Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

VIEWPOINT: Seek Common Ground in Discourse


This year, Georgetown University’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life (OCC), the nation’s largest student-run anti-abortion conference, enters its 25th year. According to its mission statement, the OCC aims to “promote intellectually rigorous discourse on the sanctity of human life as well as build a culture of life both within and beyond the Georgetown community.”

For many students, respecting human life from conception until natural death is a guiding value. For some, this belief is found in science; for others, it is informed by religion. For pro-life students, the OCC is an opportunity to advocate for what we see as foundational to social justice and equal rights. 

The shared commitment to social justice between pro-life and pro-choice students calls for greater respect and collaboration between the two groups.

Over the years, one demographic has remained steadfastly pro-life: church-going Catholics. Although recently some have perceived Catholicism to be more doctrinally flexible than in centuries past, even the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) — the church’s most liberal order — remains staunchly pro-life. Following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling that ended the constitutional right to abortion, the Jesuits released a statement in celebration of the ruling, calling abortion a “massive injustice in our society.” 

Fr. James Martin, S.J., a Jesuit on Georgetown’s Board of Directors and an outspoken progressive advocate, is steadfastly pro-life. He sees this as a part of his commitment to social justice. 

“When I think of ‘life issues’ I often think of the 68 million refugees, migrants and internally displaced people whose most important ‘pro-life activity’ is to flee,” Martin wrote on Jan. 10, 2019. For Martin, being pro-life is a key part of an identity rooted in cura personalis (care for the whole person), the Jesuit motto.

Georgetown, the oldest Catholic University in the United States, values the dignity of life, establishing a strong commitment to social justice. Sadly, however, many view Catholicism’s respect for the dignity of life as only anti-abortion advocacy. This is a fallacy. In fact, opposition to abortion is merely the start of respecting the dignity of life. Included in supporting the dignity of life is a commitment to social justice advocacy, anti-racism, an end to the death penalty, unjust wars and care for our environment.

One only needs to stroll across Healy Lawn to see echoes of Georgetown’s respect for the dignity of life. Banners with phrases reading “Building a More Just World,” “Care for our Common Home” and “People for Others” are prime examples.

Indeed, the OCC’s speakers reflect these values. Last year’s Mass for Life celebrant, Bishop Perry, is a Catholic leader of anti-racism. This year’s keynote speaker, Cardinal O’Malley, has led social justice initiatives in Boston.

Anti-abortion advocacy is the bedrock of the pro-life movement’s social justice work, as it reflects the conviction that human life begins at conception and its dignity should be respected. However, despite the well-meaning nature of the OCC, it is regularly protested. 

H*yas for Choice (HFC), an unofficial Georgetown student organization, often leads these protests. Due to alumni activism in the 1990s, a canon-law case found funding abortion services inconsistent with Georgetown’s Catholic identity. Though HFC cannot receive official Georgetown funding, the canon-law finding does not inhibit the free speech of faculty or students’ ability to organize. 

The OCC displays a commitment to free speech each year by honoring people’s rights to protest on Healy Lawn. Unfortunately, in past years, these protests have bordered on hostility. Chants have become vulgar. Profanities are hurled at high schoolers and nuns. This is not campaigning for an opposing cause — this is a fundamental disrespect for students’ right to free speech and expression. Perhaps worse, tactics of social alienation and mockery have been leveraged against Georgetown’s pro-life students. 

This harassment creates an atmosphere where pro-life students must compromise or hide their beliefs or be met with hostile behavior from their peers. Thus, the campus climate reflects a failure on the part of Georgetown’s students to uphold the values of free speech by making diversity of opinion difficult at best. While students may disagree, it is essential that mutual respect be upheld for individuals’ views.

It is worth noting that, just like pro-life individuals, pro-choice individuals are not a monolith. They share a deep concern for the rights and welfare of women, children and the larger society with pro-life people. The groups Right to Life (RTL) and HFC have much in common in this regard. While the two may differ in their ideal solutions to the problems of poverty, discrimination, medical mistrust and lack of social support, they share the conviction that these are all legitimate problems women face.

Perhaps RTL and HFC should be working towards supporting women in ways that they agree upon, such as volunteering with organizations that support women who have been domestically abused or tutoring programs in low-income areas. 

It is essential that members of the Georgetown campus community respect their peers. All students — whether they are members of RTL, HFC or are not affiliated with either group — must actively work to improve Georgetown’s culture. We have an opportunity to begin treating each other with mutual respect to dispel the hostility that has festered. Perhaps most of all, we have an opportunity to prove that productive conversations between pro-life and pro-choice people are not just possible but also good

Paige Foster is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and Gregory Brew is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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