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

Annual Anti-Abortion Conference Sparks Campus Discourse

The 25th annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life (OCC) united prominent Catholic clergy, advocacy experts and students to discuss the state of anti-abortion politics and the sanctity of human life in Georgetown University’s Healy Hall on Jan. 20.

This year’s conference, titled “Discerning the Next 25 Years,” focused on the past 25 years of anti-abortion advocacy that has grown out of the conference while looking to the movement’s future. The conference featured a keynote address from Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, who is the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a commission that acts as an advisory body to the pope for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. 

Founded in 2000 by Georgetown students, the OCC is the largest collegiate anti-abortion student-run conference in the country, taking its name from Catholic Archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor (GRD ’70) for his attention to anti-abortion policies. Georgetown’s officially-recognized anti-abortion group Right to Life (RTL), which stands against abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty, attended the event.

Maren Fagan/The Hoya | The 25th annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Jan. 20, the largest collegiate student-run anti-abortion conference in the country, prompted discussion from Right to Life and H*yas for Choice about anti-abortion and pro-abortion discourse on campus.

Elizabeth Oliver (CAS ’26), the president of RTL and OCC’s co-chair of sponsorship, spoke alongside three other anti-abortion student leaders from schools — including the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame — and said she hopes the OCC expands the dialogue surrounding abortion to include different anti-abortion and pro-abortion perspectives, especially on college campuses.

“We live in a divided nation, and I think the abortion discussion is an important one to be had, especially amongst people who disagree but also amongst people who do agree,” Oliver told The Hoya. “I wanted to participate in this panel to share different perspectives that we all have at different colleges around America and to hopefully encourage other students to come and listen.” 

H*yas for Choice (HFC), an unofficially-recognized abortion-rights student group, organized a reproductive rights panel at Georgetown three days before the OCC to present alternative perspectives on the abortion debate. Hosted with the Georgetown University College Democrats (GUCD), the panel featured five panelists with different backgrounds on reproductive rights, including a professor of midwifery in the School of Nursing (SON) and community organizers. 

Full disclosure: Karenna Warden served as a staff writer, desk editor and multimedia editor for The Hoya from fall 2022 to spring 2023.

Karenna Warden (CAS ’25), the co-president of HFC, said the club decided to host the panel to represent an abortion-rights pro-choice perspective without protesting OCC. 

“We respect everybody’s freedom of speech rights that are given on campus, and we definitely exercise those rights as a group,” Warden told The Hoya. “That’s really why we decided to hold a panel last week that epitomizes our values and what we stand for as a group.” 

“It was really good to amplify the panelists’ voices and to be part of an experience that was not a direct protest to the Cardinal O’Connor Conference but just serves to amplify voices that are very important to us,” Warden added. 

The OCC panel discussion of anti-abortion politics and advocacy included Emily Geiger, the director of education and outreach at the Equal Rights Institute, an organization dedicated to providing arguments for the anti-abortion perspective; Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life of America, a Democratic Party anti-abortion group; and Sister Mariae Agnus Dei, a member of the Sisters of Life, a group of Catholic nuns who vow to protect the sacredness of human life. 

The conference followed the annual March for Life, an anti-abortion march and rally held in Washington, D.C on Jan. 19. 

Paige Foster (CAS ’26), a member of RTL and a volunteer for the OCC, said the OCC brings the anti-abortion opinion to campus, which she believes provides an essential representation of a diverging viewpoint as she believes the Georgetown community is largely pro abortion rights. 

“I think it’s important just for other students to know that there is a diversity of opinion on campus,” Foster told The Hoya. “You can listen to both perspectives and really take the one that compels you, and you don’t have to go with the dominant perspective.”

Following the removal of national abortion rights and access with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022, 59% of current and prospective college and university students opposed the Dobbs decision, according to a survey conducted by BestColleges. 

Sydney Hudson (SOH ’26), a co-president of HFC, said the OCC represents HFC’s continuous struggle to gain official club recognition from the university.

“The OCC is almost like the epitome of our issues with the university and how they support one side and not the other,” Hudson told The Hoya. “It’s just frustrating because we truly do believe that we are a pro-choice campus, but the university administration puts the money in a different direction.”

The university only grants RTL official club recognition, meaning a club is entitled to university meeting space and funding. HFC, while still named G.U. for Choice, lost club recognition in 1992 after advocating for abortion rights. 

Hudson said even though the OCC anti-abortion perspective highlights HFC’s unofficial club status, she feels the club sometimes benefits from not being an official university-recognized organization. 

“The fact that we’re unrecognized really allows us to find these avenues that are oftentimes better and more personal,” Hudson said. “It’s from students, for students.”

Hudson said these avenues include tabling, which allows for the club to work with contraceptive distribution and promote access to reproductive healthcare to the Georgetown community. 

Oliver said the OCC provides the opportunity for students to engage in dialogue about the anti-abortion movement, referencing the free tickets available for students interested in learning about different perspectives. 

“I believe that abortion is something that should be talked about,” Oliver said. “I think respectful dialogue is the key — we should be able to have discussions with people who disagree at Georgetown. We invite all Georgetown students to attend the conference. Our conference doors are open.”

Warden said HFC’s commitment to the freedom of speech on Georgetown’s campus means respecting the anti-abortion perspective of the OCC and RTL while bringing their abortion-rights perspectives to the Georgetown community. 

“We’re grateful that we’re able to amplify our voices and our beliefs through H*yas for Choice,” Warden said. “We also respect the fact that other organizations get to do the same. We’re glad that we get to coexist on the same campus, and we hope to continue with our work, and we’ll continue to watch them do theirs.” 

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