The student government at Catholic University has canceled a speech next week by Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, because of complaints that her views on abortion are anti-Catholic.
Smeal, whose organization supports a woman's right to choose an abortion, had signed a contract for $1,000 with the student program committee to speak about "Women in the '80s" at the private Catholic institution on Jan. 28. Her fee was to be paid from a $55,000 annual lecture fund operated by the student activities office.
"The students reconsidered their invitation based on a lot of grievances filed by students, faculty and staff," said Greg Stewart, assistant dean of students and director of student activities. "They raised objections based on positions that Smeal and NOW have taken on the issue of abortion."
Neither Smeal nor a spokeswoman for NOW, Jean Clark, returned a reporter's calls during the last two days.
Some students at Catholic University said that the administration was upset about the invitation and pressured student leaders to withdraw it. However, Ann Smith, a spokeswoman for the Rev. William J. Byron, the university's president, said he played no part in the controversy.
Lucien Chauvin, chairman of the student lecture committee and president of the College Democrats, said he originally suggested inviting Smeal.
"As a group, we are attempting to bring prominent figures to campus," Chauvin said. "We want speakers with differing points of view." After the program board invited Smeal, students raised concerns that she was "blasphemous to the church," Chauvin said.
Much of the opposition to Smeal's invitation came from students in the Human Life Council, an antiabortion group of about 20 students. Their protests led the student government to pass a resolution last week urging that a speaker with a different point of view be invited to share the podium with Smeal.
"The program board is required to offer balanced programs," said Bill DeGrosso, legislative vice president of the student government. "I would have liked to see [antiabortion activist] Phyllis Schlafly go after her."
"I don't think student money should be spent to hear her [Smeal]," said senior Peter DeTrolio III, a student government officer and managing editor of the campus newspaper, The Tower. "The objection to her is because we are a Catholic institution and many of her views are opposed to the philosophy of the university."
After the student government passed its resolution, the program committee notified Smeal of its decision. Student government officers were unclear about whether she would be paid a cancellation fee.
In the past, several students said, the group has sponsored controversial speakers such as the author, the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley, and Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy.
Mike McFarlane, a member of the antiabortion Human Life Council and an officer in the student government, said he opposes Smeal's view but was in favor of letting her speak. "I'm pro-life, but as a university we should let people speak who may not hold appropriate Catholic beliefs," said McFarlane, a junior majoring in politics. "I'd like her to come."