HUDSON — An upcoming appearance on Monday by a former national Planned Parenthood leader at the Hudson Library has sparked objections from numerous residents, a local Catholic church and a local pro-life group, with the latter two groups planning a “prayerful vigil” and peaceful protest the evening of the event.
Cecile Richards, the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, will speak at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Hudson Library & Historical Society, 96 Library St.. Richards, the daughter of late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, will discuss her memoir, “Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.” She will be joined by reporter and analyst M. L. Schultze.
The Rev. Scott Goodfellow, a parochial vicar at St. Mary Catholic Church in Hudson, has organized the vigil and procession, set to travel from the church to the Hudson Library around 7 p.m., then back to the church.
In addition, Denise Leipold, executive director of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, said she and members of her organization will gather in a peaceful demonstration outside of the library.
Atterbury Drive resident Beth Balzarini said she will participate in the vigil and procession.
“Certainly, our First Amendment legally gives the library the right to invite Ms. Richards, but there should also be consideration given to the ethical appropriateness of Ms. Richards’ presence,” she stated in a letter to the Hudson Hub-Times. “If this was in the 1860s, would the library host Chief Justice Taney to defend his part in the Dred Scott decision that kept slavery legal because blacks were not ‘citizens’ protected by the Constitution, but were ‘property’?”
E. Leslie Polott, executive director/curator of the Hudson Library and Historical Society, said libraries make information accessible in various formats to better educate people. The very mission of libraries, she said, is to pursue “intellectual freedom.”
“We celebrate and preserve our society by making available a wide range of viewpoints, opinions and ideas so that all individuals have the opportunity to become lifelong learners — informed, literate, educated and culturally enriched,” Polott said. “The Hudson Library is merely fulfilling its mission as a neutral provider of information. If we endorse anything at all, it is the public’s right to have access to a broad selection of materials and experiences.”
A message left for Richards’ publicist through the library was not returned by press time.
Goodfellow said he submitted a petition Sept. 15 to the library directors and Board of Trustees that contained 565 signatures and listed St. Mary Parish’s objections to Richards’ upcoming appearance at the library.
As expressed in the petition, Goodfellow says the parish sees the library’s invitation to Richards as:
‒ offensive to families and especially women who have chosen to bring life into this world at great sacrifice;
‒ disappointing to the significant number of residents who see abortion as the destruction of embryonic human life;
‒ confusing for women who are being pressured to have an abortion, and a stumbling block for women who are working toward psychological and spiritual healing after an abortion; and
‒ an apparent endorsement from a public institution of the very polarized issue of abortion.
Goodfellow added that the library seems to be taking “an ideological stance” by hosting Richards. He said the Catholic Church believes “life begins in the womb at conception,” and said Richards favors “very aggressive pro-abortion rights. It’s offensive to the families in Hudson, as we see it, who have made that sacrifice for life.”
Polott said a library should offer each citizen the right to “seek and receive information from various points of view without restriction. It is the very basis of our democratic system, but to do so responsibly, our residents must be well-informed.”
For the vigil, Goodfellow said the contingent — “a couple dozen people” are expected — will first gather inside the church about 6:30 p.m. for a period of silent prayer.
“We believe that the Eucharist is the lasting memorial of what Jesus gave us of his body and blood,” said Goodfellow. “We’ll be starting in Adoration, a period of prayer in front of the body and blood of Christ. It’s exposed in a golden vessel called a monstrance.”
The monstrance will then be carried in the procession to the library, where the contingent will make one lap around the library around 7 p.m., according to Goodfellow.
“We’re just going to walk around the library,” he said. “We’re just praying for the people within. We’re praying that they might have a conversion of heart to see and respect life, all human life, that begins in the womb.”
Goodfellow said he expects the group to recite prayers, including possibly a rosary. He said the group will not be there to judge or condemn.
“We’re there because we’re praying for them,” said Goodfellow. “And we want them to know that they’re loved and that there’s hope.”
Balzarini said she believes “in a prayerful presence.”
“Prayer does change hearts and minds [and] helps people to think, I hope, in a more Christ-like way,” she said.
She added she felt it was “disappointing for a tax-supported entity [like] the library that they would choose to do something that’s so divisive.”
Resident Jill Burke, another vigil participant, said prayer is “always for the conversion of hearts.”
“We hold no malice toward Ms. Richards,” Burke said. “I believe she believes that she’s doing the right thing. We believe this is a human rights issue.”
Leipold said she’s disappointed that the library is promoting Richards as a women’s rights advocate when her group sees things differently.
“As far as we’re concerned, women are harmed and I’m disappointed that the library would bring someone to the community when we’re working so hard to promote the sanctity of life,” Leipold said. “Planned Parenthood is the biggest abortion provider in the country and even though [Richards] doesn’t work for them anymore, that’s what her biography’s about.”
Polott said Richards’ visit is “being privately funded by the Libby Walker Endowment which funds the Libby Walker Women’s Series.”
Polott said Walker was a lifetime Hudson resident and a descendant of the Oviatts, one of the city’s founding families. Polott said Walker is best known for her work on behalf of female students while serving as dean of Case Western Reserve University for 40 years.
“While overall sentiment about the program is extremely positive and registration is overflowing, we appreciate feedback from patrons,” Polott stated her Sept. 16 letter to the Hub-Times.
A book signing and reception will take place in the library’s rotunda following the program.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.