June 29, 2011 // Local

University Faculty for Life Conference at Notre Dame fosters pro-life scholarship

By Ann Carey

NOTRE DAME — College and university faculty often face discrimination for their pro-life stance at both secular and religious colleges. So in 1989 a handful of professors founded University Faculty for Life (UFL) to provide support and fellowship, and to foster pro-life scholarship.

Today the organization has grown to over 250 members in the United States and Canada who represent more than 50 academic disciplines. The 2011 UFL annual conference, held this year at the University of Notre Dame June 10-11, attracted approximately 100 attendees and featured over 30 scholarly papers on pro-life topics.

Teresa Collett, newly-installed president of UFL and a professor in the School of Law at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis, told Today’s Catholic that modern academia is “very skeptical” of claims about objective truth, so young faculty in particular are very limited in defending or even exploring the idea that law should protect the unborn.

Many pro-life faculty have experienced a strong sense of isolation and disrespect for their views, Collett said, explaining that they often are denied university resources that are commonly available to other faculty, and some have experienced out-of-hand rejection or little review of their articles or books that take the pro-life perspective.

“In most institutions, particularly before tenure but even after tenure, the reigning orthodoxy on abortion is enforced by faculty review committees and administrators,” Collett said. “Writing about abortion is often discouraged pre-tenure as ‘too controversial’ and after tenure as a distraction from the faculty member’s established area of scholarship. For the courageous faculty member who wants to explore these issues, having a community of like-minded scholars to collaborate with is critical.”

The UFL conference indeed provided a supportive forum for pro-life fellowship and scholarship, and the conference papers revealed a lively intellectual engagement with many aspects of the pro-life cause. For example:
• Ryan MacPherson, professor of history at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minn., encouraged UFL members to forward the pro-life cause through social media with his talk on “Facebooking for Life in a Wiki World of Tweeting You Tubes: How LinkedIn Pro-Life Scholars Can Engage a Blogger Audience through Social Media.”

• Patrick Tully, professor of philosophy at Scranton University, proposed what he believes to be the best moral solution to a terrible moral dilemma: What to do about the hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos who have been abandoned by their parents, or whose parents do not plan to have more children. Given the dubious morality of all other options, Tully suggested that rather than leaving the embryos in a permanent state of suspension or allowing them to be destroyed in research, the embryos should be thawed and allowed to die with the dignity of any other human being.

• Thomas Cavanaugh, professor and department chair of philosophy at the University of San Francisco, spoke on “Bioethics and the English Language.” He explained that in the debate over life ethics, language has dramatically departed from describing what really is happening. The name given a technique or process makes a difference in the reception of that process, he said, so for example, advocates of physician-assisted suicide call the procedure “death with dignity” as an advertising ploy. Also, a great disparity often exists between the word and the meaning, as with the term “reproductive services” which in reality have nothing to do with reproducing.

• John Breen, professor at the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, presented a paper on the false claim that support for the unborn is intrinsically religious, so to insist on the right to life of the unborn is to impose religion on others. That claim is “a joke,” he argued, because it is anti-intellectual, playing on a long history of anti-Catholicism as well as the fears of Americans who don’t want a theocracy. People who use the religion argument don’t want to have a serious conversation and are attempting to win an argument without actually having an argument, he said.

• Teresa Collett of St. Thomas University and Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel with Americans United for Life (AUL), both discussed legal strategies for limiting Roe v Wade as much as possible, with the ultimate goal of eventually overturning that Supreme Court decision that allows abortion on demand.

• William Saunders, senior vice president of legal affairs at AUL, told the conference about “The San Jose Articles,” a pro-life manifesto that was written in March by law professors and attorneys who met in San Jose, Costa Rica. Saunders said the articles provide the legal basis for pro-life countries and individuals to effectively argue that there is no right to abortion under international law. The articles are an important development that should enter into the public conversation at the United Nations as well as other places, he said.

Papers from the conference will be published in the conference proceedings, which may be accessed or ordered through the UFL website: www.UFFL.org. The website also offers information about how to join the organization.

At the closing banquet of the conference, David Solomon was given the Rupert and Timothy Smith Award for Distinguished Contributions to Pro-Life Scholarship. The award is given at the UFL annual conference for outstanding scholarly achievement and service to the pro-life movement. Solomon is a philosophy professor and director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture.

The conference was hosted by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, the Notre Dame Chapter of University Faculty for Life and the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life. The conference was supported by a major grant from Our Sunday Visitor Institute.

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