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From the Archives: The Notre Dame abortion debate goes to D.C.

| Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Diane Park | The Observer

Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a two-part From the Archives series depicting the navigation of abortion issues at Notre Dame. The first part was published Monday, Jan. 31.

The abortion debate proved to be as relevant and emergent as ever when the Women’s March and the March for Life both occurred on the same day, Jan. 19, 2019, in Washington, D.C. There was Notre Dame representation at both of these marches. In this second installment, From the Archives examines Notre Dame’s first official student-organized effort and experience to attend the Women’s March and explores how two seemingly disparate communities on campus voiced their beliefs and found reinvigoration on the issue of abortion in D.C.

Two marches. One weekend. 

Jan. 23, 2019 | Erin SwopeJan. 18, 2019 | Marie Fazio and Colleen Fischer 

Researched by Uyen Le

On the night of Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, two sets of buses jammed full of students and Notre Dame community members departed from Notre Dame, beginning a 10-hour journey to Washington, D.C. Sixteen buses carried 850 people to the annual March for Life, which has become a cherished tradition for the anti-abortion community on campus.

However, there was one bus filled with about 40 students that was headed to a different event occurring the same day: The third-annual Women’s March. 

Though Notre Dame students had attended previous Women’s Marches, 2019 was the first year when Notre Dame students coordinated a formal trip to the event. It was a ground-up movement: Student Rachel Ingal (‘21) had reached out to College Democrats the previous semester to sponsor the event. From there, Ingal and other motivated students, including Jack Grogan (‘19) and Patrick McCabe (‘21), started their work in planning a successful journey to D.C.

Observer archives, Jan. 23, 2019
Notre Dame students attend the 3rd-annual Women’s March in Washington D.C.

McCabe (‘21) expressed surprise at the overwhelming interest in attending the Women’s March.

“We were definitely shocked by the level of interest that we found in this event because it was definitely something that we started from the ground up. We sent out an interest form last month just to see if there would be enough people interested to go,” he said. “We put it out at 8 p.m. and by midnight we had 138 responses, and by the end of the next day we had 250.”

Attendants found the messages of inclusivity and intersectionality to be prevalent at the Women’s March, as speakers at the March came from diverse backgrounds.

“There were a lot of speakers‚ whether it was from Standing Rock, transgender, Latina, there were so many different perspectives and speakers and I think there were a lot of people who were there and came to March for women’s rights,” Ingal noted. “But they were also there to learn about the perspectives of other members of the community. I think that there really were a lot of people learning how to develop an inclusive definition of women’s rights.” 

A successful endeavor, Notre Dame’s presence at the Women’s March was a step towards elevating women’s issues and rights on campus. 

“I think in general, our mission is to facilitate a loud, feminist progressive voice on this campus often in contrast with other voices that we hear on this campus,” Grogan said. “And I just don’t think there has been that sort of institutional vehicle in the past to elevate those voices.”

Additionally, Grogan observed how the Women’s March was heightening narratives and perspectives that had been overshadowed by the values espoused in the March for Life. 

Observer archives, Jan. 23, 2019 | Courtesy of Patrick McCabe
Protesters march near the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

“I think that last year and this year we saw, sort of, the March becoming more consistent and permanent presence in the D.C. universe, which is something that obviously the March for Life has had for several decades now and I think the Women’s March is starting to gain that kind of traction year after year,” Grogan said. “… I have seen a greater sense of legitimacy.”

Despite existing for decades before the Women’s March, the 2019 March for Life sought reinvention and revitalization by placing religion into dialogue with science and other disciplines, embracing the theme “Unique from day one: pro-life is pro-science.”

“A lot of people often think of the pro-life movement as a really religious movement, and sure, there are a lot of religious people within the movement, but it’s not only animated by the religious background of its members but also by science, by reason, by philosophy and all sorts of disciplines that go into creating a holistic view of the pro-life position,” Matt Connell (‘19), vice president of communications for the executive board of the Right to Life Club, said.

Many students on the March for Life voiced their dedication to the anti-abortion movement. 

“I am very passionate about being pro-life and understanding the real reasons, and how to argue with someone who is pro-choice. [It] is very important and I feel like you learn a lot of information by going on a trip like this,” Rachel Ledyard (‘22) said. “I also feel like there is power in numbers and it is amazing how many people show up to events like this and how moving that is.”

“There’s a lot of really serious attacks on life in our nation and around the world, chief among them abortion,” Connell reflected. “It’s really important to bear witness to the dignity to every human life and remind people what a gift it is to have life.”

Though the two marches seemed to uphold different values, student accounts challenge this assumption, as both marches advocate for the protection of vulnerable communities and promote human dignity. 

“The Women’s March is important to me because it brings attention to the injustices suffered not only by women, but also by racial minorities, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community,” William Sheriff (‘22) said in an email.

Similarly, Morgan Chichester (‘20), president of the Saint Mary’s group Belles for Life, remarked that the March for Life “is shining a light on the issue of abortion, but is also promoting the beauty and dignity of life to be valued. It is shining a light on it, it’s getting people together to create change whether that is legislatures or just in people’s hearts.” 

The Women’s March and the March for Life in 2019 reminds us that there is always space for conversation. That weekend, many students chose simultaneously to stand up for their beliefs and to educate themselves more about the issues that they are passionate about. They chose to listen to intimate stories and to advocate for the most marginalized communities, while also engaging in dialogue with people who held different beliefs.

Though some might look back and see that weekend as a divisive time in Notre Dame’s history, that weekend also affirmed the resilience, vulnerability and compassion of Notre Dame students, all traits we should applaud and strive toward.

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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.

Contact Uyen