A speech at Catholic University by Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, was postponed by its sponsors yesterday after they learned the event would not be open to the public.
The postponement marked the second time Smeal's speech has been called off. The student government originally canceled the speech because of complaints that Smeal's support of a woman's right to choose an abortion offends Catholics.
In a news conference at the Washington headquarters of NOW yesterday, Smeal lashed out at Catholic University officials and students who oppose her bid to address students there.
Pointing out that Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy, a convicted felon who spent nearly five years in prison, had been allowed to speak at the school, she demanded: "What kind of hypocrisy is this?"
She called the student government's cancellation of her speech "a radical error and a mistake" aimed at suppressing a public airing of the concerns of women.
After the student government canceled Smeal's appearance, a group of law students offered to sponsor the speech, which was scheduled for last night. The students discovered late Monday, however, that the address could be held only in a small classroom that would be open only to Catholic University law students.
The law students -- including representatives of the National Lawyers Guild, the Black Law Students Association, the Women's Law Caucus and the Catholic University Law Review -- tentatively rescheduled the speech for Feb. 25.
If, as expected, significant opposition to the address continues, a special university panel could meet to consider the issue. A final decision could come from the Rev. William J. Byron, the university's president.
The students argue that the only issue involved is one of free speech.
"It's not an abortion issue to the law students, it's a free speech issue," said John Gilmore, a third-year law student who is an officer of the campus chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
Antiabortion students pledged to fight to keep Smeal from speaking at Catholic University.
"We would not deny her a public forum or the right to free speech," said Joseph Stuart, a third-year law student. "But this is a private university and she doesn't have the right to free speech here."
Catholic University administrators yesterday declined to take a position on the question of Smeal's speech. They have denied that the administration had any role in the student government's original decision to cancel the speech.