On March 3, 2014 numerous students willingly sacrificed the evening of their snow day to attend a student-run panel entitled “Why Be Pro-Life?” The panelists consisted of six Georgetown undergraduate students who each offered their unique perspectives on what being pro-life meant to them. To organize their talks, the panelists were asked to think of a specific issue within the pro-life movement that they had been asked about or had to defend. The wide array of topics included the definition of life and euthanasia; adoption; and being a pro-life woman.
Chris Cannataro began the panel by debating what being pro-life actually entails. He answered that people who are pro-life should not only fight for life at the most vulnerable times, but also all throughout a person’s life. Supporting those in need constitutes and integral part of being pro-life. The Knights of Columbus serve as an example of this type of consummate support. They engage in feeding the homeless, providing supplies for new mothers, and building shelter for those in need. As the Knights demonstrate, a person cannot be truly pro-life unless he or she cares for a person throughout all stages of life.
Moving from an overview of the movement, Kelly Kimball posited a biological and philosophical argument for life beginning at the moment of conception. The united sperm cell and egg cell have the unique potential to develop into an adult human. The fetus is the only entity in the world that has this unique potential. The independent sperm and egg cells have no chance of becoming adult human life; however, once joined, that probability dramatically increases. At no other point from conception to death does such a rapid increase in potential occur. Therefore, it makes the most sense to define life as beginning at conception. Defense of life, then, should begin at the moment of conception.
Using the definition of life Kelly provided, Kevin Sullivan discussed an attractive alternative to abortion for struggling mothers: adoption. Everyone, regardless of being pro-life or pro-choice, should agree that adoption presents an appealing option to the struggling mother, as it allows life to be brought into the world. However, adoption remains stigmatized and underutilized. Kevin stressed the importance of providing support and resources for mothers to encourage adoption. Adoption serves as a powerful instrument for starting dialogue with those who are pro-choice because it strives to find the middle ground.
After establishing the beginning of life, the panel moved to pro-life issues throughout life. Mathew Hoffman addressed the issue of euthanasia. Permissive cultural attitudes have allowed the idea of euthanasia to become more pervasive. Superficially, it appears logical that someone should be able to decide for herself when she wants her life to end, especially if he or she suffers from chronic pain or a terminal condition. However, such a position ignores a person’s inherent dignity and natural instinct for self-preservation; the love and care of his or her family and friends; and the value of suffering in teaching compassion, understanding, and love.
To finish the panel, Kelly Thomas and Evelyn Flashner both presented their views as women within the pro-life movement. Kelly argued that abortion constitutes a fundamental harm to women. As such, protecting the rights of the child in the womb best safeguards the welfare of the mother. Firstly, the abortion industry acts to coerce women into receiving abortions by refusing to perform ultrasounds and encouraging abortion over pre-natal care. Secondly, the industry refuses to acknowledge the well-documented emotional impact of abortion and leaves women alone with their grief and devastation after an abortion. Finally, the presentation of abortion as a “solution” to pregnancy ignores a women’s unique gift of fertility and the inherent dignity this gift provides for her.
Evelyn concluded the panel by explaining both how society has changed the notion of what it means to be a woman and how that problem can be rectified. She exhorted the audience to recognize, using Pope John Paul II’s words, “the true genius of women.” This genius means that women’s liberation consists not of lonely autonomy but rather of participating in community. Secondly, motherhood, rather than a burden, is a worthwhile sacrifice that recognizes the special role of women in society. Finally, Evelyn pointed out that modern feminism has reduced women to what they can produce in terms of material wealth or professional accolades. Such a view overlooks the true value and dignity of women.
As Kevin noted during his talk, the panel sought to encourage informed dialogue about major issues within the pro-life movement. Dialogue can open doors and provide the basis for finding common ground between the two sides. On such divisive issues, it is important to have reasonable and well-understood positions to actively engage the other side. The panel helped students to more deeply understand pro-life positions and what they can do to advocate for them.
Written by Mathew Hoffman, COL ’14