Catholic universities have a unique role to play in the pro-life movement; they should ensure that all students hear the pro-life message, and be supportive of students on campus who are working to share the pro-life movement. Particularly, they must avoid the trap that is becoming too common on college campuses, which is to avoid tough topics because of the reactions they may receive. If anything, Catholics and Catholic universities have a duty to tackle difficult and uncomfortable topics.
At the core of Catholic teaching is care for the marginalized and the protection of all human life, which begins at the moment of conception. This teaching is laid out in numerous places, but can be found, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right — it is the very opposite. It is a deep wound in society."
That is why it is so disappointing and disheartening to hear the stories coming out of otherwise good Catholic universities such as Dominican University, in the suburbs of Chicago, and Carroll College, in Montana. Both schools serve as just two examples of the ways that Catholic universities can hinder the pro-life movement.
Despite being Catholic, the Stars for Life group on Dominican University’s campus found themselves being ordered to remove their Planned Parenthood Truth display, which involved over 900 pink crosses, representing babies killed by Planned Parenthood every day. Barrington Price, an administrator at the school, told the students he was supportive of what they were doing with regards to promoting the dignity of human life, but said that ‘cross imagery creates harm’ and ordered that they remove all the pink crosses (despite having already received permission to put them up on campus).
While Price’s argument is ostensibly that women who are post-abortive could be triggered by the crosses (and here I’m using the phrases un-ironically, since post-abortion syndrome is real), his solution was not productive. The school, including those post-abortive women, would have been better off seeing the presence of the pro-life group on campus that had resources to talk about healing after abortion. Instead, Price and the university tried to mask the real issue that is abortion on college campus. Hiding the truth about abortion helps no one, and in doing so, Price and the university harmed the pro-life movement.
Likewise, at Carroll College in Montana, administrators tried to say that they could determine the best tactics for the pro-life movement. Administrators barred students from putting up Planned Parenthood Truth tour banners, claiming that an on-campus event took precedent. But why?
A Catholic university should be proud to show on-campus visitors how their students took initiative to hold Planned Parenthood accountable. While the school did participate by allowing the students to put up crosses on campus and holding a mass for the preborn, their actions sought to stifle an effective messaging display (in fact, groups using the display have had success rates as high as 68% in terms of convincing students not to trust Planned Parenthood). The school also stifles free-speech by requiring that a public relations representative for the school approve all social media posts of groups on campus.
Catholic universities must ensure that their students are fully supported in discussing the very tough, but important, topic of abortion. Catholicism and a Catholic education should never mean avoiding tough issues or trying to skirt around a difficult topic. If anything, part of being a Catholic leader should be boldly and gracefully embracing the issues of the day with clarity and truth. When Catholic universities implement policies that stifle free-speech, they impede the ability of their students to become leaders and to change the world for the better, a goal that is at the center of Catholic education. The effects of this failure to lead on instilling a respect for all human dignity is possibly why Catholic politicians who attended Catholic schools still support abortion, including Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois (Georgetown), Senator Mazie Hirono (Georgetown) and Michael Madigan, the Speaker of the Illinois House who helped pass extreme legislation (Loyola University-Chicago). Had they received better Catholic education, we may very well be in a better place.
Matt Lamb is the Director of Communications for Students for Life of America. He attended Catholic school from preschool through undergrad. Nothing written here should be construed as applying to his experiences at those schools.