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From the Archives: Notre Dame’s historical navigation of abortion

, , and | Monday, January 31, 2022

Diane Park | The Observer

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a two-part From the Archives series depicting the navigation of abortion issues at Notre Dame. The second part will be published online Tuesday, Feb. 1.

This January marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, reigniting conversation and controversy as prominent groups on campus, such as the Right to Life Club, organized to voice their beliefs about the issue of abortion. Though this debate seems more heated than ever before, it has been a prevalent conversation for the last few decades, as the Notre Dame community attempts to navigate a complicated and nuanced topic.

In this week’s edition, the From the Archives team investigated how opinions on abortion have evolved over Notre Dame’s history and how students have mobilized to express their views and to advocate for communities they seek to protect. We explore initial reactions to the 1973 decision, highlight notable marches throughout the years and examine present-day efforts of mobilization, all of which have shaped Notre Dame’s debate on abortion.


Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s react to historic Roe v. Wade ruling

Jan. 24, 1973 | Marlene Zloza | Researched by Spencer Kelly

On Monday, Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision to legalize abortion in the Roe v. Wade case. Two days later, as the nation still reeled in the aftermath of the ruling, The Observer captured the reactions of students and faculty at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

Notre Dame Director of Campus Ministry Fr. William Toohey described his feelings of “surprise, dismay and astonishment” upon hearing of the ruling.

Observer archives, Jan. 24, 1973
Fr. William Toohey, the director of Campus Ministry, condemns the Roe v. Wade ruling.

“I consider this a decision against the affirmation of life,” he said.

Toohey also said he felt that the ruling was antithetical to the ideals of social movements occurring at the time.

“The most painful thing is the inconsistency of the war protests and the respect for life [in the ecology movement] in contrast to the disregard for the unborn and their welfare,” he said.

Toohey cited protests against civilian bombing in the Vietnam War as an example of a respect for life that he believed was disregarded in the Roe v. Wade decision.

In general, the women of Notre Dame — during their first year allowed on campus — expressed more favorable reactions to the ruling. Katie Duffy, a member of the ND Women’s Caucus, agreed with the Court’s decision. 

“The Caucus has not specifically discussed the abortion issue, but I would say that we feel it should be a personal decision not to be regulated by the states,” Duffy said. “In this sense we favor a liberalized law.”

Fr. Roger Cormier and Fr. Ned Reidy of Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry released a statement on behalf of the College.

“Colleagues among the St. Mary’s College faculty, in different disciplines, are appalled at the decision of the Supreme Court disallowing the states to protect the rights of the unborn and for not granting the benefit of the doubt to the fetus,” the statement read.

While denouncing the Supreme Court, Cormier and Reidy commended the Catholic Church for “proclaiming that life is to be lived, that all life is to be respected, particularly the innocent life of the unborn.”

While this reaction generally aligned with that of Fr. Toohey, Toohey rejected the idea that abortion was a matter of religion.

“This is not a Catholic issue, as is the use of contraceptives, but a humanistic one,” Toohey said. “Anyone who believes in the affirmation of life should be against legalized abortion.”

Notre Dame Women’s Caucus voices opinions on abortion and the future of women 

Jan. 25, 1973  | Bill SabinFeb. 14, 1973  | Steven Carr 

Researched by Lilyann Gardner 

Women throughout the United States were at the forefront of the conversation surrounding Roe v. Wade and abortion rights, including the community of women at the University of Notre Dame. Bill Sabin (‘74), a staff reporter for The Observer, interviewed five members of the Notre Dame Women’s Caucus in response to the ruling. 

The students of the Notre Dame Women’s Caucus all shared experiences in the common fight for gender equality and the promotion of women’s well-being and interests, yet their viewpoints on abortion conflicted. 

“The Supreme Court doesn’t have the right to make that decision,” Kitty Carroll (‘74), an undergraduate member of the Caucus, said. “Abortion is murder.” 

Graduate student Alana McGrattan (‘73) and faculty member Carole Moore of the Notre Dame Women’s Caucus disagreed with Carroll’s sentiment and celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion. 

“It’s about time,” Moore succinctly proclaimed.

The discourse, however, did not end with mere satisfaction or dissatisfaction — most responses were much more nuances.

Members of the Caucus highlighted that “the social stigma that is presently attached to unwed mothers” plays a large role in why women choose to have an abortion. Additionally, they felt that an increased number of birthing centers, adoption programs, and educational or counseling options for responsible family planning were beneficial regardless of the Court’s ruling.

A few weeks later, Observer staff reporter Steven Carr provided an overview of the Feb. 13, 1973 Women’s Caucus rap session. The Caucus came to the unanimous agreement that “women should have a choice about how they would like to live their lives.”

