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Students oppose abortion-rights bill

Aaron Steiner | Thursday, March 19, 2009

In the early stages of the presidential candidate, then-candidate Barack Obama made headlines when he told a pro-choice group that “the first thing” he’d do as president was sign a controversial abortion bill that opponents call a radical attack on the pro-life movement.

Responding to a question regarding how he would preserve reproductive rights in a speech given to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007, Obama said, “The first thing I’d do, as president, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). That’s the first thing that I’d do.”

The legislation makes the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision federal law, and allows a woman to “terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability, or terminate a pregnancy after viability when necessary to protect her life or her health,” among other provisions.

While the bill has not been signed, or even reached the floor of Congress for debate during the current session, pro-life advocates have leapt into action since Obama’s election, and members of the Notre Dame community have joined the campaign to prevent the passage of the legislation.

Chief among the opposition to the bill at Notre Dame is the University’s student Right to Life club, which has organized a postcard campaign as part of a national movement.

Christine Romero, a junior and Right to Life’s legislative commissioner, called the bill “extremely radical, really draconian,” and said that through the postcard campaign, students can “let our congressmen know that we feel it is inappropriate.”

Romero said the club is working with Campus Ministry and dorms to facilitate the effort. Postcards, which are produced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, are sent to congressmen, stating the constituent’s opposition to FOCA.

The club ordered 12,000 postcards, Romero said. She noted that each person is able to send three to members of Congress – one to each of his state’s Senators and one to his Representative.

Wednesday night, representatives from the club gathered signatures outside both South and North dining halls.

“We had a really great turnout,” Romero said. She estimated around 1,200 individual postcards were signed.

In addition, Romero said that Campus Ministry has facilitated the distribution of postcards to every dorm through Campus Ministry commissioners.

In addition to supporters who mail their own cards, Right to Life, as well as some individual dorms, will fund the cost of postage, according to Romero and Brett Perkins, director of Catholic Peer Ministry for Campus Ministry.

“Our mission is one of solidarity with the voiceless and underprivileged, both women and unborn children,” Perkins said. The postcards convey a message to officials that FOCA “is a poor piece of legislation, is clearly an offense to life … and does not promote the well being of women, let along their unborn children.”

Angela Rossi, Campus Ministry commissioner for Cavanaugh Hall, said that her dorm was provided with 300 postcards, available for residents to sign. Cavanaugh will send the cards and pay the postage with discretionary funds, she said.

Rossi said the postcards coming from Notre Dame could have “a large effect,” pointing out that students hail from all 50 states and have a diverse mix of congressmen and women.

Rossi said there has already been a response in Cavanaugh, but “participation could be greater than what it is.”

“Maybe people are not aware enough, or maybe people don’t understand everything about [this act],” she said.

Mary Daly, a junior and president of Right to Life, said that she knows Right to Life supporters are aware of the legislation, but was unsure how much other students knew about FOCA.

“My general impression is that people have heard of it. The extent to which people are aware of the details – people aren’t as aware of that,” she said.

Daly said some people argue the bill is unlikely to pass through congress, due to the many controversial provisions it includes, but Daly said there is value in voicing opposition to the bill, “letting [legislators] know that people are against it, despite the seeming impracticality of [it’s passage].”

Romero said the response from Wednesday’s postcard drive was mostly positive.

“A surprising amount of students already knew what FOCA was without us explaining it,” she said.

Perkins agreed that he believes most students are aware “of the potential that FOCA legislation could be brought before congress, either in its entirety or piecemeal.”

Overall, he said, “the response to the campaign has been very favorable.”

Romero said that Right to Life would be collecting remaining cards from dorms that chose not to fund postage, and would mail them in the coming weeks.