Why I Didn’t Attend the Conference on Life

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H*yas for Choice’s rally Saturday in opposition to the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life received some criticism. Some people posted comments online and others beseeched us as we tabled and rallied outside. Instead of “rabble-rousing” in Healy Circle, some argued, some members should have gone into the conference, listened to the speakers, and “politely stated” our objections in Q&A sessions to gain a “richer experience”.

Members of the group may have independently attended the event, but HFC did not make a concerted effort to send individuals to ensure the group’s representation. Here is my attempt to justify that decision.

H*yas for Choice members outside Saturday’s conference

First, to co-opt the rhetoric and argumentation so often used to criticize HFC — e.g., “How egotistical to believe you need to provide information about sexual resources! The internet exists!”; “You do realize students can walk a few blocks and buy condoms from CVS, don’t you?” — the internet exists. These speakers do not exist in a vacuum. They have published books, given interviews, written articles, and teach at Georgetown. Cardinal O’Malley even has a regular podcast. Their opinions and values are not a secret, and neither are their bigotry and bias.

Indeed, HFC members posted an article every day leading up to the conference, laying out specific complaints about speakers at the conference by drawing on this information. To argue that I needed to go to the conference in order to fully understand the perspectives and arguments of these individuals is simplistic. In fact, this logic is dangerously close to blatantly contradicting other arguments HFC is used to hearing. “Why did you come to a Jesuit university if you disagree so strongly with their values,” we’re told time and time again. “What, exactly, did you expect? You made the choice to come here, so to protest the administration’s policies is to rage pointlessly against the machine.”

I can only imagine that if dedicated HFC members attended the conference and asked truly probing, substantive questions, the group would be met with the same criticisms: “Why did you come to the conference if you’re just going to aggravate the speakers and attendees? What did you expect was going to be said? Why bother challenging something you can’t change?” The argument that if I went, I might learn something is tinged with superiority — if only I could understand what anti-choice people are really saying, this argument seems to implore, there is no way I could remain so aggressively in favor of reproductive justice.

If the university — or rather, the students organizing the conference — truly wanted a richer experience for everyone, they would heed Hoyas United for Free Speech’s call for a more diverse population of speakers. It would not require abandoning their faith, or bringing in a radical choice activist. Catholics for Choice, for example, is based in Washington, DC. In fact, a speaker who challenges some long-held beliefs of members of the conference would truly uphold the ideal of the conference, “An End to Intelligent Debate?”

It is not the responsibility of H*yas for Choice to provide the sole dissenting voice, or to agitate hopelessly where they cannot and will not be heard. Perhaps it would be in the best interest of the concerned students and participants who wanted HFC to attend to meet the group halfway. Even if those students are unwilling to do so, the ultimate inequality of the situation is that if HFC had wanted to organize a similar conference, speaker, or even discussion, they would never have been able to use Gaston Hall and John DeGioia would never have sent the student body an email about it.

It’s an old argument but an important one: HFC does not have access to any university resources simply because Church officials do not agree with what they say. I’m not arguing the university shouldn’t have allowed the Conference on Life to occur, but I feel no need to attend a conference that was institutionally designed to not even take my beliefs into account. H*yas for Choice has a much more vested interest in protesting outside the event than in going in and listening to tired arguments and anti-choice rhetoric. The event is not live-broadcasted. The only people who are going to see the event are people who pre-registered beforehand and plan to give up an entire Saturday to attend. These dedicated people will not change their opinions because of some “pointed questions” we direct toward speakers. It’s a generous assessment of the average participant’s open-mindedness to even say they would objectively listen to our arguments, as we are expected to do by attending.

However, tabling outside the front gates captures the attention of a much larger portion of the Georgetown community, some of whom may not even be aware of the conference. Every person who stops and asks, “Why are you tabling here today?” has an opportunity to hear the group’s opinions that they otherwise would not have had. In terms of spreading awareness, tabling outside is an easy choice.

Despite the fact that HFC seems to constantly butt heads with the administration, that is not its purpose. Its purpose is to empower the students of Georgetown to have the information necessary to make sexual-health decisions for themselves, while spreading information and agitating for reproductive-justice issues. Visibility is a clear and integral part of that agenda.

