PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Three Providence College students who put the image of the Virgin Mary on an abortion-rights flier wanted to spark a debate on the Catholic campus.

They did, but at a price: They have been suspended for the rest of the semester.

On Thursday, students planned to protest the punishment in front of the administration building.

``The posters weren't anti-Catholic,'' said sophomore Devan Chase, 20. ``We definitely need to voice our opinion that this is unjust.''

The flier read: ``How's this for an immaculate concept: Keep Abortion Safe and Legal.''

The three students were posting the notices on a classroom door last month when a priest who teaches theology arrived to prepare for a lecture. He ordered them to stop and reported the incident to administrators.

The students, senior Daniel Pastrana, junior Patrick Moran and sophomore Christopher White, were suspended last month.

The Rev. Philip Smith, the college president, called the flier a ``deliberate misuse of a venerated person.''

In a letter to the college newspaper, the students wrote that the flier was meant to shock, not insult. ``We hoped that the explicit nature of the imagery would add a more personal dimension to the issue,'' they wrote.

Steven Brown, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Rhode Island, said any legal challenge to the punishment would probably fail since the First Amendment does not apply to private colleges.

Providence College is a liberal arts school where more than 80 percent of the 3,700 students are Roman Catholic and many Dominican friars and nuns are on the faculty.