Over 400 students descended on Georgetown this Sunday to participate in the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, a series of speeches and discussions that culminated in the annual arch For Life on Monday. Held in Gaston Hall, the three keynote speakers, each representing a different attitude toward the anti-abortion rights movement, shared their experiences with students who had come from schools as far as Xavier University in Ohio and Notre Dame in Indiana.

Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priest for Life, began the conference by calling abortion a form of sanctioned violence against women, and expressed clear support for the newly-elected administration’s position on abortion. Pavone was followed by Cathleen Cleaver, the chief spokesperson on anti-abortion rights issues for the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Cleaver, who received a law degree from Georgetown, delivered a message that the chiefly anti-abortion audience would consider optimistic: “We are winning this war,” she explained. “Abortions are down.”

Encouraging the students to disseminate relevant information, she added “get the numbers out there; 80 percent of abortions are for reasons of birth control.”

Slated to give the final speech, Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.) canceled his appearance due to food poisoning. He was replaced by Representative Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), another staunchly anti-abortion rights congressman. Calling abortion the “greatest civil rights issue of our generation,” Pitts called the controversial partial-birth abortion “pre-term delivery that results in infanticide.”

Pitts offered insight into the legislative action currently under construction and spoke at length of his own bill, “The Women and Children Resources Act.” Placing the blame for abortions on poor health care funding rather than women themselves, Pitts called his act “an $85 million bill to fund anti-abortion alternatives like adoption as well as to provide resources to pregnant women.” Pitts was optimistic about his bill, but conceded that “We have to be realists. We can set the agenda, but we won’t always have the votes.”

Following nearly four hours of speeches, students broke off into discussion groups to reflect on what they had just heard.

Jeff Huebon, a junior from Vanderbilt University, claimed he felt “rejuvenated to see that there are other people fighting this fight.” However, Nick Tarraska, also a Vanderbilt student, claimed to be “surprised by how many students were pro-life but had no reason to be – they had no knowledge of fetal development, the acts of congress or the history of the movement.”

The formal conference ended Sunday evening, and was followed by the annual March for Life, which commerated the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion. Jennifer Bradley (COL ’03), outreach service chair of GU Right to Life, said she was “delighted with the way the conference went; it far exceeded my expectations, and I was so happy to see Gaston filled with students.”

The conference, which took place last year as well, was sponsored by a number of organizations, including GU Right to Life, Faculty for Life, The Knights of Columbus and Compass, a Catholic group composed of college students.

According to Elizabeth Brown (COL ’02), an executive board member of GU Right to Life, “the conference was designed to celebrate the life of [the late] Cardinal O’Connor, who had been the loudest voice of pro-life support in this country.” According to Brown, Compass and GU Right to Life took the lead in choosing the three speakers. “We thought that a lawyer, a legislator and a priest would offer different perspectives on the issue,” she said.

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