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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Saint Mary’s can and must do better

This is a synopsis of a letter written to Saint Mary's President Katie Conboy and her administration in response to a March 28 presidential panel held that focused on campus life in the wake of last summer’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision, which turned the legislative power over the legality of abortion to state governments. Sadly, this event served to highlight the lack of Catholic identity at Saint Mary’s and the unwillingness of the panelists to clearly defend the Church’s staunch commitment to the sanctity of life.To begin, President Conboy spoke at length on the topic of abortion as an intellectual issue rather than a moral injustice to be combated by faithful Catholics. Thus, she subtly gave weight to the arguments of those on campus defending abortion under the moniker of “reproductive justice.” Although she claimed her academic treatment of abortion was in line with Father Hesburgh's reasoning (i.e. “the Catholic university is where the Catholic church does its thinking”), she ignored the fact that he took brave action to combat one of the main moral issues of his day (i.e. the Civil Rights movement). When asked why she did not give a statement on the Dobbs court decision, she said she felt conflicted between responding as a women’s college or as a Catholic college. The fact remains she leads a Catholic women’s college, and so, she is called to defend the Church's teaching that abortion ends the life of an innocent child and gravely harms the mother — often physically, mentally and emotionally, but most importantly, morally. The women of Saint Mary’s deserve to know the truth about the evil of abortion. The women of Saint Mary's have a unique and beautiful life-giving power that must be wielded with love and respect for both ourselves as mothers and for our unborn and defenseless children. As Saint Pope John Paul II emphasized, we must desire to see the fullness of the feminine genius in our world which means advocating for and protecting women — both born and unborn. Vice president for mission Julianne Wallace and vice president for inclusion and equity Redgina Hill stated abortion was a complex issue. True, every mother who is pregnant will have different situations, unique needs and difficult challenges, but this is a simple issue at its core. Life begins at conception. No matter how challenging the situation may be, it will always be morally wrong to kill the person in the womb. Church teaching on this is irrefutable (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2270-2272). Wallace said that “acts of terminating life even in the most extreme circumstances,” and paused. I was hoping she would say a tragedy… but instead, she said, “are difficult when doing so saves another one’s life.” The USCCB clearly states that killing her child is never the solution for addressing the mother’s health. Also, in the vast majority of cases, mothers are not getting abortions because their health is at risk. Abortion is not a treatment for cancer nor does it not eradicate a life-threatening disease. It is the intentional ending of the life of a human being with completely separate and unique DNA from his or her mother.  As a Catholic women’s college, we need to help mothers experiencing a crisis pregnancy and those who are post-abortive and suffering. This is an area we are clearly lacking, as there was silence for over 10 seconds from every panel member when asked about resources for post-abortive students. When Belles for Life attempted to fill this gaping hole, it took us months to get resource posters approved for pregnant students and post-abortive students. Even then, they were torn down by students who would rather stifle honest debate on campus than attempt to defend the truth about abortion. Where is a statement by the SMC administration condemning the actions of these students who tear down resources while claiming they are “abortion-rights activists?” When it was time for audience questions, it was abundantly clear the chairs of the post-Dobbs student and academic committees were filtering, re-wording and omitting questions submitted to them. Most of the students at the event were from Belles for Life and the editing of questions actively shut down anti-abortion students' voices. Many of the panelists celebrated having “tough conversations” about abortion on campus but then had no intention of answering the tough questions of pro-life students. Director of the Center for Spirituality Fr. Horan addressed numerous questions seeking an explanation about how Saint Mary’s can dissemble on the topic of abortion when the Catholic Church is clear in its teaching about the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. “How do we maintain Catholic identity and at the same time uphold some of the space needed in higher education to have difficult conversations, especially when it seems to some folks that there is more of a black-and-white worldview than what Vice President Wallace explained in her remarks?” he queried.So, why are anti-abortion students who embrace Church's stance on this issue dismissed because they see abortion as either morally wrong or morally right? If this is truly a place for thinking and tough conversations, students’ concerns and beliefs should be valued. But as a Catholic institution of higher learning, Saint Mary’s has a responsibility to provide correction and moral guidance to its students when there is confusion, just as they would with intellectual errors.While I applaud President Conboy and SMC leadership for creating opportunities for those on both sides of the abortion issue to discuss the topic in a civil matter, I feel these events also showed a bias towards the abortion advocates. The first event hosted by associate professor Megan Zwart (“Dialogue Not Debate”) was even-handed, but the previous talks were less so. It was ostensibly a history of “reproductive justice in Northern Indiana,” but it offered students no counterpoint to explain the Church’s stance on contraception and abortion. I, along with many other current students and alumni, feel like a marginalized minority on campus because we believe what our Mother, the Church holds true. We often hesitate to defend our faith or espouse conservative ideas in the classroom because we fear being labeled intolerant. Supposedly, a diversity of ideas are welcome, but why does this Catholic institution actively promote ideas and campus events that attack the very teachings of Catholicism? As a Catholic school, we must follow Jesus in all that we do and pursue the truth with great love. The panelists and all leaders of SMC must discern whether or not they are living up to this call. Over 190 students and alumnae have signed the letter I sent to President Conboy and other leaders of the college because we believe Saint Mary’s can and must do better. 

Ashley Kraker


April 13

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.