A theology teacher at a private Catholic girls’ school in Phoenix is facing backlash after he handed out a flyer in class comparing Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan. A petition from school parents and alumni say it’s the latest example of the teacher’s “misogynistic rhetoric against women.”

Gavin Ahern teaches theology at Xavier College Preparatory High School in Phoenix, Arizona. He’s also one of the faculty sponsors of the school’s Right to Life Club. It’s not surprising that a Catholic school teacher would have anti-abortion views, but the flyer his students say he gave them last Wednesday is pretty strong stuff, even by Catholic school standards. Here’s a photo, which was provided to Jezebel:

The flyer calls abortion “genocide” and a plot to kill “black babies,” and begins: “Maybe the Klan didn’t invent abortion, but you have to believe they were pretty happy with the results.” It features questionable, non-sourced statistics on how many abortions are performed as a result of rape or incest or for health reasons.

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Jezebel spoke to a woman who says her daughter, a Xavier student, was given the pamphlet in class and brought it home, appalled. (She requested anonymity to protect her daughter’s privacy, saying she feared possible retribution from the school: “She still has to finish out the year and I’d like to make it as smooth as possible considering the uproar going on.”)

Since then, the mother says, she’s been trying to get school administrators to meet with her about the flyer, with little success.

“I’ve been hoping to receive some type of acknowledgment from the school and have still not heard a thing,” she tells Jezebel via email. “This really isn’t an issue about abortion, rather a lack of accountability and integrity when teaching. We made the choice to send our daughter to an all girls Catholic school knowing that they have a pro-life position. But propaganda that demeans a particular race and likens Planned Parenthood to the Klan is a problem.”

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Claiming that abortion is an assault on black lives isn’t a new talking point; that pamphlet is, as best we can tell, the product of an organization called the Life Education and Resource Network, which also operates a website, Black Genocide. It’s even slightly less inflammatory than a similar pamphlet put out by another anti-abortion group, Life Dynamics: “In the New Klan, Lynching is for Amateurs,” which provides a link back to a website called “Klanned Parenthood.”

We’re told that there’s an impassioned discussion going on among alumna of the school, some of whom now send their own kids to Xavier. Peg Perl, who graduated in 1993, began circulating a petition calling for Ahern to be removed from the classroom. (So far, it’s been signed by 3,662 people). The petition calls the flyer “hate speech:”

Unsubstantiated hate speech is not appropriate in the classroom, and it is in stark contrast to the academic excellence and love for community we associate with our experience at Xavier. Women-shaming and and race-baiting such as this by a teacher in a classroom of young women is an abuse of the authority and trust placed in Mr. Ahern.

We further understand this indefensible handout is merely the latest manifestation of Mr. Ahern’s misogynistic rhetoric against women and their “proper place” in society supposedly backed up by Catholic theological pedagogy. We are appalled these sexist ideas are put forth by someone entrusted with the education of young women at an institution we believe to have the mission to challenge stereotypes and empower Xavier graduates as they go forth into our world.

Phoenix New Times also has the story; they say they attempted to speak to Ahern at his home in North Phoenix, but that he declined to comment.

Jezebel contacted Gavin Ahern for comment several times, as well as Xavier’s principal Sister Joan Fitzgerald, and will update if we ever hear back.


Xavier’s entrance. Screenshot via Google Maps