National Catholic Register

Education

‘Advocates for Life’

Initiative Aims to Organize Pro-Life Students in 200 Law Schools

BY Steve Weatherbe

April 11-24, 2010 Issue | Posted 4/1/10 at 3:50 PM

 

Michael Healy, a third-year law student at California Western School of Law, recalls a classroom argument about abortion in which he cited the natural law. The right to life takes precedence over the right to freedom because one can’t be free without being alive but one can be alive without being free, he said.

“The guy I was arguing with just didn’t get it,” said Healy. “Here they teach that law is what governments pass into statute, and they do that very well. But there is no sense of the origins of the law, no sense of natural law based on a higher authority.”

If the professors won’t bring back the traditional understanding of law that underpins pro-life convictions, then students like Healy are determined to.

Several hundred of them have already joined the newly formed Advocates for Life. Its national office in Washington, D.C., is hard at work preparing kits for students to start chapters in the 200-plus law schools across America.

Advocates for Life is sponsored by Americans United for Life, the country’s oldest pro-life legal advocacy group.

According to founding member and full-time coordinator Kellie Fiedorek, Advocates for Life will not only encourage pro-life law students in their convictions — it will equip them with the legal foundations to defend those convictions.

The idea was hatched by Fiedorek and several other participants in the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, an annual summer school for 110 second-year law students put on by the Alliance Defense Fund.

The ADF began as a fund-raising organization to support legal cases in defense of traditional marriage, the right to life and freedom of religion. Now it has 40 litigators of its own working on cases and runs both the Blackstone Legal Fellowship for students and the National Litigation Academy to train practicing lawyers in pro-life and other legal issues.

“Several of us last summer were talking about the great support we were getting from Blackstone and went from there to what a need there was for pro-life students on campus for the same support,” said Fiedorek, who just graduated from Ave Maria University’s law program.


Powerful Ally

Spurring the group on was the knowledge that a national organization of pro-abortion law clubs had been started in 2003 by Law Students for Reproductive Choice.

Using Blackstone graduates still in law schools as a recruiting ground, and AUL as a sponsor, the new group has already found students in 20 law schools interested in starting clubs, while another 15 schools already have pro-life groups.

Fiedorek says these groups will bring in pro-life lawyers and academics to provide the legal foundations for the pro-life position not only for pro-life students but for their classmates. It will link them in to the existing network of Blackstone graduates and pro-life lawyers and advocacy groups who might take them on as interns. And it will encourage them in their beliefs.

The Alliance Defense Fund’s Matt Bowman says Advocates for Life will be a powerful ally in the ADF’s own efforts to “educate the next generation of lawyers in the best legal arguments for the protection of innocent life.”

ADF teaches that “scientifically and philosophically the pro-life position is the most convincing one,” but the reason for its focus on budding lawyers is that law schools teach no such thing. ADF’s long-term goal is to train those who will later become law professors and judges.

Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel with Americans United for Life, says law schools teach the ruling in Roe v. Wade unquestioningly, with the premise that free access to abortion is necessary for women to be equal under the U.S. Constitution.

Since then, says Forsythe, pro-life legal teams have won many battles curtailing the abortion right itself and preventing its influence from spreading into areas such as same-sex “marriage” and bioethics.

Dozens of states have passed laws requiring parental consent or notification for abortions sought by underage mothers, recognizing the personhood of the unborn in homicide cases or requiring pregnant women to be informed about the health consequences of abortion.

Virtually all these laws had to survive constitutional challenges, says Forsythe, but the Supreme Court has become less willing since Roe to override state lawmakers, not only when they restrict abortions, but when they ban same-sex “marriage” or cloning. “They are more inclined to let the people have their way,” he told the Register.

“We are not just chipping away at Roe v. Wade with these decisions: We are protecting parental rights, and we are building a stronger foundation for protecting the unborn,” he added, noting that, while abortions have decreased nationwide, they have decreased most in states with restrictive legislation.

Jill Adams, executive director of Law Students for Reproductive Choice, says her organization takes the formation of Advocates for Life as “positive feedback.” Her group’s members have successfully raised awareness of the issues and cultivated “meaningful dialogue on their campuses to such an extent that their peers with differing viewpoints feel compelled to create their own platform. We are only surprised that it has taken this long.”

Law Students for Reproductive Choice has “thousands of members on 86 law school campuses,” said Adams, numbers she attributes to students’ “eagerness for educational, networking and professional training opportunities” in the “reproductive justice” area.

While Adams emphasized that her group’s interests extended far beyond abortion, “many women in the U.S. do face legal and nonlegal obstacles to abortion care.”

But people are flip-flopping on their stance.

Healy says while Roe v. Wade is accepted at law school as a “given,” no philosophical underpinning to it is being taught. His bioethics class exemplifies the “chaos” that reigns. “We are not being taught any consistent framework. What’s right seems to be based on taking a ‘gut check’ on each issue. We discussed euthanasia, and people were flip-flopping from one side to the other without even knowing it.”

Healy is now interning for a conservative public advocacy firm in San Diego that defends religious freedom, the family and the unborn. “We can’t win on the abortion front in a godless society,” he says. “So we need to be defending religious values in the public square.”

Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.