Brown Awards “Doctor of Humane Letters” to Extreme Abortionist

by Andrew E. Kurtzman on May 25, 2010

Perhaps someone on Brown’s honorary degree committee has a keen sense of ironic humor. Though I suspect most would not find much to laugh about.

During commencement ceremonies this weekend, Cecile Richards (Brown ‘80), president of Planned Parenthood, is to receive an honorary degree: Doctor of Humane Letters.

It is one thing to consider abortion an acceptable (though unfortunate, i.e. “safe, legal, and rare”) medical service; quite another to consider its provision an act of the highest human morality. Among the other recipients of this award in 2010 is Nelson Mandela — a man whose great accomplishments are now placed at moral equivalency with those of Mrs. Richards.

Why is Planned Parenthood controversial, even among many who accept abortion in principle? After all, the organization does a great deal of health counseling and other genuinely helpful work. The answer lies in its history: Planned Parenthood was founded by eugenicists for the express purpose of limiting the growth of “undesirable” minority populations. (Cf: Sanger, Margaret.) Indeed, while more subtle in modern times, over 40% of abortions today are performed on black women — an over-representation of nearly 400%. The organization serves primarily in poorer communities, heavily biasing the demographics of the clientèle served. And, while clearly an exceptional case (though not out of line with the above), a recent sting operation found a number of Planned Parenthood clinics eagerly willing to accept donations earmarked specifically for abortion procedures for black mothers. (Not to mention illegally covering up cases of statutory rape.) So extreme is Planned Parenthood in its advocacy of abortion that it opposed legislation in Illinois designed to protect babies “born alive” following botched abortion procedures, and has admitted to a policy of “negligent homicide” in these cases elsewhere.

But the situation regarding Cecile Richards is actually more complex. Mrs. Richards is not simply the president of Planned Parenthood. She has in fact been championing the most extreme causes on her side of the spectrum for her entire career. She she spent the 1990’s attacking religious groups in Texas (some admittedly deserving of criticism, though many far from it), and serving as a labor activist for the most forceful and politicized labor unions, such as the SEIU (of which her husband is a high ranking director). In 2004, she presided over the “Get Out the Vote” efforts of ACORN, MoveOn.org, and an assortment of large labor unions, under the auspices of her umbrella organization “America Votes.” And she was deputy chief of staff to (of course) Nancy Pelosi.

My point in saying all of this is simply that one would be hard-pressed to find a more intensely partisan individual than Mrs. Richards, or a more controversial organization than Planned Parenthood. Brown has given its highest endorsement to the left-wing equivalent of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Declaring America’s foremost abortionist to be a “doctor of humane letters” is a political statement of unprecedented magnitude, even for Brown.

Regardless of how one feels about abortion per se, therefore, I believe that it is in the interests of the entire alumni community to oppose the conferring of this award: at the very least, this action is likely to ostracize a significant number of graduates. Personal belief is one thing; institutional advocacy quite another.

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