Abortion opponents protest ceremony honoring Schaefer

September 28, 1991|By Erik Nelson

About 50 abortion opponents picketed the College of Notre Dame of Maryland yesterday to protest the Roman Catholic institution's award of an honorary degree to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, but the demonstrators did not disrupt the ceremonies.

The protesters called the governor a "pro-abortion politician."

"If a politician were a member of the Nazi Party or he favored legal segregation or legalized slavery, he would be disqualified from receiving an honor from a Catholic institution," said Charles Sikorsky, who helped organize the protest for Defend Life, a Baltimore-area anti-abortion group.

The governor's signing of an abortion-rights law Feb. 18 was "even more reason" not to honor him, Mr. Sikorsky said.

Sister Kathleen Feeley, president of the college, said that bringing up the abortion issue in connection with yesterday's award was inappropriate. Mr. Schaefer earned the honor because he "has done for higher education more than most governors in the country," she said.

But Mr. Sikorsky said that the protesters are "concerned about Catholic institutions that are sending confusing signals about what the church teaches about abortion."

In receiving the honorary doctor of laws degree, the governor was cited for his support for higher education generally and his backing of a state program providing a $2 million matching grant for the renovation of Notre Dame's Gibbons Hall, built in 1873.

The protesters marched near the North Charles Street entrance to the campus for 1 1/2 hours. They were countered by a smaller group of abortion-rights demonstrators across Charles Street.

Then, about 30 members of the Defend Life group marched up the hill to Gibbons Hall, where the Rev. Patrick Magnier, chaplain at Mount De Sales Academy in Catonsville, led them in prayer before a statue of Our Lady of Grace.

An hour later, Mr. Schaefer was standing near the statue to address about 200 students, faculty and administrators on hand for the old building's rededication. A few of the protesters stood by, but they did not interrupt the governor's remarks.

Afterward, the governor said he knew about the protest. It would not alter his views on abortion, he added.

"Certainly they have their rights . . . they put on a protest, but things are exactly the same," he said.

The bill Mr. Schaefer signed into law allows abortion without government restrictions until the fetus might be able to survive outside the womb and later if the woman's health is in danger or the fetus has extreme abnormalities. A referendum on the law will be on the November 1992 ballot.

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