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‘Abortion doula’ at Notre Dame speaker series adds to Catholic concern

University of Notre Dame (Peter Zelasko/CNA)

Denver, Colo., Mar 4, 2023 / 11:43 am (CNA).

In the wake of the Dobbs Supreme Court decision overturning the pro-abortion rights Roe v. Wade ruling, several bodies at the University of Notre Dame are hosting an event series dedicated to “reproductive justice.” The series has attracted criticism for its decidedly pro-abortion slant: an “abortion doula” with a tattoo of abortion equipment is one of the speakers at its next event.

Critics say the series conflicts with university policy requiring the presentation of Catholic teaching at such events.

“We have a series that so far has been dedicated to opposing the Dobbs decision and promoting the pro-choice position, as opposed to the Catholic position, at one of the leading Catholic universities in the country,” William H. Dempsey, a Notre Dame alumnus and president of the Sycamore Trust, told CNA March 3.

“There have been no panelists who have explained the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and responded to what’s been said by the opponents of Church teaching,” he said.

Sycamore Trust is a group of Notre Dame alumni and supporters concerned about Catholic identity at the university. The group claims more than 18,000 subscribers to its distribution list.

The series at the university, titled “Reproductive Justice: Scholarship for Solidarity and Social Change,” is sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s gender studies program and the university’s Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values. Several other bodies within the university and several external groups also provide support.

The latest event, “Trans Care + Abortion Care: Intersections and Questions,” is scheduled to be held on Zoom on March 20. It aims to address “the intersections between trans care and abortion care” followed by questions and answers with the audience, according to the website of the university’s Gender Studies Program.

One speaker is Ash Williams, described as “a Black trans abortion doula, public intellectual, and abolitionist community organizer.” Williams is based in North Carolina but is a decriminalizing abortion resident at Project Nia, a Chicago-based advocacy group that favors “restorative and transformative justice” instead of criminal incarceration.

National Public Radio profiled Williams in an October 2022 report. As an abortion doula, the report said, Williams “provides physical, emotional, or financial help to people seeking to end a pregnancy.”

Williams, who identifies as a transgender man, has had two surgical abortions and has a forearm tattoo of a tool used in the abortion procedure known as a manual vacuum aspiration, National Public Radio reported. Williams praised the abortion procedure, saying “it’s one and done. It’s quick.”

Another speaker at the upcoming Notre Dame event is Jules Gill-Peterson, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University who has argued that “transgender children” are not a new phenomenon.

The reproductive justice series’ previous events included two in-person panels on the end of Roe v. Wade in fall 2022. On Feb. 17, the series presented a virtual panel on the topic “Reproductive Health Disparities and Injustice.”

The series receives support from multiple other programs and academic bodies, including Notre Dame’s departments of American studies, anthropology, English, film, television and theater, history, political science, and sociology. The neighboring St. Mary College’s Department of Gender and Women Studies and the Indiana University-South Bend Women’s and Gender Studies Program are also supporters, as is the South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center.

CNA sought comment from the University of Notre Dame, its Department of Gender Studies, and the Reilly Center but did not receive a response by publication.

According to Dempsey, the failure to express the Catholic position on abortion is “contrary to the policy of the university” set out in the Common Proposal of Chairs of the College of Arts and Letters and then university president Father John I. Jenkins, CSC. The 2006 agreement places on academic departments and their chairs the responsibility to provide a forum for multiple viewpoints and, where relevant, “appropriate balance” to present Catholic views.

“When a panelist or panelists expresses views contrary to important Catholic Church teaching, the obligation of the sponsoring department is to ensure that the Catholic Church’s position is presented,” Dempsey said. “That has not been done.”

He deemed it “an empty gesture” to claim the reproductive justice panels are balanced by other pro-life events on campus. For Dempsey, this failure to follow policy means that the sponsors support the expression of positions contrary to Church teaching. It means “that an important component of the university is itself opposed to Catholic Church teaching.”

“The Dobbs decision has opened a severe fault line at the University of Notre Dame, as I expect it has in Catholic institutions across the country,” Dempsey told CNA. Though a “significant” number of Notre Dame faculty oppose Church teaching, that was largely irrelevant under Roe v. Wade. For Dempsey, the newly open divisions “undermine the Catholic identity of the university,” a situation that would be prevented if the university required departments to follow the terms of the Common Proposal.

