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Panel focused on pregnancy care

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, November 2, 2005

While pro-life and pro-choice advocates are polarized on many issues concerning abortion, they agreed on one point Monday in LaFortune Ballroom at the Notre Dame Common Ground Project – society does not do enough to protect and provide for pregnant women.

This was the focus of the forum where professors and students came together to discuss, understand and find common concerns in the abortion debate, particularly how to help pregnant women socially, financially and medically.

The project was organized by Notre Dame senior Kaitlyn Redfield and sponsored by the Feminist Voice, the Department of Sociology, the Program in Gender Studies, the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and the Gender Relations Center in an attempt to foster respectful dialogue between pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

“At this institution, we grapple with many important questions,” Redfield said. “Our goal is to honor the humanity on both sides of the debate, to understand each other, to understand the scope of this issue.”

The event featured a faculty panel of Kathleen Cummings, associate director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism; Teresa Phelps, professor at the Notre Dame Law School and fellow of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies; and Todd Whitmore, associate professor of Theology and director of the Program in Catholic Social Teaching.

“This is one of the very, very few times I have heard anything like this at Notre Dame … Both the pro-life and pro-choice positions define both life and choice in narrow ways,” said Phelps. “Instead of trying to preserve or overturn Roe vs. Wade, we should all work to reduce the number of abortions. Many times in the debate, either the fetus or the woman has the rights, and this either/or dichotomy is ill-described.”

All three panelists focused on what society should do in order to better care for pregnant women.

Cummings told a story from her early years of teaching when one of her students had an abortion because she had too little support and resources. Cummings said her student may not have felt so helpless if the institution had been like the “Dream Campus,” a vision by Feminists for Life, a group containing both pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

“The goal of the Dream Campus is to reduce the number of abortions by providing parents with resources,” said Cummings. “On the Dream Campus, there would be pregnancy and parenting resource centers, family housing, scholarship funds for parents, cry rooms in the library, and an accommodating class schedule.”

Whitmore spoke of the Nurturing Network, a nonprofit program started in 1986 that also helps pregnant women and new mothers with medical costs. In addition to financial support, pregnant women need to be socially accepted, Whitmore said.

“Catholic women who have abortions are seven percent more likely than other women to say they are having the abortion because they are afraid of retribution from others finding out they had sex,” said Whitmore. “This raises questions about whether a punitive attitude toward sex raises the number of abortions. Fear of retribution from having sex outside marriage drives women to commit an even greater sin.”

Phelps said that besides financial and health issues, at the heart of the abortion debate is morality.

“We say we value babies, but as a society, we don’t demonstrate that,” Phelps said. “We make it so difficult for women who are pregnant. We should not tolerate society’s not taking care of women.”

“Is ‘common ground’ possible? Frankly, it’s all we’ve got,” said Phelps.