Panelists discuss application of pro-life world view to current issues

Notre Dame Right to Life and the Catholic Social Tradition Program hosted the third and final installment of “A Pro-life Vision of the World” series on November 17. Five panelists spoke about the issues of women’s healthcare, physician-assisted suicide, prison reform, international development, and civic engagement.

Right to Life Vice President of Events Dan Lindstrom told the Rover, “The panel was important insofar as it educated our club members about what it means to be a wholly and consistently pro-life person—one who respects the dignity of all individuals throughout the duration of their lives. In covering topics from feminism and women’s healthcare to immigration, global development, and disability, we showed that being anti-abortion, though essential, does not sufficiently encompass being pro-life.”  

The first panelist was Suzy Younger, a certified FertilityCare Practitioner at St. Joseph FertilityCare Center. She spoke on women’s health and how natural family planning both empowers and educates women by helping them understand and respect their bodies and fertility. Through NaPro technology and charting, she has been able to assist women in addressing issues from hormonal imbalance to miscarriage prevention and even reversing chemical abortions, which have increased in the South Bend area after the closing of the Women’s Pavilion abortion clinic.

She contrasted the NaPro approach to healthcare with the pill’s approach, describing how birth control aims to “suppress and destroy [a woman’s] system, masking the problems, skipping over the actual correction of the issue, damaging the ecology, looking at people as potential human beings instead of human beings with potential like we would in our field. We are so focused on finding out what’s the actual problem and going to fix it … which is what women deserve … to be healthy.”

  1. Carter Snead, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Ethics and Culture, discussed the dangers of physician-assisted suicide laws and policy. He referred to a study performed by the New York Task Force on Life and the Law which deemed physician-assisted suicide to be dangerous and opposed its legalization due to the negative effects it would have on vulnerable populations. He said that groups such as minorities, the poor, disabled, and elderly are more likely to be discriminated against if laws are passed legalizing physician-assisted suicide.

He then detailed other risks surrounding the issue, such as coercion by family members or insurance companies, the corrosion of the doctor-patient relationship, and elder abuse. He sees it as a slippery slope from voluntary physician-assisted suicide to involuntary euthanasia. Snead also described the decrease in the quality of palliative care and pain management and the lack of proper psychiatric evaluation of patients in states like Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal.

Although several states have followed Oregon in legalizing it, Snead remained optimistic about the large number of organizations and demographics opposing physician-assisted suicide. He said that compared to the current political polarity surrounding abortion and other life issues, “we are at a very healthy place where there are quite a few folks who regard themselves or identify themselves as progressive or liberal who recognize the deep problem of legalizing assisted suicide, which makes it easier to talk about in a pluralistic society.”

Margaret Pfeil, who holds a joint appointment in the Theology Department and in the Center for Social Concerns, examined how a pro-life vision could be applied to prison reform. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and minority groups are in prison at an increased rate compared to whites. Pfeil has researched this phenomenon known as hyperincarceration.

She also showed the connection between mental illness and imprisonment and spoke about the need to provide psychiatric help instead of prison sentences for the mentally ill who have committed crimes. Another trend she found concerning was the increase in private companies instead of the state running prisons since they “would not be worried about life issues, but rather profits.”

She emphasized the importance of a restorative approach to justice that focuses on those harmed, those who do harm, the circumstances surrounding the situation and their respective needs. She suggested that communities should consider how to “better accompany them rather than put somebody in prison and walk away as if the society has nothing to do with the person anymore.” If care is not shown for the needs of individuals, it is likely that they may return to prison, thus continuing a vicious cycle.

Paolo Carozza, Professor of Law and Director of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, provided a framework for international development which keeps the inherent value of human life at its center. He identified key ideas revolving around human dignity and addressing poverty and gave examples of how those could be tangibly lived out.

He identified development as much more than raising money or redistributing income to fix problems. Carozza contested the widespread belief that people are obstacles to development and the best way to eradicate poverty is to simply “get rid of poor people or prevent them from being born.” He countered this claim by asserting that “people are the greatest resource in the world and are the engines of development.”

He reiterated that when society recognizes individuals’ dignity and potential, people are empowered to enact change and become more than just “passive recipients of aid.” Like Pfeil, he views genuine accompaniment as an integral part of being pro-life in all aspects.

Laura Hollis, who teaches in the Mendoza College of Business and the Law School, concluded the panel discussion by speaking about how to be pro-life within one’s civic engagement, both in the public and private spheres. She referenced the danger in the recent shift from prohibitory injunctions to mandatory injunctions where an individual “says I have this right therefore you have to help me do it and are obliged to participate in it.” This type of philosophy has been used to stifle the work of pregnancy resources centers in California and Illinois by forcing them to refer women to abortion clinics.

Hollis examined what it means to be pro-life in the public sphere and stressed the importance of having the space and ability to operate and engage in a legal sense. She said that it is ineffective to only focus on banning physician-assisted suicide and abortion without an emphasis on this ability to engage others in the public sphere.

In the private sphere, Hollis sees that there needs to be space for one-on-one engagement in imitation of Christ. She remarked, “You only convert one heart at a time. To the best of my knowledge, no penal code, no prohibition, no statute has ever converted anyone—ever.” With this in mind, she recognized the great responsibility to be present to those in difficult situations and supply the necessary resources and support that only individuals—not laws—can provide.

All of the panelists agreed that people must change themselves and their understanding of the value of human life before laws can change. There must be a radical encounter with another and a looking outside of oneself to bear an authentic pro-life witness in the world.

Mackenzie Kraker is a sophomore studying biochemistry and theology. She recently changed majors and now needs to learn Spanish. If you have any foreign language learning talent or advice to share, contact her at