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Abortion Foes Protest Over Grad Speakers

Reps. Loretta and Linda Sanchez and Catholic Mount St. Mary's draw fire for appearance.

May 11, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

As Reps. Loretta and Linda Sanchez told 300 graduates of a Catholic college on Saturday to make a difference in the world and find their passion, a group of nearly 50 antiabortion activists quietly protested outside, holding signs that read "The Sanchez Sisters Support Baby Killers."

Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), who are Catholic, have been the targets of criticism by religious groups because they support abortion rights. Antiabortion activists point out that the sisters' pro-choice views are contradictory to church teachings. Saturday's protest criticized Mount St. Mary's, a 74-year-old school for women with campuses in Brentwood and near downtown Los Angeles, for inviting the sisters to speak.

"Every person who spent their money to get an education here should be insulted" by the Sanchez sisters' presence, said protester Marcella Melendez. "A real Catholic would be enraged that they were invited."

But a statement released by Mount St. Mary's on Saturday read: "The College's recognition of Linda and Loretta Sanchez's achievements does not imply an endorsement of their political views, but rather recognizes how women of humble immigrant heritage can earn a place alongside their fellow citizens at the seat of our democracy -- the United States Congress."

At the ceremony, the sisters received standing ovations and cheers after giving the commencement address during Mount St. Mary's baccalaureate ceremony for the graduating class of 2003. But down the hill from the Brentwood campus where the ceremony took place, a group of critics greeted families, friends and students on their way to the commencement. One woman knelt on a curb, holding rosary beads and praying silently. A sign that read, "Stop killing babies," hung from around her neck.

Melendez said the college administration made a bad choice, especially because Pope John Paul II issued a statement earlier this year saying that Catholic politicians are not faithful if they dissent from basic church positions, including opposing abortion.

Some parents and students were angered by the protest.

One mother, Debbie Burruel, yelled from the backseat of a car, "You don't need to be here ruining this graduation!"

Her daughter, Anna Maria, 22, who graduated Saturday, shouted: "Those two women are positive Latino role models!"

College officials say that is exactly why they asked the sisters to speak.

"We invited them, not to talk about any one issue, but to talk about their achievements as women, and the obstacles they overcame," said Don Davidson, a spokesman for the college.

The Sanchez sisters did not make reference to abortion or to the protest outside during the ceremony, and instead they emphasized students' abilities to improve society.

During the ceremony, Linda Sanchez told the crowd of nearly 3,000 people that now is the time for the graduates to accomplish their dreams. "Find and develop a voice," she said.

"Continue to seek out knowledge. Be a critical thinker," she said. "Use your voice to stand up to injustice. Use your voice to empower the powerless."

Next, Loretta Sanchez took the stand. She told the audience about her grandmother who wasn't educated and worked for minimum wage, yet still saved to put Christmas gifts under the tree for her grandchildren.

"Strive to live a life that will touch others," she said.

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