DANIEL SMITH/THE HOYA The 16th Annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life took place Saturday, and saw uninterrupted protest from H*yas for Choice.
DANIEL SMITH/THE HOYA
The 16th Annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life took place Saturday, and saw uninterrupted protest from H*yas for Choice.

As approximately 500 people gathered for the 16th Annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life in Gaston Hall on Saturday, around 20 members of H*yas for Choice, a pro-choice student group unaffiliated with the university, staged an eight-hour protest in Healy Circle.

At last year’s conference, H*yas for Choice protesters were removed from Healy Circle by the Georgetown University Police Department. In September, GUPD mistakenly removed H*yas for Choice protesters from 37th Street during an event in which the university bestowed an honorary degree on Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. At Saturday’s conference, the police did not approach protesters or comment on their presence.

Conference attendees came from colleges and high schools across the country and included faculty, clergy and young professionals from the D.C. area. The conference aimed to focus on the value of human life and encourage pro-life dialogue with lectures such as “Theology of the Body: Building a Culture of Awe and Wonder” and “Mercy and Forgiveness: A Life Issue Even for the Guilty.”

The Conference on Life is unique compared to other conferences that convene in the area during the days leading up to the March for Life, conference co-director Evelyn Flashner (COL ’15) said.

“From our position at a Catholic university, we take as our duty and our pleasure to invite more intellectually rigorous speakers, not necessarily Catholic, who will address these issues not necessarily from an activist perspective but more of a perspective of intelligent debate. That’s always been one of our missions,” Flashner said.

The conference opened with a keynote address by His Eminence Sean Cardinal O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, and ended with a panel discussion titled “The End of Intelligent Debate.” Flashner and the conference board of directors aimed to foster a debate about what Flashner said was a “disturbing” tendency to distort and sensationalize abortion.

“It’s addressing this tendency to shut down debate and use euphemisms and rhetoric to cover up the real issue at hand,” Flashner said regarding the final panel. “To any seriously held belief on abortion, whether pro legalized abortion or against it, I think it’s essential to look at abortion as honestly as possible.”

While the conference went on, H*yas for Choice protestors yelled chants such as, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay — Cardinal O’Connor, go away” and “Pro-life, that’s a lie; you don’t care if women die.”

H*yas for Choice President Abby Grace (SFS ’16) and Vice President Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ’17) said they want the university to recognize that the Conference on Life is another example of underrepresentation of certain groups within the student body.

“I think the biggest misconception that people have is that we don’t want this conference to happen,” Grace said. “While we definitely disagree with everything being said in the conference, the reason why are protesting and why we continue to express our opinions is because we believes that it is fundamentally unfair that H*yas for Choice is the only viewpoint that is consistently silenced.”

DeLaurentis, who wrote a blog post about the conference, said he was upset about some of the “virulently racist and homophobic” viewpoints held by some of the speakers.

“I think the conference is a slap in the face to a lot of Georgetown students, so while Georgetown can claim that it is a pro-life university solely based on the fact that it’s a Catholic university, so many of the speakers comments go so far beyond that,” DeLaurentis said.

Members of H*yas for Choice posted six opinion pieces on the group’s blog before and after the conference that criticized its motivations. One post addressed Damon Clarke Owens, a speaker at the event, who DeLaurentis said has openly expressed anti-gay and homophobic sentiments on social media.

“I wonder why Owens would be invited to speak at a university-endorsed conference,” DeLaurentis wrote in his post. “How can Georgetown simultaneously justify this speaker while continuing to claim to be progressive on LGBTQ issues? What does the university have to say to queer students whose basic dignity has been challenged by this speaker?”

Grace also wrote a post on H*yas for Choice’s blog criticizing conference speaker Jennifer Lahl, who opposes assistive reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization.

“Writing, ‘Assistive reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization not only involve serious medical risks, they also disrupt family life and commodify human beings.’ Lahl misses the forest for the trees,” Grace wrote in her blog post. “If anything, technologies such as IVF empower individuals to have the family life that they determine is best for them. Just because an individual’s family life fails to perfectly align with Lahl’s conception, it is not any less of a family.”

