The 2017 Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, the largest student-organized anti-abortion conference in the United States, focused on “working toward a truly pro-life politics,” Saturday in Healy and Gaston Halls.
The conference, launched in 2000, has taken place annually at Georgetown in tandem with the Washington, D.C. March for Life. Vice President Mike Pence spoke at this year’s March for Life on Friday, in the first speech by a president or vice president at the rally ever.
The conference is named in honor of Cardinal John O’Connor, who served as Cardinal of New York until his death in 2000. O’Connor earned a doctorate in political science from the School of Foreign Service in 1970. He dedicated his life primarily to advocacy for the preservation of human life, and he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal shortly before his death.
The event, co-directed by Jeannette Joly (COL ’17) and Michael Khan (COL ’18), was intended to contemplate the basic foundations of the anti-abortion stance and to examine the consequences of political engagement in issues of life and choice at both national and international levels.
Held a day after the march instead of its usual scheduling beforehand, the conference included several speakers, a panel discussion, three breakout sessions, the presentation of an award named after former Georgetown theology professor Thomas King, S.J. and a concluding Mass.
Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of anti-forced abortion group Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, offered this year’s keynote address.
In a panel discussion during the conference, John Carr, director of the Georgetown University Catholic Social Thought Initiative, said the anti-abortion movement must continue to build on the legacy it has established.
“We have a lot to be proud of. For 45 years, we have kept this cause alive in the face of the elites of every continent telling us it was over. But we’re not where we want to be. And we need to do a better job,” Carr said.
During the panel discussion, Carr said it is important young people remain involved in the anti-abortion rights movement.
“You must be really tired of old people telling you how great it is to have young people in the pro-life movement, leading it — always, the best part of the March for Life,” Carr said.
GU Right to Life Vice President MyLan Metzger (COL ’19), who served as co-director of outreach for the conference, said the conference aligns with Georgetown’s Jesuit values.
“The Conference is important because it promotes intellectual discussion about a variety of topics dealing with human life,” Metzger wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I think the Conference is a perfect reflection of Georgetown’s Jesuit values, including its striving for academic excellence, and faith and justice.”
The conference attracted a protest from H*yas for Choice, Georgetown’s unrecognized pro-abortion rights student group.
The group protested each stage of the conference, according to H*yas for Choice Co-Presidents Emily Stephens (SFS ’17) and Brinna Ludwig (NHS ’17). The group tabled outside the front gates all day and chanted throughout the day.
The group also published blog posts the week before the conference explaining its rationale for protesting.
H*yas for Choice member Kory Stuer (COL ’19) said the conference represents regressive values.
“We feel that this conference is just an inexcusable affront to the Georgetown community, because it represents a kind of hatred and bigotry in a lot of different ways, and a lot of just retrogressive values that we don’t feel really belong on this campus,” Stuer said.
Stuer said that, in spite of the objections to the conference taken by H*yas for Choice, he and other pro-abortion rights students have made attempts at dialogue and direct engagement with anti-abortion rights students.
“We’re willing to approach dialogue and approach working together, but we haven’t really seen any signs that that’s coming from a place of good faith,” Stuer said. “We’re not interested in political gestures; we’re interested in things that mean something.”
Metzger said GU Right to Life is also committed to engaging in dialogue with groups with differing opinions.
“We are committed to the free expression of ideas, even if they may disagree with our own,” Metzger wrote. “For this reason, the Conference reserved Copley Lawn for anyone who wanted to express their criticism of the Conference. However, we would have loved to have critics ask questions at our panel and breakout sessions, rather than chant about how “‘Right to Life has got to go.’”