To conclude: Was H*yas for Choice obligated to attend the conference in order to stage a legitimate protest? No. Was it a better use of HFC’s time to protest where we could reach a larger, more willing audience? Yes. Does this mean, if HFC students chose to attend, that they should not have done so? Of course not. However, I, for one, am not apologetic for the protest, and I am not apologetic for not attending the conference.

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Emily Stephens (SFS ’17) is the secretary of H*yas for Choice. Her views do not necessarily represent the views of HFC as a whole. 

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Mary Hasson, a Secular and Pro-Choice Worldview Did Not Kill My Great-Grandfather

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Beginning and end-of-life questions are deeply personal decisions that should be made within families. These decisions can be incredibly difficult and are often made in response to nuanced situations. In Christian families like mine, we often turn to God for guidance in making these decisions. This is a practice that Mary Hasson, a panelist at this year’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference, does not respect.

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For example, despite what anti-choice extremists may believe, a secular and pro-choice worldview did not kill my great-grandfather. One such extremist, Mary Hasson, pens an article in which she treats a family’s personal decision as a cruel injustice perpetrated by a Godless worldview. The “injustice” in question is ceasing to provide nutrition to a dying patient. This is a common and caring practice often enacted in the final days of a patient’s life, but the uninformed extremist Mary Hasson brands it as “starving grandpa” to demonize the beliefs of families that come to different conclusions than she does.

Withholding nutrition does sound like a strange practice if you are not familiar with end-of-life care, but it is often the most loving and logical thing to do. For patients with advanced dementia, force-feeding a dying patient does not provide comfort, but in fact introduces stress and suffering. Medically, it does little to improve the nutritional status of a patient, and it does not appear to increase the lifespan of a patient. (More on this topic can be found here.)

Not a year ago, I received an uncomfortable call from my mother. Great grandpa’s health had taken a turn for the worse, and he only had days left to live. This was not a total shock. I had watched my great-grandfather’s Alzheimer’s progress for years, and I did not remember a time when his heart was healthy. As is typical with advanced Alzheimer’s, his body was no longer capable of swallowing and digesting nutrition. His daughter consented to not forcing artificial nutrition. Forced nutrition would have just added another burden to his ailing body. This decision was made with a heavy heart, not a callous, secular world view.

During this time, faith was an incredible comfort to my family members and me. We acted in accordance with our Christian values and provided love and care to one another. Personally, I prayed often and was able to find peace in my faith that his death was part of God’s plan.

This is not what I would call “starving grandpa.” Mary Hasson and the anti-choice community should make an effort to better understand the world around them before passing malicious judgment on things clearly beyond their grasp. If Georgetown continues to host the Cardinal O’ Connor Conference, surely they can do better to find panelists willing to give serious thought to serious issues.

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Sarah Rabon (COL ’16) is a member of H*yas for Choice and a dedicated feminist. 

Pro-Life Advocates Didn’t Want Me to be Born

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I was conceived in a loving union. My parents were thrilled to find out they were going to have a child. My mother delivered me in Georgetown University’s Women’s Hospital just over twenty years ago. Four years later, my brother joined our family in the same manner. But to the leadership of the Catholic Church, our lives were never supposed to happen.

My two mothers decided to have children by artificial insemination, a practice prohibited by Catholic doctrine. Although many have lauded Pope Francis for supposedly adopting a more tolerant stance on homosexuality and gay adoption, the keynote speaker of the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, says that the pontiff should not be understood as changing doctrine: “The church cannot change its views to suit the times,” but must rather work harder to persuade an increasingly unconvinced public that its social teachings are holy and true.

Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley is the keynote speaker of Georgetown's 2015 Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life

Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley is the keynote speaker of Georgetown’s 2015 Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life

Not only does Cardinal O’Malley not want LGBT folks to conceive children, but he would also rather end all adoptive services than allow gay couples to adopt and care for children. I can say from personal experience that there has not been a single detriment to my life due to the fact that I was raised by lesbians.

I can say that there have been moments where the social stigma around my family’s arrangement has caused disapproval from peers and onlookers — I think my 6th-grade boyfriend (Catholic) dumped me because he found out. But my mothers cannot be held accountable for the weight of society, nor can any other individual.

