Anti-abortion group says it was bullied out of YMCA


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist CHRIS SHADROCK

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on July 10, 2013 at 6:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 10 at 6:21 PM

AUSTIN -- More than 50 members of the anti-abortion group Students For Life met with Congressman Gerg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) at the Texas Capitol Wednesday afternoon.

The mix of high school and college students put together a 30-hour, cross country bus tour, traveling to Austin to show their support of the Texas anti-abortion bill.

"We started planning this only about a week ago," said Students For Life of America Director of External Relations Alexa Coombs. "We're calling it the Students Stand for Life Bus Tour, and so we left from DC. It's a 56 seater, so it was full. We picked up students along the way."

For one week the students planned to rally during the day, shower at the Town Lake YMCA, and then head to a church to sleep.

"We talked to the YMCA before we got here. We had an agreement with them that we would come between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. every night. Ten is when they close," explained Coombs.

When the group arrived Monday, things went according to plan. They spent the day at the Capitol, then headed to the Y all dressed in blue T-shirts -- the color representing anti-abortion advocates.

"We thought it would be best to go in in shifts and not just have everyone bombard at one time, and so we just wanted to be respectful to them since they were gracious enough to open their facility to us," said Students For Life member Hannah Solem. 

"We had absolutely no incidents. They talked to us afterwards and said, 'You guys were great. You were respectful," Coombs added.

But Tuesday morning, Coombs got an unexpected call from the Town Lake YMCA.

"Said, again, 'You guys were respectful. We have no problems with you, in particular, however there were some people that support abortion who talked to our staff, intimidated them.' They actually said that they felt threatened, and they asked us not to come back," Coombs said. 

The YMCA released the following statement about the incident:

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.

Some YMCA members say the agree with the decision.

"I feel like if the people who are actually members here complained, then it's a good move because people who are members here probably have more say than people that are just showering here," said Alex Gimson, who works out at the Town Lake YMCA.

"I feel like maybe it was a bad move in the first place to let them come over here and take showers if they feel like lit might offend some people," Gimson added. "Politics shouldn't be involved in the gym."

A spokesman for the Y said leaders have offered to let members of Students For Live shower in the Town Lake YMCA at 10:00 p.m., after the facility is closed. Representatives with Students For Life say they want the Y to honor its initial agreement.

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