“Our publicity campaign just went up tonight,” said a pleased sounding Wichorek, in the post-dinner quiet of the Jonathan Edwards dining hall. “It’s the idea that you can be interested in a lot of different things and still be pro-life,” Wichorek continued. “I think having these [posters] on campus will be good.”
CLAY, Yale’s undergraduate pro-life group, meets every Tuesday to discuss aspects of the pro-life movement ranging from current legislation to how ancient philosophy relates to pro-life arguments. In addition to weekly meetings, the group holds a candlelight vigil for the unborn every spring semester. On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, they organize a trip to Washington D.C. to attend the March for Life. Two years ago, CLAY organized a demonstration in which they set up a poster board on Cross Campus showing a timeline of pregnancy and early childhood and prompted students to mark on the timeline where they thought life begins. When the President of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, came to Yale last year, members of CLAY sat in on her talk holding signs that read “It’s a Child, Not a Choice,” in what CLAY member Elena Gonzalez, PC ’15, described as a “mini protest.” Now, from Thurs., Oct. 17 to Sat., Oct. 19, CLAY will be holding Vita et Veritas, the first pro-life conference of its kind hosted at Yale.
“The idea was floated a long time ago…but CLAY wasn’t large enough to take on the project,” said last spring’s CLAY President, Courtney McEachon, PC ’15. With CLAY continually growing since its founding in 2003 (it now has approximately 15 core members, as opposed to two students a decade ago), the student group is pursuing more ambitious projects. McEachon began to “lay the groundwork” for the conference last fall. “The biggest worry wasn’t that we didn’t have enough manpower,” Gonzalez said. “We were worried about if we had enough contacts to get people to come from outside of Yale [and] if we had enough places to get funding from. This has never before been done at Yale or by CLAY, but hopefully it will work out.”
The conference will consist of nine talks and panel discussions featuring speakers with a range of perspectives relating to the pro-life movement. On Thurs., Oct. 17, Dr. Hadley Arkes, a political science professor at Amherst College and a drafter of the 2002 Born Alive Infants Act, will deliver the opening lecture. On Sat., Oct. 19, Sally Winn, senior communications specialist for Feminists for Life will deliver a talk entitled “Refuse to Choose: Reclaiming Feminism,” which CLAY’s former Secretary, Ryan Proctor, SY ’16, said he is most looking forward to hearing. “The Feminists for Life want to point out that abortion is not just an undo button,” Proctor said. “The feminist movement needs to make sure we have a society that is accepting of the fact that women get pregnant and are going to have children, as opposed to making them kill their children in order to survive in the workforce.”
The conference’s closing talk is on Saturday afternoon, “The Secret Agenda: a Former Abortionist Speaks Out,” will be given by former abortion doctor and OB/GYN Dr. Haywood Robinson. “He’s going to talk about his journey from being an abortionist and the inside of the abortion industry,” McEachon said. “He’s seen it from the other side. It’s a moneymaker, and a lot of people go into it for that. He will be exposing what the industry is really after other than its surface views and goals.”
According to McEachon, women’s rights groups generally dominate CLAY’s pro-life stance on Yale’s campus. “But the reason that we decided to host this conference and hope that it’ll continue is because we think that there is great intellectual depth on the pro-life side,” McEachon said. “It isn’t just a religious argument. We’d like to see our campus engage with it more. The talks were chosen specifically for this weekend to draw in people with other philosophies, other mentalities, to show them that what they believe in also supports the pro-life side.”
Proctor added that, in comparison to pro-life groups on other Ivy League campuses, CLAY has “fared pretty well.” Brown does not have a pro-life organization, and when students held a vigil for the unborn at Dartmouth, their presentation of 546 miniature American flags to represent the 54.6 million lives of babies lost to abortions after Roe v. Wade, was plowed over by a student driving over the flags with his car.
In contrast to this flagrant antagonism, Proctor said that because of the general acceptance of its students that he describes as “institutional relativism,” Yale has been relatively open to CLAY. The organization receives funding from the University, and this semester, it became a member of Dwight Hall, Yale’s umbrella organization for public service and social justice activities. Among CLAY’s public service efforts is a new initiative to send volunteers to Saint Gianna Pregnancy Center, a Catholic crisis pregnancy center in New Haven. “CLAY will hopefully be volunteering [at Saint Gianna] and holding drives, doing more work with women in need and outreach,” Wichorek explained. Still, Proctor conceded, “Some people in Dwight Hall weren’t happy with [our joining].”
While Gonzalez agreed that the group has faced relatively little backlash, he admits to being not exactly welcomed with open arms. “There is some hostility,” he said. “I remember a lot of people were upset when we did the [Justice for All] board on Cross Campus. On such a liberal campus, there is this gut reaction that, ‘Oh, you’re pro-life, you must be bigoted or prejudiced in some way.’
“Obviously, the grand goal of the pro-life movement is to stop all abortions,” Gonzalez said. “But rather than beating a message into someone’s head—saying you have to believe this because it’s immoral to do this—we are just trying to get rid of this knee-jerk reaction that a lot of people who identify as liberal or a Democrat hold.”
For Gonzalez, CLAY’s most important message is not so much campus-wide agreement as it is dialogue. “We want to start conversation.”