“The Church’s position on abortion is that it is the highest order of evil to take the lives of innocent human beings,” he emphasized. “As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said, this is the preeminent issue in American public life today.”

He supported the exploration and even expression of views contrary to Catholicism on campus, “provided that the position of the Catholic Church is given equal treatment, so to speak.”

The university was the focus of major controversy among Catholics when it hosted the strongly pro-abortion rights President Barack Obama as a speaker for its May 2009 commencement ceremonies. Following the controversy, the university launched multiple pro-life initiatives.

Ken Hallenius, communications specialist at the university’s De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, told CNA the center does not comment on events sponsored by other university departments.

Hallenius said the center has sponsored “multiple pro-life events, lectures, panel discussions, and conferences” in the last year. Its upcoming events include the Notre Dame Vita Institute, an intellectual formation program for pro-life leaders, to be held on campus June 11–16. On April 29, it will present the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal to Princeton law professor Robert P. George.

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  1. By my observation, Notre Dame has had a series of inappropriate far left graduation speakers, etc for many years now. Parents who send their kids here expecting they will be taught a conventional Catholic take on things will be disappointed. And should not be shocked if the kids come home with leftist ideology dancing in their heads. Its all they will be exposed to there. Its been a sad state of affairs for complicit “catholic” colleges for a long time now. We need someone to publish a comprehensive book of catholic college picks for parents who REALLY want that for their kids. I mean, catholic colleges who stick to the catholic line. Not schools like Notre Dame who CLAIM to be Catholic, but in reality are anything but.

    • Dioceses everywhere have sadly closed parishes for a myriad of reasons; maybe it’s time that Notre Dame gets “closed” as a catholic university, and just turn it into a strictly secular institution…easier said than done, I suppose.

    • Many kids at UND are secular but many are like my son and his friends are striving to be good Christian Men and Women. In speaking with the wonderful Fr. Bill Miscamble at UND, while it is true that Fr. Hesburgh set the stage for the University to bow to top 20 University politics the Faithful can and must pray that Our Lady continues to be a beacon for, “The uncompromising witness of Catholic Universities to the Church’s moral teaching and the defense of her freedom…especially in the face of efforts from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness.” (Pope Francis)

    “1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”121
    1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125
    1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world,126 the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.”
    It is a sin to accomodate an occasion of sin, and thus cooperate with evils.”

  3. We read from William H. Dempsey (Notre Dame alumnus and president of the Sycamore Trust) that “The Church’s position on abortion is that it is the highest order of evil to take the lives of innocent human beings.” At Notre Dame, things are even worse than that…

    When Hannah Arendt (author of “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”) interviewed Adolf Eichmann, overseer of Hitler’s “final solution” to the Jews, she found him to be “quite ordinary, commonplace, and something neither demonic nor monstrous.” While her new thesis—”the banality of evil”—was misinterpreted by some critics as an endorsement, it surely fits today’s Political Academic Complex.

    Arendt was also criticized for seemingly faulting the Jewish community leaders (the Judenrate) for failing to resist and for being complicit in assembling millions to be railroaded east…So, now we have Notre Dame’s Judenrate, collecting their tuition-paying minions to give ear to a culture that exterminates millions of the preborn and is poised to mandate the mass distribution of abortion pills—Auschwitz miniaturized into a medicine cabinet.

    Arendt attended Eichmann’s trial to explore “the totality of the moral collapse the Nazis caused in respectable European society.”


  4. It is the responsibility and duty of the local bishop to address errors promulgated by Catholics in his jurisdiction. To do otherwise is a dereliction of his office as bishop and which has consequences for him at God’s judgment seat.

    • I agree. It’s absolutely demonic.
      That said, midwives in earlier times were employed either to deliver a child or kill it in the womb. Physicians also could be paid to heal or to kill.
      So we’re just heading back to an earlier, more barbaric model of health care. Plus ca change…

  5. I do not find this shocking in the least. The “university” has been the hive of evil for so long it’s a wonder it still is able to call itself Catholic. Now that bit is what’s shocking. What is the bishop doing about this? Nada.