Many women in the organization voiced their support for the women’s liberation movement and stated that it is essential that women set goals for themselves rather than relying on the comfortability of complacent roles within the home and within broader society. 

Observer archives, Feb. 14, 1973
The Notre Dame Women’s Caucus discusses the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The Caucus also emphasized that fear of instability and the unknown of new beginnings was the drive behind why many women across campus and the country were reluctant to join the movement.

“The change must come from within. Women must change their own attitudes about themselves,” Caucus member Carole Moore said.

The students and faculty members of the Notre Dame Women’s Caucus were pioneers for female empowerment and growth and were actively involved in sharing their views with the larger Notre Dame community.

From roses to arrests: In the shadow of Roe v. Wade, tri-campus students fight to end abortion

Jan. 22, 1974 | Jack D’Aurora | Jan. 25, 1993 | Paul Pearson

Researched by Evan McKenna

Roe v. Wade’s decision to legalize abortion on Jan. 22, 1973 not only altered the course of American politics; it also left an indelible mark on the month of January. Each year, the ruling’s anniversary reignites the eternal conflict surrounding abortion rights in the United States.

And the tri-campus community’s strong Catholic identity often pulls its schools into the center of this conflict. On Jan. 22, 1974, the first anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students joined other members of the South Bend Right to Life organization in marching across downtown to oppose the ruling made a year prior.

In solidarity with the National Right to Life organization’s lobbying effort of sending thousands of roses to Congress members to advocate for life, demonstrators carried roses as they marched. The march concluded at the Robert A. Grant Federal Building, where demonstrators hoped to capture the attention of Indiana Congressman John Brademas, who had previously been silent on the issue of abortion. 

“Brademas hasn’t stated that he’s pro-life, and we want to show him how many people are behind this movement,” Notre Dame student Keith Montgomery said at the march. 

Montgomery also criticized the University administration’s lack of initiative in the fight to end abortion. In the final months of 1973, he said, a number of articles appeared in The Observer calling upon the school’s leaders to take action — but so far, they had stayed silent. 

“We have heard no word from Fr. Hesburgh or the Board of Trustees that would even insinuate that the University would take the initiative to get behind the pro life amendment and protect unborn babies,” Montgomery said. 

On the same day, the National Right to Life organization and the National Youth Pro-Life Coalition were planning a massive march across Washington D.C., culminating in what would end up being the first annual March for Life. Beginning in 1979, the event’s sixth year, members of the Right to Life Club of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s would begin to attend the march yearly.

The year of 1993 was no exception: 59 students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in the March for Life. 

Observer archives, Jan. 25, 1993
Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students attend anti-abortion protests in Washington D.C.

And on the 20th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, tensions were high — so high in fact, that three Notre Dame students were willing to face arrest to fight for their cause. 

The three students — sophomore Kelly Dwight, junior Claire Johnson and first-year Robert Schlosser — were arrested and charged with “incommoding,” akin to trespassing, after blocking the entrance to a Washington, D.C. abortion clinic alongside about 100 other protesters. Similar demonstrations took place at two other clinics across the city.

“We managed to keep the clinics closed for most of the day,” said Johnson, who called the demonstration a “rescue.” 

The three students were released and given citations for $50 to be paid within 30 days, but Johnson said she did not plan to pay the fine. 

“We don’t believe in giving money to a system that allows [abortions] to happen,” she said.

If Johnson failed to pay the fine, a warrant for her arrest would be issued in the District of Columbia.

“If they catch me down there again, they’ll hold me there a little bit longer,” she said. 

Besides their arrest, the three students were met with significant pushback during the demonstration at the clinic. Dwight reported that abortion rights advocates were “shouting obscenities” at the anti-abortion activists, and both Dwight and Johnson said the police on site did not provide adequate security to separate the two groups of protesters. 

Despite these struggles, Dwight described the experience as “one of the most worthwhile experiences [she] ever took part in.” 

The 1993 March for Life brought record-breaking numbers, with attendance estimates ranging from 75,000 to 200,000 participants. Johnson, who had participated in anti-abortion marches and demonstrations for four years, said the march was one of the largest advocacy events she had ever attended.

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About Uyen Le

Uyen is a senior at Notre Dame, studying English and Gender Studies. She is currently serving as the Leader of the From the Archives Project. Though she loyally follows AP Style in The Observer, on all other platforms, she is a strong proponent of the Oxford comma.

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About Spencer Kelly

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About Lilyann Gardner

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He served as The Observer’s Managing Editor for the 2021-2022 term, and is currently rekindling his relationship with the Oxford comma. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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