Heidi Beidinger loses race for Indiana House District 5

Heidi Beidinger-Burnett, an Associate Professor of the Practice in the Eck Institute for Global Health at Notre Dame, campaigned as a Democrat for Indiana House of Representatives Seat 5 against incumbent Republican Dale DeVon, falling short in last Tuesday’s midterm. She stated, “I decided to run for House Seat 5 after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and I recognized that my daughters would not have the choices, autonomy, and freedoms that I have had.” 

Beidinger maintains that there is an “existential challenge from extremists who want to limit individual freedom and human dignity and to increase the government’s reach into our personal lives.” Her platform also includes positions on voting rights, gun violence, and environmentalism.

This campaign was not Professor Beidinger’s first foray into the issue of abortion. Over the summer, while serving as the President of the Board of Health in the St. Joseph County Health Department, she signed a statement responding to the Dobbs case which reads in part, “The St. Joseph County Department of Health believes that women, their partners and families, and medical professionals must maintain the authority to make the judgment surrounding the need for termination of a pregnancy under exceptional circumstances to protect the lives of women and prevent an increase in maternal morbidity and mortality.” Right to Life of Michiana criticized the Department’s statement, writing, “It is a shame that the department’s claims about the supposed necessity of abortion in exceptional circumstances confuse women with misleading terms, all under the guise of promoting public health.”

Professor Beidinger’s run for office generated mixed reactions at Notre Dame. Merlot Fogarty, the President of Notre Dame Right to Life, disagrees with Beidinger’s contention that pro-life advocates are undermining freedom: “I’d challenge her to contemplate the choices, autonomy, and freedoms of the human beings killed in abortion every single day in America.” Moreover, Fogarty argues that it is “important for Notre Dame to retain her Catholic identity in what she and her faculty promote and support.” Finally, she believes state level engagement by pro-life advocates is crucial, especially as some states are “enshrining the right to abortion in their state constitution.”

On the other hand, Katie Werner, who serves as the Communications Director for the Notre Dame College Democrats but spoke only on her own behalf, applauds Beidinger’s run: “I am concerned about our democratic institutions and the attack on women’s rights, and I am so glad I have representatives in the ND faculty who share these concerns.” Her organization has coordinated with Professor Beidinger before. 

As to whether Notre Dame should intervene when professors espouse positions contrary to the University’s, she maintains that the school “has no authority over controlling speech by faculty who have positions that do not align with Notre Dame’s.” Importantly, Werner contests the claim that Beidinger-Burnett’s comments should be regarded as objectionable at a Catholic University: “Considering American Catholics largely disagree on the legalization of abortion, I also do not see Prof. Beidinger-Burnett’s stance as anti-Catholic.” Going forward, she believes that abortion restrictions will continue to draw more women into politics.

Professor James O’Brien of the Mendoza College of Business serves as the faculty advisor for the Notre Dame College Republicans and previously served as a St. Joseph County Councilman. While he is “always pleased to learn that some members of the Notre Dame family wish to use their time and talents to serve in the political sphere,” he emphasized that it is “incumbent on all politicians of both parties to recognize the value and sanctity of life of and for the unborn.” Professor O’Brien supported the candidacy of Rep. Devon because of “his commitment to protecting the most vulnerable among us—preborn babies.”

According to political science professor Daniel Philpott, the overturning of Roe requires greater state-level engagement by pro-life advocates “in referendums, court battles, and elections at all levels.” Moreover, these efforts must be complemented with “new and amplified efforts to encourage and empower pregnant women to make a decision for life.” 

Considering “academic freedom is the condition that enables genuine inquiry,” Professor Philpott believes it important that Notre Dame allow faculty “to run for public office and to espouse their positions publicly.” Importantly, though, academic freedom must “never be understood to be at odds with the truth or somehow based on indifferentism or relativism,” and the University has a duty to promote its Catholic character in its internal governance and curriculum. 

“A Catholic university ought to make its mission to teach Catholic perspectives in every field according to the subject matter of that field,” he argues. This includes the discipline of politics, in which concern for human dignity must be paramount: “Students ought to be encouraged and empowered to go out into the community and work constructively and compassionately for life, as they ought to for other areas of justice.”

Adam Morys is a junior from Downingtown, Pennsylvania majoring in history and philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. When he is not reading, you can find him listening to music and taking walks around campus. Please email him at amorys@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: Notre Dame faculty page