President Jenkins issues Chicago Tribune letter disavowing Kay and Ostermann’s pro-abortion position

Fr. John Jenkins C.S.C. penned a brief rejection of Notre Dame Professors Tamara Kay and Susan Osterman’s pro-abortion views in the Chicago Tribune on December 6.

Jenkins wrote in response to their December 5 article, “Lies about abortion have dictated our health policy.” He states, “Tamara Kay and Susan Ostermann are, of course, free to express their opinions on our campus or in any public forum. Because they choose to identify themselves as Notre Dame faculty members, I write to state unequivocally that their essay does not reflect the views and values of the University of Notre Dame in its tone, arguments or assertions.”

The article by Kay and Ostermann lists five “lies” that are told about abortion in order to justify its restriction. Among the lies they listed were that “Abortions kill babies” and that “Abortion bans prevent abortion.”

They justified the first claim, stating, “Almost 90% of abortions occur during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy when there are no babies or fetuses. There are only blastocysts or embryos so tiny they are too small to be seen on an abdominal ultrasound.”

The second of these claims was substantiated by the fact that “Outlawing abortion makes it more risky, not less common. In El Salvador, where the government imposed a total abortion ban in 1998 with no exceptions, unsafe abortion is the second cause of maternal mortality overall and the third cause of mortality among adolescent girls.”

The link to the Health and Human Rights Journal cited by the authors above lent evidence to the fact that “The [El Salvador] abortion ban merely increases the likelihood of unsafe abortions, which contribute to high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity,” but it does not attempt to show that outlawing abortion does not make abortion less common.

After Father Jenkins’ response, a Notre Dame professor and two Notre Dame alumni wrote notable response articles.

Daniel Philpott, Rover faculty advisor and Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame wrote for the National Catholic Register, “The Truth About Life: A Response to Notre Dame Professors Kay and Ostermann.”

He argued primarily against the claim that abortion does not kill babies, stating, “The truth is that babies begin at conception and [this] has great consequences for justice. What is magic about the moment of conception? skeptics ask. In fact, something special happens at this moment: A new human being is formed. Three important qualities characterize it.”

These qualities of the conceived being are that “it is complete,” “it is distinct,” and that “it possesses an internally directed trajectory of growth.”

Philpott supports these claims by stating that a newly conceived human being is “a unified being with an entire set of chromosomes, containing the full incipient capacities of a human person. Had not the mother’s egg been fertilized, no such being would exist.”

He continues, “Although this being is dependent upon the mother’s nourishment, it differs from the mother’s kidney or stomach in that it is a separate human being that exists within a larger human being,” concluding, “Once formed, the zygote immediately begins to multiply, a process of expansion that, unless halted by natural threats or human decision, will develop into a person who will laugh, throw a baseball and acquire gray hair.”

The second response was written by Notre Dame Alumnus and Rover politics editor emeritus Jonathan Liedl, who now serves as Senior Editor of the National Catholic Register. It focused on Father Jenkins’ response to Kay and Ostermann.

Liedl praised Jenkins for taking action so quickly to disavow the public pro-abortion position of the two Notre Dame professors, writing, “The fact that his letter appeared in the subsequent issue of the Tribune, with no lag time between Kay and Ostermann’s truly scandalous piece and his own clarification, is laudable. Furthermore, it’s clear that Father Jenkin’s critique of the two pro-abortion professors is due to their position on the morality of abortion, which is contrary to his own, but, more importantly, to the university’s official pro-life stance.

But Liedl questioned whether Father Jenkins’ position was sufficient: “Even though professors can’t be removed from their posts due to the university’s academic freedom policies (which are themselves dubious according to actual Catholic teaching on academic freedom and the pursuit of truth), one might think Father Jenkins could use the opening created by Kay and Ostermann’s scandal to provide a more robust articulation of Notre Dame’s commitment to defending the sanctity of life by promoting prenatal justice in the pages of the Tribune.”

“Moderation has its limits. Too much of it, in fact, undermines the pro-life cause, by effectively communicating that protecting the unborn isn’t especially serious, or at least isn’t as serious as the commitment to dialogue,” concluded Liedl.

To substantiate his claims about the falsity of Kay and Ostermann’s article, Liedl relied, among other things, upon a December 8 National Review article by Alexandra DeSanctis, also written in response to the two pro-abortion Notre Dame professors’ article.

DeSanctis, former executive editor for the Rover and current fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and contributing writer for National Review, titled her article, “When Life Begins: A decisive rebuke of the silliest argument for abortion.”

She wrote, “The blastocyst grows into the embryo, into the fetus, the newborn, the toddler, the child, the adolescent, the adult, the man. He is the same human being all along, from the moment of conception. And he will develop through the course of a full human life — unless his life is cut short.

“Despite the understandable prejudices of abortion supporters, the biology of human life prior to birth is quite clear … Indeed, there is little dispute among scientific experts as to when human life begins. One survey a few years ago found that 96 percent of biologists agree that life begins at conception. That is, 5,337 biologists ‘affirmed that a human’s life begins at fertilization,’ while just 240 disagreed.”

Certain Notre Dame professors publicly deny this fact and stand in opposition to Church teaching. But Philpott concludes his article by affirming Notre Dame’s overall support for the pro-life cause, which he sees supported by Father Jenkins’ rejection of Kay and Ostermann’s position:

Notre Dame states its institutional support for the choice for life. Centers, institutes, clubs, faculty, staff and students advocate for unborn life and support pregnant women in their choice for life. President Jenkins has led Notre Dame’s contingent at the March For Life in Washington, D.C. on several occasions.”

Since the Keough School of Global Affairs, where Kay and Ostermann teach at Notre Dame, “proclaims its mission as integral human development, a concept in Catholic social teaching that centers on human dignity,” the “teaching and study of politics and global affairs at Notre Dame, then, has no choice but to take up what is far and away the largest defilement of human dignity on the planet,” concluded Philpott.

W. Joseph DeReuil is a junior from St. Paul, MN studying philosophy and classics. He can be reached at

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice