The film, Vessel, was scheduled as part of an annual event called “Choice! Birth and Baby Film Festival,” which had been held at the university for six years without controversy. This year’s film, however, chronicled a woman who provides abortions aboard ships anchored off the coast of countries where abortion is illegal. Image from Vessel trailer/Youtube

Catholic university under fire for cancelling abortion film

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  • November 29, 2017
OTTAWA – Saint Paul University is being accused of stifling free speech on campus after the Catholic university abruptly cancelled a pro-abortion film and accompanying presentation by Planned Parenthood.


The film, Vessel, was scheduled as part of an annual event called “Choice! Birth and Baby Film Festival,” which had been held at the university for six years without controversy. This year’s film, however, chronicled a woman who provides abortions aboard ships anchored off the coast of countries where abortion is illegal.

Days before the screening, festival organizers received an email from the Catholic university demanding they show a different film or cancel the event.

In response to criticism, a university spokesperson said the event was cancelled due to security concerns.

“This is a business matter between Saint Paul and an external non-academic entity,” said Fidèle Lavigne, speaking for the university. “We decided not to have the film here because it was a security issue.”

Lavigne said the university hosted an event several years ago that incited protests.

“They caused damage. The fire alarm went off. Police had to come on campus,” she said. “The security of our student population comes first.”

The chancellor of Saint Paul’s is Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast. A spokesman for the archdiocese said it received several complaints after the festival published a Facebook page promoting the event. The archdiocese simply passed the complaints on to the university, he said, noting the decision to cancel was made by the school.

Phil Horgan, a constitutional lawyer and president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, was particularly struck by Planned Parenthood’s intention to present a panel on “safe access to medical abortion and taking abortions out of clinics and hospitals,” according to the festival’s Facebook page.

“The better question is why an organization antithetical to well-known teachings of the Catholic faith would pursue such engagements … at a Catholic institution,” Horgan said. “Where is the convivial respect for difference from this group?”

It amounted to “engaging in provocation,” he said.

“As a Catholic institution of higher learning, Saint Paul’s is under no obligation to advance agencies that would present matters contrary to its mission statement and faith-based understandings,” Horgan said.

However, Albertos Polizogopoulos, a constitutional lawyer who specializes in religious freedom cases, warned against a double standard.

“If we want to be consistent, it would have to include this scenario, unless you made an exception for faith-based organizations,” he said.

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