March 1, 2018 10:52:05 AM
A planned event this evening featuring a pro-choice speaker at Mississippi State University is causing a stir with some on-campus groups.
The MSU Gender Studies program is hosting Willie Parker, whose website describes him as "an OB/GYN specializing in abortions and a reproductive justice advocate" at 6 p.m. in the Old Main Auditorium. Parker is scheduled to give a talk titled "Abortion and the Christian Case for Choice."
Parker, also according to his website, provides abortion care for women in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Illinois and Pennsylvania, and is the former medical director of Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington, D.C. He's also the physician plaintiff in a federal lawsuit which, in March 2017, saw a federal judge rule against a state law that would have closed Mississippi's lone abortion clinic. The case is currently awaiting a decision on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will hear it.
Parker's speaking event has caused concern among some groups, such as Students for Life and the MSU Catholic Campus Ministry.
John McGinley, with the Catholic Campus Ministry, said the group is concerned because the speaker directly opposes the core values of their beliefs--specifically that all human life, starting from conception, is sacred and needs to be valued and protected.
"The Catholic Church sees all unborn children as innocent lives that are to be defended -- abortion is directly opposed to this teaching," said McGinley, who is also a research engineer with MSU's Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems and a deacon with St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville. "While we value discourse with those who hold other beliefs, this particular topic does not have any wiggle room for us. We view abortion as murder of innocent lives. Our students have been very concerned that Dr. Parker would claim to be able to defend his stance using Christian values."
Parker, speaking to The Dispatch, said he will talk about how, in his view, it is possible to argue in favor of abortions from a Christian perspective. He noted that he doesn't believe there's one sole Christian viewpoint that any person or group can claim.
"I'd never make the case that I can make the singular Christian argument, but I can make a logical and coherent case for why I, as a Christian, do abortions," he said. "There's nothing mutually exclusive about being a Christian and doing or having abortions.
"If you say your beliefs prevent you from doing something, that's when religion is good," he later added. "But when you say your religious beliefs prevent me from doing something, when I may not even hold your beliefs, that's when religion becomes a problem."
Parker said he is accustomed to his talks generating concern among pro-life groups, though he said he is disappointed to see university groups presenting opposition.
"As organizations on an academic and university campus, I'm a little disenchanted that they would object to the very notion that other people have the right to be exposed to ideas and beliefs that maybe they don't personally agree with," Parker said.
Vigil today, pro-life event next week
McGinley said the Catholic Campus Ministry is not "planning, hosting, or engaging in" any protests. However, the Catholic Campus Ministry and Students for life are co-hosting a prayer vigil at the Chapel of Memories from 3:45-4:30 p.m.
"The vigil at the Chapel of Memories is a time of prayer for the innocent lives in danger of being aborted, for the mothers of those children, and for the conversion of the hearts of all those who practice, perform, encourage and support abortion," McGinley said. "Rather than react to events like the Dr. Parker presentation, our Catholic Campus Ministry tries to live out a 'culture of life' year-round. We will respond to this event through prayer and discussion."
Both the Catholic Campus Ministry and Students for Life have partnered to bring Christine Bennett, a pro-life advocate from Connecticut, to MSU at 4 p.m. Tuesday. McGinley said Students for Life organized the event in response to the Parker presentation and invited Catholic Campus Ministries to partner with them through promoting and supporting it.
The Dispatch could not get comments from Students for Life or Gender Studies Program representatives by press time Thursday.
MSU issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in response to the stir the dueling events have caused.
University President Mark Keenum said he's aware that some people may have concerns about Parker speaking at the event. However, he said the overall lineup, which includes Bennett's pro-life talk next week is, on the whole, balanced.
"While some may view this program as objectionable, other members of our campus community would argue that in support of academic freedom, differing opinions on topics of national debate should be heard," Keenum said in a prepared statement. "I believe an objective look at the overall lineup of speakers and events at MSU would be judged fair and balanced with regard to the pro-choice, pro-life debate."
Keenum also noted that the university is supporting the Students for Life and Catholic Campus Ministry efforts for next week's program.
MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said both programs are being treated equally.
"The programs will be held in the same venue and presented in the same way," Salter said. "They will get the same amount of university resources in terms of security, transportation and whatever else is necessary."
Keenum, in his statement, also says the visits from neither Parker nor Bennett are being funded with the use of taxpayer dollars.
Salter said, and McGinley confirmed, that the Students for Life is funding the Bennett event.
A flier for the Parker event notes that it's sponsored by Gender Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Provost, the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center, African American Students, the Department of Sociology-Race in America Lecture Series, the Presidents Commission on the Status of Women and the President's Commission on the Status of Minorities.
Salter said the university is not using state-appropriated money to put on the event.
"There are various private funds that exist that our university has access to and controls," he said. "The allegation that has been out there on social media is that we were using taxpayer state-appropriated funds. That's not the case."
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