Mona Charen, another conference speaker, thinks that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to raise children because male and female parents bring complementary and necessary skills to the table. Children raised by two members of the same sex are deprived. I appreciate the concern, really, but there is no evidence to support her claims. My moms offered my brother and I untold wisdom, and I respect them more for the fact that they faced judgment and adversity about their lifestyle. If anything, my life has been enriched by being raised by people who are more tolerant of others than your average parents.

So, here’s the thing that I can’t resolve about pro-life dogma: Why, on the one hand, are women who get pregnant without planning on it required to give birth, while women who want to get pregnant — despite the odds being stacked against them — are discouraged from doing so? Is it truly pro-life to tell committed and loving unions not to use the means available to them to create a new life?

I cannot reconcile pro-life ideals with bans on gay adoption, IVF, or artificial insemination: all devices with which men and women who have a desperate calling to raise and love children can make their dreams come true. I cannot support a conference hosted by a group of people who believe that my very birth was a sin while at the same time proclaiming to value the sanctity of life. I cannot respect a doctrine that spews hatred toward the first women on the planet who ever loved me.

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Marilyn Arwood (COL ’17) is a member of H*yas for Choice. 

Hey Georgetown, Your Conference is Racist!

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Damon Clarke Owens, a breakout speaker who is leading the Theology of the Body: Building a Culture of Awe and Wonder discussion at this Saturday’s Cardinal O’Conner Conference on Life, is the current Executive Director of the Theology of the Body Institute and has also served as National Spokesman for L.E.A.R.N. (Life, Education, and Resource Network) — the largest African-American, evangelical, pro-life ministry in the United States.

Rev. Clenard H. Childress, Jr., the National Director of LEARN, stated that it’s purpose is to “enlighten — through activism and literature — the African-American churches and other community groups to the horrors of abortion and how it is decimating the African-American community.” Their site blackgenocide.org offensively equates abortion to both the Holocaust and slavery in the US.

The “Black Genocide” movement conspiracy theory advocates the belief that African-American populations are targets for population control at the hands of abortion providers who strategically place clinics in low-income neighborhoods, leading to higher rates of abortion among African-American women compared to white women.

This “planned genocide” of African-American babies was popularized by the former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who stated that “[w]hen Margaret Sanger … started Planned Parenthood, the objective was to put these centers in primarily black communities so they could help kill black babies before they came into the world.” Other groups, like Georgia Right to Life and the Texas-based, anti-abortion group Life Always, use terminology like “Planned Parenthood’s Negro Project” and billboards like the one depicted below to selectively co-opt civil-rights rhetoric in order to make abortion seem like a racist, eugenic plot designed to decimate the African-American population. Instead of giving thought to the historical, societal, and cultural influences that affect the heightened rates of abortion among women of color, these groups veil their movement behind racist claims and incorrect facts.

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Cain’s claim that abortion clinics are disproportionately located in lower-income or predominantly African-American communities is flat-out wrong. The Guttmacher Institute found that, actually, only 1 in 10 clinics are located in these neighborhoods. Although the claim that abortion rates are higher among women of color is true (the same study found that African-American women account for 37% of all abortions in the US, despite only making up 13% of the population), when underlying racial and ethnic factors are taken into account, the claim of an orchestrated genocide falls apart completely.

It isn’t only Black women who are having more abortions than white women — the rate of abortion among Hispanic women is double the rate among Whites, and Hispanic women are more than twice as likely as White women to experience an unintended pregnancy (the rate is three times for Black women). Is the reproductive-rights movement also trying to get rid of Hispanic babies? Probably not.

Logically, the women who tend to experience the most unintended pregnancies are also the same women who tend to get abortions. What the statistics show isn’t a White conspiracy designed to kill Black babies, but instead that women of color are getting pregnant unintentionally disproportionally more often than White women. Instead of trying to determine what racist plot is causing these women to get abortions, anti-choice policymakers should actually question what they are doing that is causing such a high rate of unintended pregnancies — and what can be done to prevent them in the future.

