Previewing Respect Life Week

Next week, Notre Dame Right to Life will kick off one of its two primary programming weeks for the academic year, Respect Life Week 2019: “Authentic Love, Authentic Freedom.” The club will host prayer, service, and educational events that seek to engage the abortion issue and work to build a culture of life, where abortion is, to quote the club’s announcement of the week, “both illegal and unnecessary.”

Past Respect Life Week themes, such as “Pro-Life is Pro-Woman,” have engaged feminism and abortion. The club will continue to explore this relationship in this week’s keynote lecture to be delivered by Helen Alvaré, a professor of law at George Mason University. Alvaré is well-regarded as one of the great communicators of the pro-life cause, and has served as speaker and delegate for the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, as well as as an ABC news consultant. Her upcoming lecture, “Women’s Liberation: Authentic Feminine Freedom in a Post-Roe Era,” will explore the effects of abortion and contraception on the ability of women to find fulfillment in career, family, and life. 

The club’s email announcement continued: “as Catholics we know that true freedom lies not in the glorification of our individuality, but in our ability to love and serve others.” However countercultural this may appear at face value, it recognizes a deeper reality of our human nature: freedom cannot exist in isolation. Autonomy for autonomy’s sake is not liberating, but imprisoning. 

With advocates for abortion often touting promises of autonomy and freedom that abortion postures to provide it is important that we, as a campus and a community, engage the realities of abortion and contraception and the definition of freedom they offer. 

In Evangelium Vitae, Pope Saint John Paul II writes that the Gospel of Life is, at its core: “the presentation of human life as a life of relationship, a gift of God, the fruit and sign of his love.” Further, this Gospel “is the call for a ‘sincere gift of self’ as the fullest way to realize our personal freedom” (81). 

What kind of culture does this call us to build? And are we building it here at Notre Dame? 

I often speak in these “culture-building” terms: how am I crafting a Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love? How does my advocacy, my columns or tweets or arguments, change hearts and minds?

Of course, there are political and legal moves to be made. Policy offers some solutions and the law must change. We have to call for a proper recognition of the rights enshrined – and not enshrined – in our Constitution. But we cannot settle for just overturning Roe v. Wade (or, perhaps more importantly, Planned Parenthood v. Casey), passing bills, or remanding licenses. We cannot pack up our bags when that has been done; we have to redefine and cherish the dignity of every human person, from conception to natural death. A Gospel of Life calls us to something more. 

Of course ND Right to Life, and the pro-life movement en masse, will fight for a Roe reversal. The right to take a life is no right at all. We will demand that clinics that victimize vulnerable women and children be shut down. We will champion heart-beat bills and bills that forbid disability and sex-selective abortion. But we will also champion the pregnancy resource center that offers a woman in need the love and support she needs to be the mother she is capable of being. We will lift up an adoption system that protects and fosters children who don’t have those mothers or fathers and ensures they find safe and loving homes quickly. We will also fight with organizations that protect the rights of the disabled, the immigrant, the elderly, and all those excluded and marginalized. In short, we ought to be willing to do the cultural heavy lifting. We must be, as NDRTL’s shirts proclaim, “Pro-Life for All-Life.” 

This heavy lifting is the work that ND Right to Life is doing during Respect Life Week. It is a political shift, a campus conversation, and a theological reclamation of the human person, yes. But underlying all of that work is the understanding that a respect for human life has to be built on an atomic level: a community-based, human-focused, cultural level. That respect is grounded in complete self-giving love, and that love liberates us to live fully free. It is only there that we can live out authentic love, and by giving of ourselves, live in authentic freedom. It is only then that we will make abortion both illegal and unthinkable. 

Join Notre Dame Right to Life this coming week for lectures, panels, prayer opportunities, and service work that engages this cultural work. Find the full schedule of events at

Maggie Garnett is a sophomore studying theology and constitutional studies. She spends much of her time talking about a culture of life and civilization of love while serving as Vice President of Communications for Notre Dame Right to Life. Ask her about it at