Controversial professor claims that her support for abortion “comes from a place of deep faith”
Prof. Tamara Kay of the Keough School of Global Affairs spoke at a meeting of the Notre Dame College Democrats on Tuesday March 7. The sociology professor has been subject to national uproar over the past few months over her support for abortion at a Catholic university, which included posting offers to procure abortion pills on her office door.
The controversy surrounding Kay ticked up following an original report on her support for abortion by Rover Editor-in-Chief W. Joseph DeReuil. During the episode, Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins even issued a rejection of Kay’s views in a letter published in The Chicago Tribune.
College Democrats invited Kay for a “Women @ ND” event in order to “[speak] about her career and her research and how they’ve informed her activism around abortion rights post-Dobbs,” according to an advertisement for the talk posted in the SolidarityND GroupMe.
Kay first spoke about how she became involved in “women’s rights issues,” citing her participation in the “Take Back the Night” movement as an undergraduate at Northwestern University. She says that her subsequent experience working with a student group called “Northwestern Action Against Rape” where she did “work on violence against women … sparked [her] interest in reproductive rights.”
This interest led her to write her undergraduate senior thesis on “Abortion, Race, and Gender in the 19th Century.” The article sparked by her thesis work argued that medical opposition to abortion in the 19th century was a “white supremacist movement targeting, ironically, Catholics.”
The article was published in The Sociological Review, which she remarked is the “top journal in the discipline.” She later noted that without having this publication in a prestigious sociological journal, “[she] couldn’t have gotten [her later] job at Harvard,” though jokingly adding “[she] could have at Notre Dame,” taking a jab at her current employer.
When discussing her decision to come to Notre Dame as a supporter of abortion, she mentioned that she put this paper “front and center on [her] CV” and “thought it may be a problem.” But the provost at the time voiced no concern about what she called her “active research agenda” related to abortion during her hiring process.
She temporarily moved away from abortion advocacy when she came to UC Berkeley for her doctorate. There she began working on labor and trade issues, a field which she has spent most of her subsequent career researching.
But Kay says her focus abruptly reverted from trade issues back to abortion upon the announcement of the Dobbs decision last summer: “[With] the crisis that Dobbs has been for me personally … I felt compelled to turn back to that work [on abortion] … because there’s such a lack of expertise … especially here at Notre Dame.”
The audience questions Kay mostly focused on her recent controversial support for abortion since Dobbs. Kay responded that “[her] position on this topic comes from a place of deep faith.” She continued, “I know what happens when abortion is banned: people die … babies die.” “Babies who are born,” she quickly clarified.
Another student asked how Kay—as someone who supports abortion—ended up at Notre Dame, a Catholic university that “recognizes and upholds the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death,” as stated by President Jenkins in Notre Dame’s Institutional Statement Supporting the Choice for Life.
She stated that, though she had some initial reservations about coming to Notre Dame, “[her] Catholicism is about social justice, liberation theology, and the Farm Workers’ Movement,” so she was not particularly worried about working at a Catholic university. Kay added that Dobbs altered her comfortable position at Notre Dame because “it made people like [her] with expertise and experience on [the issue of abortion] feel compelled—from a deep, deep, faith-based place—to speak up.”
She stated further, “For me, being Catholic means … that you do the right thing even when it’s difficult. …Because if I don’t, who will?”
Kay added to this answer a defense of her choice to not explicitly respond to the critics of her actions: “I’ve been called human baby butcher, [but] I don’t throw back ‘woman slaughterer.’ That’s not how I roll.”
Lastly, Kay answered a question about what pro-abortion students at Notre Dame could do given the fact that clubs that promote abortion and contraception are not allowed on campus.
Kay replied, “It’s a hard thing; you have to really be fully committed to activism to really stick your neck out like I am.” She acknowledges that not all the students in the crowd could be as forward in their pro-abortion activities as she is: “I can’t impose that on you … but I’m doing me, and you should do you.”
Kay also remarked that she was surprised that Fr. Jenkins’ recent letter distancing the university from her views “suggested that students also have academic freedom.” She suggested that “if you have that academic freedom, you should use it.”
This observation about Fr. Jenkins’ letter prompted Kay to launch into a defense of academic freedom, amidst some recent criticisms of the principle based on the way it has been utilized to defend Kay’s pro-abortion actions and to reject a porn filter at Notre Dame. She affirmed, “You don’t have a university if you don’t have academic freedom.”
Regardless, for Kay, the focus of the pro-abortion effort “is not actually Notre Dame,” noting her recent publications in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Salon, and The Daily Beast. She was encouraged that there is “momentum growing” in support of abortion and emphasized that she is more concerned with “a national audience” than the controversy she has encountered at Notre Dame.
Although Kay’s talk was marketed as “open to all the pro-choice [sic] people in the campus community,” there were several members of Notre Dame Right to Life in attendance at the event. One of these attendees, Notre Dame Right to Life President Merlot Fogarty, commented on her observations in a conversation with the Rover: “Kay’s life story perfectly depicts the danger of an ideology that pushes abortion as the ‘solution’ for issues women and families face in raising children and child-bearing.”
“Although Kay has done praiseworthy work in service of women suffering sexual abuse, nothing can change the fact that she is living in wild opposition to Church teaching and advocating for the dismemberment of human beings as an easy ‘fix’ to the problems women face in our society.”
Kay’s most recent writing supporting abortion can be found in The Chicago Tribune, which published her op-ed arguing against restrictions on the abortion pill on March 6. Kay is currently on academic leave from her position in the Keough School for the Spring 2023 semester.
Luke Thompson is a junior from Flagstaff, Arizona majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies, political science, and theology. He had hoped to catch up and get ahead on his school work over spring break, but his wishes were all too expectedly unfulfilled. Send him more time or questions at email@example.com.
Photo credit: Image published on Kay’s Keough School of Global Affairs Faculty Page
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