The Guttmacher report also found that many women of color face significant difficulties when it comes to health-care access. Many are unable to afford highly effective birth control methods that require a steep upfront cost, like the IUD. Those who do obtain contraceptive services generally get them at family planning centers, which are funded by Medicaid — a common target for Republicans. In addition, it found that “life events such as relationship changes, moving or personal crises can have a direct impact on method continuation.” When these disruptive life events occur more frequently among a certain population, the population experiences a higher rate of unintended pregnancy.

By continuing to reduce access to contraceptive services and by making it harder for the most at-risk populations to obtain the reproductive healthcare they need to stay healthy (and not pregnant), anti-choice policymakers are actively contributing to increased rates of abortion.

The anti-choice movement needs to stop painting abortion providers as racist eugenicists; it needs to stop co-opting populations’ historical struggles in in an attempt to fulfill its own agenda. Doing so is racist and offensive — Georgetown, with all its Jesuit values, should actively oppose these actions.

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Sophia Kleyman (COL ’16) is Events Coordinator of H*yas for Choice. 

Mary Hasson: Sex is Not a Minor Issue

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In high school, I was a pretty good daughter: straight A’s, extracurriculars, and only a few instances of misbehavior bad enough to warrant being grounded. However, like many teenagers, I was sexually active — probably earlier than my parents would have thought or wanted. My parents knew nothing about that part of my life, and I wanted to keep it that way. Mary Hasson, a speaker at this year’s Cardinal O’Conner Conference on Life, does not seem to agree with me. Hasson wrote an article called “Youth Rights and the Shrinking Power of Parents,” in which she decries a world where youth can make decisions about their own sexual health — without their parents.

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Ethics and Public Policy Fellow Mary Hasson

According to Hasson, teens are just too young to make these kinds of decisions: Their careless and uninformed ways are a poor substitute for the sound advice of their families. She actually criticizes the fact that, in every state, teens can request confidential STI testing. She also lashes out at school health centers for providing girls with IUDs and other forms of contraception without parental notice, and she is shocked that some centers want to give emergency contraception as well.

Why are these realistic policies bad, according to Hasson? She believes that they inflict harm on the family as an institution, saying, “Significant territory already has been ceded to youth autonomy, to the detriment of young people and families alike.” Is it really detrimental for a teen to make a decision about his or her own body? In high school, I was lucky enough to have parents who I know would have supported me had something unexpected happened, although I didn’t share the intimate details of my life with them. I also had access to contraception. In Hasson’s ideal world, parental permission would be required for something as innocuous as buying condoms. Even with tolerant parents, if I had to ask my parents directly to buy condoms, would I? Probably not. Would I still have sex? Probably. I can’t even imagine how high-stakes the situation would become with less tolerant parents.

This sounds like a classic case of a teen exhibiting poor judgment, which is what Hasson is assuming to be true. But, what does she expect? Teenagers are able to show good judgment regarding their sexual health only if they are in an environment that is open to it. In many households, that is not the immediate family. And that’s okay. That’s why we have confidential testing, schools with trustworthy third-party adults, and access to contraception. Taking those things away will not stop teenagers from having sex, but it will decrease the number of teens who have safe sex. In this scenario, the health of everyone is at stake.

The pro-life movement focuses on preventing women from having abortions. Maybe it should consider creating an environment in which fewer abortions are necessary. Restricting teen access to birth control is not only unrealistic, but would also ultimately increase the number of pregnant teenagers forced to make that kind of decision. Conference on “life?” Hasson, maybe you should consider the lives of teenagers first.

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Zoey Krulick (COL ’15) is the treasurer of H*yas for Choice.  

Reproductive Justice: Way More than Your Everyday Abortion Rights

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When I talk to many of my friends about my involvement in H*yas for Choice, most of the time, the conversation is relegated to discussion of abortion itself. Second to that (and maybe only because of my American flag made of condoms) contraception is the focus of the discussion.

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Abby (HFC President) and Vincent (HFC Vice President) in front of the most beautiful piece of modern art ever created.

However, viewing reproductive justice through this narrow lens is a disservice to what the reproductive-justice movement is truly about: every individual having his or her own reproductive agency. Reproductive agency extends beyond the decision to terminate a pregnancy — it also encompasses the decision to become pregnant, to raise children, and to have the power to change the environment in which one’s children are raised.

Fortunately for many, modern medicine has made it far more possible for couples who were previously unable to have children to conceive. I am proud to be a result of these modern technologies, and I will always be thankful to my parents and the countless medical professionals that made my life possible.

But unfortunately, the anti-choice community can’t find it in their hearts to leave even one plank of the large Reproductive-Justice platform unscathed. This year’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference has found Jennifer Lahl, a speaker who is willing to oppose this seemingly all-around good cause.

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Center for Bioethics and Culture President Jennifer Lahl

Lahl’s larger criticism of assistive reproductive technologies is cloaked in concern for disadvantaged populations who might be coerced into acting as surrogates or donating eggs or sperm. However, dive deeper into her writing and it is evident that her examples are homophobic (a surrogate mother refusing to give up the baby to a gay couple), overly occupied with potential failure rates, and predicated on the existence of an inherent, undeniable biological connection between parent and offspring — regardless of whether or not the parents and offspring have ever met.

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. 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.

Perhaps what is most personally insulting to me is Lahl’s repeated assertion that children conceived through assistive reproductive technology are likely to feel loss because they are not directly connected with their biological parents.

From personal experience, I can tell Lahl that she would be far better served by asking people who were conceived thanks to assistive reproductive technologies about their opinions on the matter. Rather than lending credence to bizarre, fear-mongering, futuristic claims that within 50 years all children will be engineered in a lab, Lahl should refrain from “other-ing” individuals conceived in that fashion.

Lahl hides behind trendy hashtags like #eggsploitation and #breeders, but at the end of the day, her argument rests on the preservation of traditional familial structures that only inhibit the reproductive agency of women. Instead of opposing assistive reproductive technology all together, Lahl and her supporters would be better served by targeting systemic inequity.

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Abby Grace (SFS’16) is the President of H*yas for Choice and an IVF baby. 

Hey Georgetown, Your Conference is Homophobic!

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At this Saturday’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, Damon Clarke Owens will lead a breakout session with student participants. Owens currently serves as the Executive Director of the Theology of the Body Institute, but has served as the New Jersey Director of the National Organization for Marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage is the leading organization — which truly isn’t saying much — in the fight against same-sex marriage. Although NOM’s prominence and funding have greatly decreased in recent years, it has continued to put forth dangerous and violent rhetoric against queer people. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted, these claims have ranged from accusing queer people of trying to attack people of faith (as if these groups are mutually exclusive) to claiming that queer people are more likely to be pedophiles.

As the New Jersey Director of NOM, Owens is directly responsible for this legacy and for furthering violence against queer people. Although there are incredibly valid class/race/feminist critiques of marriage as a rights-giving institution, it is clear from Owens’ writing and his Twitter (see below) that he isn’t using critical theory to deconstruct marriage as an oppressive system. Instead, he is motivated by a deep distrust — if not hatred — of queer-identified people.

Owens’ narrow-minded ideology has had violent consequences for queer people. By leading the fight against marriage equality in New Jersey, Owens sought to deny queer people access to healthcare, equal treatment in immigration proceedings, and access to an equitable tax system. These all constitute acts of violence against queer people that Owens should be held accountable for.

Damon Clarke Owens is a man who puts forward a worldview that is prejudiced and violent. This doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be able to espouse his views: Owens has every right to be a prejudiced, narrow-minded person in whatever forum in which he’s invited to participate.

However, I wonder why Owens would be invited to speak at a university-endorsed conference. 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? How can we as a community claim to “Care for the Whole Person” or, even more broadly, respect “Life” while endorsing speakers who spit on the dignity and physical, emotional, mental, social, and financial wellbeing of members of our Georgetown family?

I truly hope that Georgetown respects its students more than Damon Clarke Owens does. I hope that the University is ignorant of Owens’ views. If this is the case, I’d like to take a moment to make the University aware of the rhetoric they are endorsing: Hey Georgetown, your conference is homophobic!

Selected Tweets from Damon Clarke Owens

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Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS’17) is the Vice President of H*yas for Choice and a dedicated male feminist.