Did I Say Pro-Life?

The most prominent leader of pro-abortion Catholics welcomes statement of high profile Notre Dame ethicist and lawyer that abortion to protect the health or life of the mother and in cases of rape is morally justified and should be legally protected.

According to an alarming recent study, a large number of students become pro-choice while at Notre Dame. The class that was tested began Notre Dame 31% pro-choice and left 42% pro-choice – precisely the same pro-choice proportion as the general population today!

Why does this happen?  After the Obama episode, Father Jenkins declared that the University is pro-life. What does that mean?

It does not mean that Notre Dame would not again confer high honors upon a major pro-abortion leader. Despite the criticism of 83 cardinals, archbishops, and bishops and the tsunami of protests from pro-life Catholics across the country over the honoring of President Obama, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees hasstoutly defended the decision   and Father Jenkins has said that he “would do it again”

What of the faculty?

  • As we have noted before, the repeated standing ovations accorded by faculty to Father Jenkins over the Obama episode suggest a great many are pro-choice.
  • A prominent Notre Dame moral theologian who has been associated with Watch, Dr. Jean Porter, has contended in her treastise Moral Action & Christian Ethics that “the early-stage fetus is not a person” and may be aborted “in some cases,” and that even late-term abortions are justified if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.
  • Dr. Porter expressed in the South Bend Tribune her opposition to the establishment of the Fund for the Protection of Human Life and her “dismay” ”at the  “university sponsored faculty and student participation in the annual March for Life,” an objection Bishop Rhoades considered“unbelievable at a Catholic university.”

Now one of Notte Dame’s most widely published commentators on ethical and policy issues has voiced her dissent from the Church’s teaching that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.”

During a widely publicized Princeton University conference on abortion, Dr. Cathleen Kaveny, a member of both the Theology and the Law School faculties,declared her belief that abortion is morally permissible where there is a threat to the health or life of the mother or in cases of rape:

I do not believe [the mother] has an obligation to provide life support to the unborn if pregnancy imposes a significant burden on her health or if she was raped. Under those circumstances I think those actions are describable as intentionally ending the burden of the pregnancy and can be described differently than intentional killing.

Note that Dr. Kaveny goes far beyond the “personally opposed but unwilling to impose” position championed by Governor Mario Cuomo in his famous 1984 Notre Dame address and embraced by many Catholic politicians ever since. She is not even personally opposed.

But, naturally, neither would she impose, and accordingly her presentation was promptly seized upon by the leading “Catholic” supporter of Roe v. Wade, Frances Kissling, another Princeton panelist and the long-time president of Catholics for a Free Choice.

Praising Dr. Kaveny’s  “deviation from orthodoxy” and taking full advantage of her association with Notre Dame, her presumed pro-life perspective, and her expertise as a lawyer, Ms.Kissling reported in Salon:

Cathleen Kaveny, a pro-life lawyer and ethicist at Notre Dame, declared,  “I do not think the American law should prohibit abortions in the case of rape, or where necessary to protect the life or health of the mother. I think that unborn life is equal in dignity to the rest of us. But I don’t think the law can rightly require a woman to bear the significant burdens associated with continuing a pregnancy in such instances.”

But there is more. Dr. Kaveny also asserted that the unborn have no moral rights until “twinning,” or about 14 days after conception. This opens the door to embryonic stem cell research, since an embryo suitable for such research can be destroyed after about five days.

(The pro-life position was ably upheld by other panelists including, from Notre Dame, Dr. Richard Garnett and Dr. John M. Finnis of the Law School. However, Dr. Kaveny’s participation was taken by an informed commentator as one sign among many that the conference was stacked against the pro-life cause: “Any conference where Notre Dame’s Cathy Kaveny is on the pro-life side means the conference is in trouble from the start.”)

Dr. Kaveny and Dr. Porter are, of course, free to say what they think. What they and other faculty members say, however, bears upon what it means for Fr. Jenkins to call Notre Dame pro-life. Moreover, when the University honors the Church’s most formidable abortion adversary and when prominent Notre Dame Catholic professors dissent from Church teaching, it does not seem remarkable that this teaching does not take hold among a good many students. If there were a required course unit in life issues, the outcome might be different. But there is not.

Fortunately, there are faculty who have long carried the pro-life flag; there are new pro-life initiatives to be celebrated; and there is the continuing presence of a dedicated band of pro-life students.  Nearly 400 of them were led by Father Jenkins and dozens of other dedicated faculty and staff in the recent March for Life. We will report on all of this shortly.


We urge you to join Sycamore Trust in donating to  The Edith Stein Conference.

The conference, which will be held at the University on February 11th and 12th, is produced annually by the Identity Project of Notre Dame and is one of the most important student contributions to the Catholic identity of the University.

Instituted as a counter to The Vagina Monologues, the conference continues as a vital means of illumination of, and reflection upon, the authentically Catholic vision of issues of gender, sexuality, and vocation. It draws this year again upon outstanding faculty members and notable scholars, authors, and commentators from outside the University to offera truly impressive program.

The students are short of their goal of $30,000 to be used for expenses and fees of the speakers, production costs, and lowering the charge for students. If you wish to help, make your tax-deductible check payable to “The University of Notre Dame – The Identity Project of Notre Dame” and send it to:

The Identity Project of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame
Department of Development
1100 Grace Hall
Notre Dame, IN 46556

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