The Franciscan Four Go to Washington

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Four Franciscan University of Steubenville students have done their homework on forced abortions. Now they're taking their findings all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The students spent the spring semester compiling research related to Jane Roe II v. Aware Women Center for Choice. In the case, a woman now known as Jane Roe II charged the abortion providers with violation of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law after they physically restrained her and completed her abortion — even though she tried to leave the clinic during the procedure.

A federal appeals-court panel earlier ruled that the abortionist did not violate federal law in completing the abortion against the woman's will.

Jane Roe II's attorney, Christopher Sapp, contacted Franciscan University professor and attorney Dr. Brian Scarnecchia last December to enlist the help of his legal-studies students in filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.

“From dealing with pro-lifers around the country, I had been most impressed with not only the students but also the faculty at Franciscan University,” said Sapp, who represented Jane Roe II with fellow attorney Michael Hirsch. “I had spoken there at seminars, visited with the students and worked with them in the past. They're very, very committed, first of all to Jesus Christ and secondly to the pro-life cause.”

Franciscan's legal-studies program combines professional and liberal-arts courses to teach undergraduates to analyze and understand contemporary issues from an ethical and legal perspective. According to Scarnecchia, it prepares students not just for law school but also for work as paralegals — or as concerned citizens who can continue to further the pro-life, pro-family mission of the school.

“We put in what most law schools leave out: an emphasis on natural law and jurisprudence and Catholic teaching,” Scarnecchia said.

Above and Beyond

The students — Shane Hasel-barth, Heather McCombs, Ann-Marie Morris and Shannon Andriyanova — used their legal-studies skills to create the appendix to Sapp's brief, eventually culling eight inches of research into two and spending well more than the one hour per week on the case required for their legal-studies seminar.

The students' documentation of other instances of forced abortion could make the Supreme Court more likely to review the case, Sapp said.

“What we needed on the Jane Roe II case was some research showing the U.S. Supreme Court that they needed to protect not only the woman who was Jane Roe II but also women all over the country,” he said.

Scarnecchia, the legal-studies program director, acted as the senior partner in a law firm and met weekly with the students to review their work.

After “casting their nets wide,” they narrowed their research topics into four areas: international incidences of forced abortions, documentation supporting the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (otherwise known as Laci and Connor's Law), anecdotal evidence of cases where women have sued boyfriends or abortionists for forced or coerced abortions, and studies on women most susceptible to coercion, such as prostitutes and women in jails or mental institutions.

“The students at Franciscan University did quite a bit of research,” Sapp said. “They turned up reports and studies from the Florida Everglades out to Guam and Hawaii. We covered the entire United States geographically and the cases cut across all races and economic statuses, from extraordinarily wealthy people to the very poor and quite often imprisoned people.”

Legal Learnings

Haselbarth became the program's first graduate in May and will enter Ave Maria School of Law in the fall. Since Laci's Law, which criminalizes acts that harm unborn children, was making its way through the House of Representatives at the time, Haselbarth used the footnotes of the bill as direction to other studies and cases.

“Before I started, I didn't know anything about coerced abortion and the real, real darkness of the abortion industry,” he said. “It's not very public. I knew abortion was wrong but I thought it was usually voluntary on the part of the mother. This was a rude awakening.”

Students also found that the problem isn't just in the United States; they learned about forced abortion in China and forced sterility in Peru.

All this research will show the Supreme Court that the Jane Roe II case is “just the tip of the iceberg,” Scarnecchia said.

If the court chooses to hear the case, a decision for the defendant would set the precedent that a woman has an absolute right of refusal of an abortion.

The crux of the case is using the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law — originally intended for use against pro-lifers who block clinic entrances — to prosecute those in the abortion industry who block clinic exits.

“We've seen the Department of Justice go to great effort in the past to enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law against prolifers,” Sapp said. “Hopefully they would be equally zealous in enforcing [the law] against the abortion industry.”

The research, as well as the legal-studies program, also translates into everyday applications. Even those students who don't enter the law field will be formed and trained adequately to assist pro-life attorneys and groups in their own communities, Scarnecchia said.

He has plans for similar projects in future legal-studies seminars. In May, he took a group of students to the U.N. Conference on the Family in New York. And while the first class has definitely set a high standard, he said each group's work will put the same emphasis on one of the program's key goals.

“We want to train Catholics in the Church's social teaching,” he said, “and teach them ways to be more effective in Church apostolate.”

Dana Lorelle writes from Raleigh, North Carolina.