High school students got a chance to participate in a mock trial of Roe v. Wade presented by constitutional law professors at the University of St. Thomas School of Law Prolife Center.
Approximately 60 students from Catholic schools and homeschools and their advisers attended the imaginary court case, based on the Prenatal Anti-Discrimination Act (PRENDA) legislation pending in Congress that would outlaw the performance of race- or sex-based abortions. The mock case of Karhart vs. Holder assumed the act is signed into law and is being challenged in a lawsuit as unconstitutional because it prohibits pre-viability abortions.
Professor Mike Paulsen, chair of the law school, played the role of the opposing attorney for the imaginary Dr. L.R. Karhart. Professor Teresa Collett played the role of special assistant attorney general for the United States who argued that the court should reverse Roe v. Wade and uphold PRENDA. Professor Robert Delahunty and Minneapolis attorney Kevin Conneely with Leonard Street & Deinard played the court judges.
The Prolife Center was established for the purpose of training young lawyers in defense of human life and rebuilding a culture of life. Collett said the presentation is part of their new outreach to high school youth as one of the most prolife law faculties in the country. Their hope with the mock trial was to help students understand the complexities involved in overturning Roe v. Wade and the arguments and legal positions on both sides of the decision.
“We want to prepare them. It’s apologetics,” said Collett. “These young people will be the next generation of pro-life lawyers, journalists, politicians and business people who support the protection of the unborn.”
Paulsen, who is credited with starting the Prolife Center, said the hope is that this will be a recurrent program.
“This was an opportunity to expose young students to the types of arguments that are raised in the constitutional debate over abortion. I think it was a valuable education for all, and hopefully furthered understanding and the pro-life position,” he said.
The pro-life position argued by Collette focused on new understanding of pregnancy, fetal development and women’s health based on scientific and medical developments since 1973; the well-documented harms to women from abortion; the hindering of women’s equality rather than advancement due to an unlimited abortion license; and discrimination in the womb based on race and sex.
Paulsen argued on the fundamental right to privacy; that the human fetus is “potential human life” not a person; and the principle of “stare decisis,” which requires adherence to the essential holding of Roe v. Wade, recognizing a constitutional right to choose abortion.
Following the trial, students had a chance to break into small groups and judge the case for themselves. Only one group of two students who identified themselves as pro-life voted to uphold Roe based on the right of privacy and the principle of “stare decisis.”
Students asked a number questions, such as the extent of the right to privacy, cases when a mother’s life is in danger, and what would happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Based on the questions, Hill-Murray Principal Dave Meyer thought the students understood the issues well and has proposed having the Prolife Center present the case to the whole school in the fall.
Cretin Derham Hall juniors Lilliana Gomez and Jordyn Alt were among those who weighed in on the issue. Gomez said she especially liked the argument that abortion did not improve women’s equality, and it suggests that the only way women can participate equally as leaders is to deny their fertility and their own children.
“Keeping abortion legal is almost taking away [equality] from womanhood, masculinizing us,” said Gomez. Alt added that it gives men an excuse not to have a part in the child’s life because the woman “could have aborted it.”
“I thought the fact that it’s considered a double homicide if you kill a pregnant mother, but then if you just kill the child, it’s not murder. That was very interesting,” said Alt. “I guess I came pro-life and I’m leaving pro-life.”
Holy Angels Senior Alyssa Radosevich said the trial was a valuable experience.
“It really felt like I was in a court room and I got to see what it would look like to debate one of these topics,” she said. “I learned a lot on how they argue the cases and in order to understand your side even more, you have to get to know the other side so you know how to come back with arguments.”
The archdiocesan Respect Life Office helped promote the initiative to Catholic schools, parishes and high school youth groups.
“What a wonderful opportunity for the future of our young people who may be interested in this kind of work to see how our judicial system works and how decisions are made,” said Respect Life Coordinator Sharon Wilson.