Jan. 23, 2003



30 Years After Roe: A Town Hall Meeting

Internationally Televised From Catholic University


EWTN news director and town hall moderator Raymond Arroyo (right) interviewed Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, and CUA Columbus School of Law Associate Professor Helen Alvare about the legal issues involved in the pro-life movement.

Thirty years to the day after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, leaders of the pro-life movement met at Catholic University to assess the state of their movement on a 90-minute live television broadcast.


Their conclusion: Although more than 40 million babies have been killed and their mothers have been traumatized by what has become the most common surgical procedure performed on women, there is nevertheless great hope for the future.


The hope lies in such data as the following, said the Jan. 22 panel of pro-life experts: the recent election of a pro-life president and pro-life majorities in Congress, current polls showing that 70 percent of Americans favor the protection of the unborn, and the fact that the pro-life movement is attracting more and more young people (a reality evident at the annual March for Life held earlier that day).


The 9 p.m. program, “An EWTNews Town Hall Meeting, a Pro-Life Summit: 30 Years After Roe vs. Wade,” divided the pro-life struggle into four discussion topics with different experts speaking on each topic:


1.   The legal battle, with comments from lawyers Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Helen Alvaré, former pro-life spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and now an associate professor at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law.

2.   The ethics and theology of the debate, with commentary from George Weigel, author of the 1999 authorized biography of Pope John Paul II and senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

3.   The political struggle, with a report from the trenches of Capitol Hill from former Rep. Robert Dornan (R.-Calif.) and current Rep. Chris Smith (R.-N.J.), co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus.

4.   The grass-roots movement, with the insights of grass-roots pro-life leaders Jennifer Bingham, executive director of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Joe Cella, executive director of the Ave Maria List.


The Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., president of CUA, talks with EWTN news director Raymond Arroyo after EWTN’s live town hall broadcast from Catholic University’s Caldwell Auditorium.

Questioned by moderator Raymond Arroyo, the panelists addressed everything from the relationship between U.S. abortion and slavery (both pre-born children and African slaves were legally defined as “non-persons”), to the way abortion has changed the Church (for example, bringing together Catholics and evangelical Protestants as allies). They also talked about how the Church should go about disciplining politicians who claim to be “100 percent Catholic and 100 percent pro-choice” (a position that is indefensible according to a document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).


The panelists sat in maroon-colored leather chairs on top of a carpet with CUA’s emblem upon it. Seventy excited Catholic University students sat directly behind the panelists on aluminum bleachers in Caldwell Auditorium.


After the panelists spoke, they fielded questions from CUA students and from viewers who called in. 


The meeting capped a busy day for pro-life activists. The annual March for Life was held that blustery afternoon, winding its way from the White House to the Supreme Court Building. Tens of thousands of people participated, including 207 CUA students.


Approximately 1,700 of the out-of-town high school students who marched had spent the previous night sleeping on the floor in CUA’s Raymond A. DuFour (athletic) Center and in Pilgrim Hall inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.


"There are few discussions as important for young people today as the discussion we were privileged to host on campus,” said the Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., CUA’s president, commenting on the town hall meeting. “Our culture and society have developed an entire language designed to disguise what is really at stake in the ‘pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.’  The panelists spoke the truth in clear and unambiguous language, namely that human life — all human life in all its stages — is sacred and worthy of respect.  That is a message that needs to be proclaimed, especially to the next generation of Americans."


The Rev. Robert Schlageter, O.F.M. Conv., university chaplain, agrees that the town hall meeting, organized by CUA’s Office of Campus Ministry and Office of Public Affairs, was a success and says such gatherings are important because they give pro-lifers a visible forum.


“We who are pro-life must communicate with each other and listen to each other,” he said. “This is a movement that many thought would just fizzle out, but it’s been 30 years and it’s not fizzling, it’s growing. Our students leave here and have a better understanding of what’s happening.”


“They’re [students] the future leaders of this country and will be making important decisions,” said Rep. Smith. “I think this meeting is a recognition of the great work being done at Catholic University. Universities, especially Catholic ones, will mold the next generation of leaders, the ones who will be having families and will change society.”


CUA senior philosophy major Lindsay Sudeikis poses the first question to panelists at Wednesday evening’s town hall event.

Maria Park, a junior from Cleveland studying biology at Catholic University, has always known that abortion “is horrible and is murder,” but she was unclear about the legal and ethical issues behind it. The meeting was a chance to “educate myself. I’m 20 now, and I’ve never voted because there wasn’t an issue I cared about. But now I’m inspired to get involved, and I think the abortion issue will motivate a lot of young people to get involved.”


“I’m glad this program came from Catholic University,” said CUA nursing student Motria Lonchyna, a junior from Silver Spring, Md. “It makes me feel very proud that we’re standing up for life. We’re really doing it.”


“I’ve never thought about voting,” says Nader Ata, a freshman early-childhood education major from Trenton, N.J., “but attending the march and helping with pro-life activities on campus makes me more aware of how large the issue is and how I can help change it.”


Students living in Catholic University’s residence halls also had the opportunity to watch the meeting in their rooms. Katherine Boone, CUA's director of housing and residential services, acquired residence hall access to EWTN programming on a permanent basis in time for the live broadcast. EWTN now is part of the residence halls' regular cable package, and can be found on Channel 36.


"We're thrilled about the channel addition," said Boone. "It will provide access to Catholic programming, which is wonderful and contributes to our mission.”