  6. If I had earned my degree at the University of Notre Dame, I would be suing them for devaluing it. One would assume/demand that a Catholic University, especially one named for the Blessed Mother, would never allow anti-Catholic subjects to be presented by any department or group affiliated with that university. Granting an honorary degree to Barack Obama was the last straw, I thought, but now they have gone “a giant step for mankind” beyond. Presenting seminars on Catholic teaching isn’t even a minuscule step; rather, it should be the sum total of teaching at Notre Dame and St. Mary’s and should permeate every part of the curriculum of each department.

  7. I know it’s hard for older folks and parents to accept that this once proudly-Catholic university has turned dangerously anti-Catholic, but they need to man up and get very real about the sad demise of this school. I think a lot of parents send their kids to Notre Dame fantasizing about the school and what-used-to-be. And of course, there are those who send their kids there because of the proud sports tradition of excellence. They are placing their kids in grave danger of losing their souls. The only way I can see Notre Dame turning around is if a multi-millionaire donates an unimaginably HUGE amount of money–on the condition that the school fire all the liberals, cancel all the “Woke” clubs and activities, book orthodox Catholic commencement speakers for the next decade and beyond if possible, and publicly advocate government policies that are in accord with Catholic teaching. The other possibility is a spiritual revival sent by God–hope it happens soon. Pray for Notre Dame, Blessed Mother!!!

  8. I’m not in any way a proponent of capital punishment but I wonder how an” abortion doula” would feel about execution doulas? “It’s one and done. It’s quick. ” An electric chair or lethal injection tattoo could be their trademark.
    I believe in transformative justice and mercy also, but people can sure be selective about who qualifies for that. And if an innocent child isn’t eligible, who is?

  9. Notre Dame gave an Honorary Doctorates degree to one of the most strongest pro-abortion advocate in the country – Barack Obama. I understand acknowledging the first African American President (something that I waited for a long time), but not such a high honor to a completely committed pro-abortionist. I lost all respect for Notre Dame.

  10. Hearts are growing cold, among Catholics in general, among Catholic academia in specific, Notre, Dame, Georgetown, virtually all. It was prophesied by Christ, that in end times “Many false prophets will arise and mislead many. Because of the multiplication of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved (Mt 24 11-13).
    It was alluded to in Olson’s Feb 18 essay ‘Cardinal Cupich misuses the words of Benedict’ and loss of consciousness of sin. We’ve denied the interior voice of God speaking to our hearts. The Law of Love he wrote on the heart’s flesh. Benedict XVI spoke of the strange disinterest in good and evil, a kind of perverse outcome of the taking from the Garden tree of knowledge of good and evil. Having become like gods we now dismiss the distinction.
    What have we then but a God enlightened like ourselves is perceived as the image of ourselves. Where and when the epiphany began may be found in the discomfort of heartfelt thoughts, that things that have appeal, freedom, pleasure, by all means fraternity without condition are wrong. Perhaps a misplaced feeling learned from dubious tradition. So if infants countless fall by the wayside forgotten forever what have I to do with compulsory facts of life. Those of us who live and breathe matter.
    A callousness sets in that belies freedom and unconditional societal acceptance, evident in Catholic academia in which liberal acceptance in disguise as Christian love takes hold. An amazing reversal of values abortion, transgender, now a non discriminatory right, an advance of societal tolerance, for the Church today an advance in pastoral attitude. We find its effort toward universal application within the Church as the Synod on Synodality.

  11. The Diocesesan Bishop simply needs to put an end to the Universities”Equal Time’ policy from hell that allows for Anti-Catholic & Anti-Christ events & speakers to lead souls astray in a Catholic University. Period. End of problem. If then, as a result, there are so-called ‘Catholics’ who attend the University and want to listen to radical Pro-Death and Anti-Christ speakers, they can tune-in on various radical & godless liberal News Media, and/or depart from the Catholic University…….end of story, end of being educated by the powers of hell. Both parents and students will have the certainly of Catholic morality only being taught that properly forms the students’ Catholic consciences.

