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SALT LAKE CITY — A workshop featuring prominent pro-life speakers scheduled to take place Wednesday at the U.N.’s 68th Civil Society Conference was canceled via email on Saturday, a move that one organizer called “shocking” and “disrespectful.”
The workshop, “The Family and Protection of Life, Women and Girls in Sustainable Communities,” was one of three to be presented by Family Watch International.
Merrilee Boyack, executive director of the nonprofit with the goal to "protect and promote the family as the fundamental unit of society," noted that of the three workshops, the one canceled featured prominent pro-life speakers and and an "anti-abortion perspective" in the workshop’s description.
"Obviously, it was the pro-life element that they were objecting to," she said.
In a copy of the email provided to KSL by Boyack, Leah Barker, a Utah representative of the workshop committee for the conference, notified the group that the workshop was canceled.
"I am sorry to reach out this late in the process," she wrote, adding that "after extensive consideration and review" the workshop was canceled because "it is not well-rounded enough and there is too much controversy around this issue today."
Speakers for the workshop included Deanna Holland of Pro-Life Utah, William Duncan of the Marriage Law Foundation, Kani Diop of the African Women’s Global Initiative and Jim Kerr of Salt Lake City’s Pregnancy Resource Center.
We have never, ever seen this happen in 20 years. To have this be so last minute, when we have speakers coming in from all over, was just shocking, very unprofessional and very disrespectful.
–Merrilee Boyack, executive director of Family Watch International
A description of the workshop notes that it will explore the "many negative well-documented complications for women who undergo abortions" as well as "safe alternatives to abortion and model life-affirming laws and policies."
Boyack noted that the organization has often scheduled workshops at U.N. conferences .
"We have never, ever seen this happen in 20 years," she said. "To have this be so last minute, when we have speakers coming in from all over, was just shocking, very unprofessional and very disrespectful."
Matthew Rojas, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, said the late cancellation was due to a “miscommunication” and noted that “the workshop had been flagged as to not have been accepted in the first place.”
“This was just sort of a decision of the planners not to have that conversation (on abortion) take place,” he said, noting that the topic was “too politically charged” for a conference on sustainability.
Rojas said no pro-choice workshops are featured in the conference either and that one other workshop had also received a late cancellation notice due to miscommunication.
“There’s more than 200 workshops, 500 or so actually applied to be workshops at the event, so just between the various organizations and planning commission, there was a mistake made” he said.
Two other workshops put on by Family Watch International are still scheduled to take place Wednesday: “Sexuality Education, Youth Empowerment and Safe Sustainable Cities” and “Emerging Technologies and Their Impacts on Youth.”