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By Kathleen Gilbert

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, March 29, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, the prestigious former president of the University of Notre Dame, may have helped swing a critical House Democrat vote to the “yes” column after House Speaker Pelosi asked for his help, reported the LA Times and the Associated Press last Tuesday. 

The South Bend Tribune confirmed the report on Friday.

Hesburgh was called in to persuade U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) to vote for the health care bill despite the vast expansion of abortion funding embedded in it. Donnelly had been a member of the group of Democrats led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who opposed the bill without Hyde-amendment restrictions on abortion funding. Stupak and several other Democrats eventually agreed to vote for the legislation in exchange for a presidential executive order purporting to ban federal abortion funding. 

The order, however, was dubbed meaningless and “a symbolic gesture” by both the National Right to Life Committee and Planned Parenthood.

The LA Times' Richard Simon and Faye Fiore hailed the Speaker's initiative. “The key to Pelosi's success on the healthcare vote is intimate knowledge of her members and the kinds of influences that will move them,” they wrote.

Elizabeth Shappell, Donnelly's press secretary, claims Hesburgh did not tell Donnelly how to vote but only advised him to “vote your conscience.”

As president of Notre Dame in 1967, Fr. Hesburgh spearheaded the infamous Land O'Lakes statement, in which the heads of several American universities declared their separation from the authority of the Catholic Church.

The University of Notre Dame has been struggling to repair its pro-life credentials ever since its invitation to President Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree at the school's commencement exercises last year – a decision supported by Fr. Hesburgh. In pursuit of this goal, President Fr. John Jenkins' this year attended the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. and the university has created a “Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life.”

Yet critics such as Notre Dame professor emeritus Charles Rice have said out that such efforts are a “mockery” as the Notre Dame 88, arrested last year at Jenkins' behest for offering a pro-life witness against the Obama honor on campus, continue to face charges.

When Joe Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League confronted Jenkins over the “ND 88” at the 2010 March for Life, Scheidler complained that the experience was like talking to a “stone.”

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