The 15th annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, which focused primarily on “Morality and the Law,” is the largest student-run anti-abortion conference in the country and brought a broad spectrum of academics and activists to Healy Hall this past Monday.
Named to honor the advocacy of Georgetown alumnus and Cardinal of New York John O’Connor (GRD ’70), the conference began in 2000 as a non-exclusive intellectual forum regarding the dignity of life and has since secured its esteem throughout the anti-abortion community.
The conference is sponsored by Georgetown University Right to Life, Catholic Daughters of America, the Knights of Columbus and University Faculty for Life.
While the event focused on the sanctity of life, each yearly conference presents a distinct perspective on anti-abortion advocacy. This year’s focus emphasized manifesting advocacy through the theme of “Morality and the Law.”
Conference co-directors Evelyn Flashner (COL ’15) and Kelly Thomas (SFS ’15) thought of the theme during the panel selection, which featured a discussion on “Publicly Pro-Life: Why Abortion Is Not a Private Issue.”
“We like to say that the theme was half planned, half luck,” Flashner said. “We try to listen to the other side of the debate to articulate a choice on what we want the theme of our conference to be … and we landed on the question of ‘Can you be privately pro-life?’”
Flashner described the conference keynote speaker Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, as the “king of morality and law” for his academic and advocacy accolades.
McCormick’s address marked the culmination of the conference, with an analysis of the philosophy and morality behind medical professionals’ abortion license.
“I urge young people to blow the whistle on an abortive license as a medical and health issue. … [The license] reflects a concept of medicine found, structured and shaped by philosophical judgments. … It is not morally neutral,” George said.
Additionally, students were attracted to the event for reasons outside of their faith or Georgetown’s Catholic identity.
“The event appealed to me because of its distinctly intellectual foray into the world of pro-life,” Flashner said.
Thomas found the openness for discussion in the conference at the core of her involvement.
“I was thrust into the pro-life movement at a very young age as a joyful, happy event … and Cardinal O’Connor had the ability for bringing humanity back into issues. … The conference doesn’t just say to go out and defend life, but here is why,” Thomas said.
A large amount of student involvement, including 50 student volunteers, also attracted participants.
“I was shocked that we had a huge core of student volunteers. It is a response from students that I would never have expected to be there, I think because the event is not directly activist based,” Flashner said.
To publicize the event, Flashner and Thomas reached out to various thematic institutions and publications to advertise, and found traction with jesuit.org, nationalrighttolifenews.org and others.
“My responsibilities consisted of communicating with potential sponsors,” sponsorship coordinator Danielle Olney (COL ’16) said. “These organizations had the options of placing their literature into our registration packets or setting up a table to represent their organization on the day of the conference.”
The conference is typically held the weekend before the national March for Life, which marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. However, due to scheduling changes, this year’s event was held two days prior to the march. The organizers initially expected lower numbers compared to last year’s record attendance of around 700. However, publicity efforts resulted in an attendance of 650, including 150 Georgetown students.
Other attendees included delegations from anti-abortion communities at other universities, including a group from Marquette University upon which the Fr. Thomas King, S.J. Award was bestowed. The $1,000 prize, named for the former professor who founded University Faculty for Life in 1989, recognizes anti-abortion strides made by undergraduate groups.