Precise language is essential to the national discourse on abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia, according to Lila Rose, the founder of Live Action, an American anti-abortion nonprofit organization. Rose keynoted the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life held in Gaston Hall on Saturday, where she spoke about the importance of acknowledging the rhetoric used during the abortion debate.
This year’s conference, titled “(Ir)religiously Pro-Life: The Future of the Movement in a Secular World,” was the largest student-run conference in the United States focused on Catholic life issues, drawing over 700 high schoolers, college students, young adults and scholars from around the country – the largest showing in the conference’s history, according to organizers.
Rose, who founded Live Action in 2008 at the age of 15, spoke about the obstacles that the anti-abortion movement faces in today’s world, including unity.
“Whether we are Catholics or Protestants, whether we are Republicans, or Democrats or independents or we don’t poll by a particular religious label or a particular political label,” Rose said. “Whether we’re students or professors, young or old, we’re all here because we share a common concern for the inviolable right to life.”
Rose also said that the language used during the abortion debate is especially important, and she encouraged the audience members to communicate their message clearly when speaking to the opposition.
“The abortion lobby in our country, today and from the beginning, have been masters at seizing the language and using it to mask the violence and the pain and the regret that so many men and women experience,” Rose said. “We tell the truth, and with the truth, the lies lose power.”
The conference is named after Cardinal John O’Connor (GRD ’70 ), who died in 2000 and is most known for his strong anti-abortion position. O’Connor received a Ph.D. in political science from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and served as the former archbishop of New York.
Michael Khan (COL ’18), a co-director of the event, said that this year’s conference specifically targets younger people in an effort to get them involved in the anti-abortion cause.
“With this theme in particular, that’s exactly the audience we’re targeting, because millennials are more likely to be less religiously affiliated than older Americans,” Khan said. “So, the question we want to pose at this conference is speaking to those millennials and maybe people who are nominally Christian or religious, or don’t believe at all.”
Claire Smith (COL ’19), a board member for Georgetown College Republicans who attended the conference, said Rose’s speech offered a new perspective on the abortion debate.
“I went to the Pennsylvania delegation’s March for Life reception around Capitol Hill yesterday,” Smith said. “It was really interesting to see the way that [Rose] talked about it from more of an outside perspective.”
A panel discussion, breakout discussions, Catholic Mass and remarks by University President John J. DeGioia followed Rose’s keynote address.
According to Julia Greenwood (COL’19), a co-director of the conference and a board member of Georgetown Right to Life, the breakout sessions intended to expand upon the topics presented in the speeches.
“The breakout sessions will address a variety of different aspects of the consistent life ethic and the pro-life movement,” Greenwood wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We have speakers coming to talk about various topics including the death penalty, natural law and end-of-life issues.”
The conference, which fell a day after the annual March for Life, an anti-abortion rally organized in observance of the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that, in 1973, overturned laws restricting a woman’s right to have an abortion, drew opposition from members of pro-abortion rights student group H*yas for Choice.
According to HFC Co-President Annie Mason (COL’18), the conference did not allow for an open dialogue on the abortion debate.
“In terms of trying to create a space that would spark dialogue that should represent different opinions, that’s really not the way to go about it,” Mason said. “In terms of the message they’re trying to get across, I don’t think the point is to engage with the pro-choice community.”
Twenty-five members of H*yas for Choice gathered outside the event in Healy Hall Saturday following an email message sent out calling on members of the club to “stand up to anti-choice bulls–t.”
Despite the opposition, Smith said she appreciated hearing Rose’s perspective on the abortion debate, especially the ways in which she drew from her experiences with Live Action to inform her current stance.
“Hers especially was a new point of view, especially as someone who has been from Live Action and who has done more exposés,” Smith said. “I think it was interesting to hear about that and to see how much work they put in.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that over 200 students attended the conference. Over 700 attended, according to organizers.