  12. According to Dempsey, the failure to express the Catholic position on abortion is “contrary to the policy of the university” set out in the Common Proposal of Chairs of the College of Arts and Letters and then university president Father John I. Jenkins, CSC. The 2006 agreement places on academic departments and their chairs the responsibility to provide a forum for multiple viewpoints and, where relevant, “appropriate balance” to present Catholic views.

    it looks like Notre Dame views the agreement they signed back in 2006 to be worthless

  13. My final suggestion on this situation is that every college graduate discover where their former college stands on “wokeness”. If they are indeed leftists, STOP donating a dime to that school and write to let them know why you will no longer donate to them.

  14. John Ignatius Jenkins C.S.C. is yet another one of many protestants masquerading as the President of the University of Notre Dame. Repent before it’s too late, John.

  15. Whoever is president of Notre Dame University will pay dearly for allowing the demonic work of satan overrun Our Lady’s domain.

  16. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. My son gets back from Spring break at UND on the 20th and this will give him enough time for his Pro-Life group on campus to prepare for a major protest.

  17. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Notre Dame is CINO – Catholic In Name Only.

    They had the most pro-abortion president (up until then) in history, Barack Obama, as a speaker at graduation in 2009.
    They awarded the Laetare Medal to then-VP Joe Biden in 2016, a few weeks before he officiated at a same-sex wedding on his website.
    They had the opening night of what was then an annual event at Notre Dame – the performance of ‘The Vagina Monologues” in the late 90s at Washington Hall on Ash Wednesday.

    And now they will undoubtedly lay out the (stained with babies’ blood red) carpet for a “black trans abortion doula, public intellectual and abolitionist community organizer.”

    The phrase “academic freedom” will be (over)used, ANY opposition will be labeled racist – at best – and the beat goes on.

  18. This is what happens when the clergy doesn’t concentrate its efforts on loudly and unapologetically condemning abortion. The fact that pro-abortion politicians are even given their ashes, let alone granted an enthusiastic audience with the pope, speaks volumes about the state of modern Christianity. It doesn’t help that Francis’ Twitter feed seems to specialize exclusively in fortune cookie twaddle. He should be using all of the resources at his disposal to hammer home the evils of abortion, and he should be doing so without reservation.

    • To be fair , politicians who promote feticide need ashes and repentance especially. I wouldn’t begrudge them that. It’s a step in the right direction even if it might not be entirely sincere.
      Giving them Holy Communion is a whole nother thing. That’s the scandal, not the ashes .

  19. A further comment to the positions of Deacon Peitler and “Phil”. It is indeed the duty of the local Ordinary (In this case Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend ) to address violations of Canon Law wherever they exist in his Jurisdiction. Bishop Rhoades was installed by Pope Benedict XVI so perhaps he holds the true Catholic faith exemplified by this great Pope. Take a minute and contact the bishop: Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, 915 S.Clinton St, Fort Wayne,In.46802.You may want to contact President of Notre Dame at – good luck on that one, he hasn’t responded to me in five attempts and I’m a Notre Dame Parent. One last comment, the most recent recipient of an Honorary Degree is Robert McElroy, Cardinal Archbishop of San Diego,Ca. who wears a red Hat but has no regard for Canon Law as he wants Women Clergy, Same Sex Marriage and a diologue as to whether Abortion is sinful.
    God Save us All!!!
    Old Guy

  20. Ever since the Notres bestowed their honorary degree upon President Obama — as Lynn Wiston noted above, perhaps the most egregious murderer of innocent children that humanity has ever seen — I have refused to associate this institution with our Lord’s Immaculate Mother.

    I’ve been calling it “Notre ‘Bama” ever since.

    Faithful Catholic students and families should shake the dust of this evil institution off of their sandals.

  21. Why are devout Catholics still ringing their hands about ND? There are a number of solidly Catholic, worthy universities where attentions can shift.

  22. Catholics have always made the best and most dedicated of leftist Marxists. It’s a great pity that so many of them are ignorant of the fact that the developing baby in the womb is human, is alive, is not an integral part of anyone else’s body and that killing it represents the killing of a defenceless human being. Such killing is called murder regardless of the age of the victim. The mother of God must be distraught that the great university named after her has forgotten what it is about and is apparently poisoning its very own roots.

  23. The mother of God must be distraught that the great university named after her has forgotten what it is about and is apparently poisoning its very own roots.

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