Abortion opponents reaffirmed their commitment to battle Roe v. Wade this past weekend, gathering at Georgetown for the 12th annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life.
The conference, which was organized by the Georgetown Knights of Columbus, Right to Life and Catholic Daughters, is named for Cardinal John O’Connor (GRD ’70), the late archbishop of New York. O’Connor was a renowned figure in the Catholic Church’s movement against abortion, celebrated for his participation in large-scale policy debates.
This year’s O’Connor Conference included a Mass for Life on Saturday night and group discussions, along with a panel discussion on O’Connor’s work and his vision for the anti-abortion movement on Sunday. The organizers also presented the Fr. Thomas M. King award to students from Villanova University for their work opposing abortion.
“There was a lot of work that went into this conference,” conference organizer Brigid Bower (COL ’11) wrote in an email. “I started planning this last March. As far as we know, it’s the largest student run pro-life conference in the country.”
The keynote address was delivered by Lila Rose, the 22-year-old founder of the anti-abortion organization Live Action, a youth-led group that uses new media and undercover reporting to expose alleged corruption in the abortion industry. In her speech, Rose urged students to dedicate themselves to the movement.
“Is there an issue, or a worse injustice, that is taking more lives, but is protected by the law, than abortion?” Rose asked. “This is the greatest cause of our day.”
Rose’s speech was well received by the anti-abortion crowd.
“[Rose] was a marvelous speaker, very articulate, and she has some very interesting ideas for trying to expose the deceptions that take place in Planned Parenthood, using creativity and modern technology to bring those deceptions to light,” said Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., a member of University Faculty for Life and the moderator of the panel discussion. Kieran Raval (COL ’13), advocate for the Knights of Columbus and a member of the board of directors for the conference, agreed.
“She brought youth and enthusiasm and excitement to really inspire the attendants, many of whom were high school and college students, to get more involved and to become a leader as she was,” he said.
Rose did not shy away from controversy, calling abortion a “genocide” and said that “Planned Parenthood is built on eugenics.”
Amanda Lanzillo (SFS ’13), secretary for H*yas for Choice, told The Hoya that Rose’s spirited rhetoric may encourage polarization on the issue, a negative result in her eyes.
“I think that the problem with the issue [of abortion] is that people use very strong language that prevents people from people talking honestly about it,” Lanzillo said. “I would like to see more dialogue about these issues but people tend to drag in this kind of rhetoric, to use words like ‘genocide,’ and it becomes very difficult to have a thoughtful debate. … We need to be careful not to use language like that.”
Still, attendees on the anti-abortion side of the fence found the conference thought-provoking and inspiring.
“The panel discussion was spectacular,” Bower wrote in an email. “It was nice having this outstanding panel which discussed someone who had such a profound effect on the pro-life movement in the morning and then later in the afternoon, Lila Rose, someone who is motivating future pro-life leaders. It was a nice balance.”
The conference was followed Monday afternoon by a March for Life on the National Mall.
“This is the fourth year I’ve been to the march and the crowds are always tremendous,” Raval said. “The people are prayerful, they’re respectful, and you can tell that they are there with a sense of focus.”
“The whole message of the conference and the march is to educate people and make them understand that they have the power,” Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus Brendan Gottschall (COL ’12) said. “We want to encourage them to take action to get this done.”