Flashner responded to the protesting that prefaced the conference, specifically the H*yas for Choice blog posts, by expressing a wish for members of the pro-choice movement to attend the conference in an effort to engage in dialogue.

“I would love for H*yas for Choice to attend our event,” Flashner said. “I’m not in the business of converting any of them to the pro-life position, but I would love to encourage dialogue to inform each other’s positions. I worry when the opposition is entirely devoted to shouting opponents down and disqualifying discourse or debate according to either personal positions or actions of speakers, and I worry that an emphasis only on protest standing outside such a discussion without attempting to enter into discussion at all.”

DeLaurentis called the invitation to attend the conference “disingenuous.”

“The way that I think dialogue should work is that both parties should come to it on equal footing,” DeLaurentis said.“When the pro-life student groups can have the nation’s largest student pro-life conference in Gaston Hall, and I get removed from a public sidewalk by a DPS officer, how can you say that any type of substantive dialogue can go along?”

Flashner said the overall goal of the conference is to have an open, honest forum on pro-life positions.

“I would hope that any attendee from Georgetown’s campus will walk away being more edified, understanding more clearly what it is either that they believe or that they whole heartedly rebel against,” Flashner said. “That’s why we try to invite students of all different perspectives.”

Conference co-director Spencer Crawford (SFS ’16) said that he sees next year’s conference theme focusing on common ground between the pro-life and pro-choice movements.

“I think we share a lot more in common than what we may originally think, so I really want to focus more on the sociological effects of issues concerning the prolife movement,” Crawford said.

Pro-choice supporter Michaela Lewis (COL ’18) attended the panel and expressed her frustration with one-sided conversation.

“The issue I take is with the way the panel was conducted,” Lewis said. “I find hypocrisy in the title, ‘The End of Intelligent Debate,’ in that the panel did not function as a debate as it only told one side of a very divisive issue. There was no opportunity for another viewpoint to be represented. … I don’t know how you can make progress when you are expressing your viewpoint to a group of people who also share it. When there is no dialogue, no one is learning anything.”

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4 Comments

  1. A cardinal comes to speak on campus–not just any cardinal–but one of only nine members of a Council of Cardinal Advisors that the Pope has selected to work with him to implement reforms in the Church. And the Hoya chooses to give the headline not to him but to a group of pro-choice protesters standing outside. Why am I not surprised? Also, can someone ask those protesters how in the world Cardinal O’Malley has been “racist”?

  2. Hoya Alum Spouses says:

    Also zero coverage of any Hoyas participating in the March for Life, joinig the MSM with a total coverage blackout. Unfortunately GU is now reaping the rewards of a 25 year admissions policy that has driven the Catholic student population under 40%, leaving it a campus undistinguished from any secular university and burying its claim as being the pre-eminent Catholic university in the US. Nothing remains of that great Catholic Ivy that was home to a Catholic intellectual tradition.
    Today’s students want “diversity”, which means accept what the secular world preaches else you are a racist or a homophobe. There will be no joy for them until every last one of the 200 odd Catholic colleges/universities in the US capitulate and trade in their institutional souls and embrace the secular agenda. We now ignore Jesus who taught us that “you are not of this world.”

  3. Other Hoya Alum says:

    Think about the kind of mental issues that go behind spending large amounts of time arguing against Catholic values at a Catholic school you willing chose to attend and for something that is already legal. Think about it.

  4. Other Hoya Alum has it right. These people are literally deranged. There the same sort who write blogs and come up with articles about how to argue with your family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Think of the psychopathy there. Instead of enjoying a celebration and relishing the time you have with your family members, you feel obligated to go into battle with them. That’s the Social Justice Warrior mindset. Sadly, they do it at GU too. Fluke openly admitted that one of the reasons she chose the law school was to fight against the birth control ban. People like this are trolls, and nothing more. That’s all H*ya’s for Choice is in reality.

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