How Notre Dame Thwarted Pro-Life Film


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© Jack Cashill
May 7, 2009

About six months ago, veteran pro-life activist Steve Sanborn approached me about documenting the annual March For Life in Washington, D.C.

Sanborn’s original goal was to put a couple of cameras on rooftops and count the marchers. It had long irked him how consciously and corruptly the major media under-reported the people gathered for this January event.

The more we got to talking, the more we realized the value of creating a serious documentary about the March, the first ever high-end, high-def production.

Convinced of the documentary’s potential, I brought in my long time producing partner, Michael Wunsch of Outpost Worldwide, and the actress and pro-life activist, Jennifer O’Neill (below), who would serve as on-camera spokesperson and narrator.

We all agreed that it would add value to track the marchers as they journeyed across country. John Carroll High School of Birmingham, Alabama readily agreed to let us put a camera on one of its busses as did Missouri Right To Life, a non-denominational group out of St. Louis.

We wanted a college group as well. Sanborn had contacts at Notre Dame University, and they too seemed eager to participate. Given Notre Dame’s status as the iconic Catholic university, we all thought the university’s participation a good idea.

As the January 22 date approached, however, Sanborn started getting mixed signals out of Notre Dame. The administration was proving as unhelpful as his contacts had been helpful.

Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance;  And in Your book were all written 
The days that were ordained for me, 
When as yet there was not one of them.

                             Psalm 139:16

Just a week before the March, Deborah J. Gabaree, the university’s assistant vice president and counsel, sent us a “memorandum of understanding,” the intent of which seems clearer in these last few weeks.

The memorandum included any number of terms that were simply impossible to meet, all of which served the ostensible purpose of protecting “the University’s character as a Catholic institution of higher learning.”

These included a million dollar insurance policy “with a company acceptable to the University” and—the real deal killer—Notre Dame’s right to review in advance both the documentary itself and all of its marketing materials lest either “imply endorsement” by the university.

It was as if we were proposing to produce a tell-all exposé titled, “The Real Rudy.”

Considering that the camera on the Notre Dame bus was just one of six we had assigned to the shoot, and that the students on the bus were only loosely tied to the university, the administration’s demands seemed madly presumptuous.

When I asked Sanborn whether the resistance was just routine boilerplate or active obstruction, he said obstruction. As far as he could tell, the Notre Dame administration did not want our camera on the bus.

The reason seemed clear enough even then: the university had no interest in seeing its name publicly associated with something as unblushingly Christian as the March For Life.

Notre Dame’s rejection proved providential. Just a few days before the march, I called the president of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, Steve Minnis, and he was only too happy to oblige.

As is typical, Benedictine put 180 students on its busses, more than 10 percent of its student body. Minnis saw them off at a campus ceremony and met them on the mall in Washington.

The Benedictine kids were super and, as those who have watched “Thine Eyes” will attest, (See for details) they brought the documentary to life with their sincerity and informed passion.

This was not surprising. Benedictine takes its role as a Catholic college seriously. For its administration, this means proudly and publicly supporting pro-life causes.

Notre Dame’s honoring of the aggressively pro-choice Obama sends another message, namely that beyond the marketing of its football program to “subway alumni,” the university has little use for its Catholic identity.

The image-consciousness seems to have filtered down to the university’s pro-life students, at least some of them. The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) reports an odd encounter with the Fighting Irish in Washington.

At the March, as elsewhere, GAP sets up vivid displays linking abortion to history’s other genocidal enterprises. A pro-lifer could question the effectiveness of these displays, or even their taste, but not their logic.

The Notre Dame students went well beyond questioning. According to GAP, they approached GAP director Gregg Cunningham and demanded that the signs be removed.

“Is this some kind of joke,” Cunningham asked. “Do you work for Planned Parenthood?”

No, they were from Notre Dame. The GAP newsletter considers it “a bizarre tragedy” that ostensibly pro-life students would use “the exact same evidence-suppressing tactics outlined by Students for Choice.”

GAP here misses the big picture. If a TV camera had picked up a Notre Dame banner passing before an image of an aborted fetus that might “imply endorsement,” and President Obama might not have consented to honor the university with his presence.

And from Notre Dame’s perspective, an Obama turn-down would have smarted even more than the football team’s 15 losses in just the last two seasons.

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