tanks.
But this allegation also demonstrates Students for Life members’ desire to change the subject of the information session in order to address their political concerns, when the intention of the event was to address practical concerns regarding care available at Planned Parenthood’s local health centers.
Sember’s action of enforcing a set of rules was recommended by both University Police (UPD) and Student Life – as the university has a history of abortion-issue-related events escalating. Wednesday’s event ran the risk of being another inflammatory episode on campus.
Sember ran an event in collaboration with UPD and Student Life and violated no one’s civil liberties. Mulrooney’s account of saying “no one could freely distribute any kind of literature” is simply untrue. People were allowed to do whatever they wanted outside the room – distribute literature, hold signs, take pictures, etc.
At the time of the event, the room 250 SU was registered to the College Democrats. This was not a public forum and was not a governmental proceeding – so whether the event was run “democratically” is completely irrelevant.
And the notion that this event indicates that College Democrats are not open to debate and discussion is misleading – as this was clearly a speaker event and not an open forum. The club, just like the College Republicans, holds a weekly meeting that is discussion-based and open to everyone with any sort of opinion.
If members of Students for Life are so concerned with facilitating an environment conducive to healthy discussion on public policy matters, they should start to recognize what and where are the appropriate outlets to do so.