Last month, students at Yale University organized a pro-life conference called “Vita et Veritas.” The conference hosted seven excellent speakers from across the country and drew guests from several states, including students from Harvard, Hillsdale, Notre Dame, Princeton, and Yale.
The conference kicked off with a dinner keynote address given by Karen Gaffney, a woman with Down Syndrome who advocates for people with Down Syndrome to be fully included in schools and communities. Her talk was an important reminder of the persons at stake on the other side of every pro-life policy, law or election.
The lectures on Saturday covered a sweeping range of topics, from detailing the ways in which the healthcare system fails women to discussing the current legal defense of bioethical concerns. Atheists spoke alongside Catholics, offering multiple perspectives on some of today’s most pressing issues.
One speaker, Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University, addressed the recent political history of bioethical questions. He highlighted how, in 2006, Congressman Joe Walsh voted against federally funded stem cell research. In response, Majority Action released this ad, where a woman, a teenage boy, and a little girl speak directly to camera about their personal health tragedies (Alzheimer’s, paralysis, and diabetes, respectively) and attack Congressman Walsh for his vote.
The ad, which ran prior to the 2006 elections, was a particularly shameless attempt to inflame the passions of its viewers. What it fails to mention, however, are the physical risks and long-term psychological effects on women whose eggs have been donated, the ineffectiveness of embryonic stem cell research, and the ethical alternatives to embryonic harvesting.
In response to the video, Dr. Hurlbut said, “That is the tenor of what was happening then and it is mere prelude to what is coming next.” He stressed that the scientific community now faces a critical choice: advance scientific knowledge at any cost or defend human dignity. Moving forward, the pro-life movement must be able to shift its focus beyond abortion in order to grapple with the new bioethical issues being raised by scientific developments, he concluded.
However, while each of the speakers at Vita et Veritas provided a noteworthy contribution, it was the conference’s participants who provided perhaps the greatest beacon of hope for the future of the pro-life movement. The weekend’s audience was full of youthful energy as well as real diversity — including both men and women, as well as people of all colors, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. But amidst these differences, the conference attendees had one characteristic in common: they were all intellectuals who not only understand their pro-life beliefs, but also have persisted in them despite much social hostility and cultural pressure.
After six years and counting, Yale’s Vita et Veritas conference continues to promote a culture for life and truth and provide a voice for the voiceless. And judging by the success of this year’s event, the state of the pro-life movement as a whole appears stronger than ever.
Photo credit: Anna Levinzon via Flickr, CC BY 2.0