UPDATE: THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED TO INCLUDE A STATEMENT BY THE YMCA. PLEASE SEE THE BOTTOM OF THE STORY FOR THE UPDATE.
A group of pro-life students from around the nation who’ve gathered in Austin, Texas this week for an abortion protest at the state capitol has been banned from a local YMCA after pro-choice activists complained about the students using the facility’s showers.
Students for Life of America (SFLA) had made arrangements with the Town Lake Branch of the Austin YMCA to use their showers during their week-long pro-life protest, the group’s spokesperson Alexa Coombs told Fox News. About 56 members of the group are being housed in local churches that don’t have showers. The Washington, D.C.-based pro-life organization had received permission to use the Y’s facilities between 9 and 10 p.m. each night.
“We had an agreement and that was the arrangement for the whole week,” Coombs said.
The YMCA did not respond to several phone calls and emails requesting comment.
A staff member at the Town Lake Branch told Fox News they were aware of the incident. The staffer said the YMCA strives to be politically neutral, but did not explain why the YMCA revoked their agreement with the pro-life organization.
The group arrived at the Y on Monday at the appointed time wearing matching blue pro-life shirts — and that’s apparently what sparked the trouble, Coombs said.
“There were some pro-abortion people working out in the gym and they saw our blue shirts and complained,” Coombs said. “The staff told us they felt bullied and threatened by the pro-abortion customers.”
The next day, the group was told they would no longer be allowed to use the YMCA’s facilities, Coombs said.
“[A YMCA employee] was very nice and respectful, but he said they had some push back from people who are pro-abortion,” she said. “The staff felt threatened so they were not going to allow us to come back to use their showers.”
That prompted a scramble to find an alternative way to accommodate 56 college students in need of a shower.
“Some supporters offered their homes, but with 56 people that’s a little difficult to do,” Coombs said.
Eventually, a Catholic high school about 30 minutes outside Austin offered their facilities – at midnight.
“We took the bus up there and everybody came home around 1 a.m. – finally showered,” Coombs said, adding that she was extremely disappointed in the Y’s decision to ban their group.
“We were shocked,” she said. “The YMCA is known for helping young people. They’ve always had an open door policy to everyone. We felt discriminated against because of our pro-life beliefs.”
Brendan O’Morchoe, director of field operations for SFLA, said they weren’t the only ones bullied by the pro-choice activists.
“Unfortunately, the anger and rage from the pro-abortion protestors has created a toxic environment even outside the capitol building,” O’Morchoe said. “It’s really a shame that the YMCA was bullied by these people.”
The YMCA released a statement in response to the incident involving the banning of the pro-life students. This statement contradicts earlier statements made by the YMCA that indicated the pro-life students were well-behaved and did not cause any disruptions.
Here is the statement in its entirety:
“A story was issued by Fox News Radio today about a misunderstanding that occurred between YMCA of Austin staff and a group of students from the organization Students for Life.
In light of discussion surrounding the issue, the YMCA of Austin is seeking to clarify our position on the matter.
As a volunteer-led nonprofit organization, it is not our intention to inject ourselves into this issue, nor do we take a position on this issue.
We strive to create an atmosphere that is welcoming to all, where people of all backgrounds are comfortable.
That’s what we were striving to do in accommodating the Students for Life group who were in need of a place to shower.
Unfortunately, in this instance, it caused the political debate to come into the Y.
If any person or group enters our facilities and creates an atmosphere that is disruptive, we have an obligation to our members and program participants to ask that person or group to leave or to refuse them access.
There are appropriate places in which to conduct a political debate, and that place is down the street at the State Capitol, not at our YMCA.
We are working directly with Students for Life to find a solution that is acceptable to all parties.”