Notre Dame 88 protester ready to choose family over fighting in court

Laura Rohling protests outside of Notre Dame
Laura Rohling protests outside of Notre Dame


A Denver mother who is one of the 88 pro-life protestors arrested for trespassing on the University of Notre Dame's campus during President Obama's appearance last May, has decided that if charges are not dropped soon, she will have to plead guilty.

Laura Rohling, a mother of three young children, told CNA on Monday that the burden on her family and the financial cost of traveling from Denver to South Bend, Ind. are key factors she is considering as the legal proceedings continue.

The saga involving the 88 pro-life protestors began at Notre Dame on May 8, 2009 when the Catholic university decided to confer an honorary degree on the pro-abortion President Barack Obama and allow him to deliver the commencement address.

As Rohling explained to CNA, “the primary reason for going out to South Bend was to tell my story of choosing abortion years before and how it did not 'fix' my problem.”

Rohling said that her abortion “was not the right choice in the long term. The decision haunted me for years, and I wanted to tell the students especially that abortion is not a good option.”

When she went to Notre Dame last Spring, Rohling explained that she had no idea that it would “turn into such a big mess.” 

Recalling the day, she said, “the vision that sticks most in my mind is that while we were saying the Rosary, I was holding my 'I Regret My Abortion' sign, there were other groups with pro-Obama shirts on that were allowed to stand aside and watch us get arrested.” 

Now, along with 87 other protesters, she is faced with charges in St. Joseph County Court that require each defendant to appear for every hearing. Proxies are not allowed, which makes the uncertain defense process expensive and time consuming, especially for those who do not live near South Bend, Indiana.

On October 20, a motion was filed on behalf of the “Notre Dame 88” requesting that all charges be dropped. However, Rohling noted, the judge appointed to the case is the wife of a retired pro-abortion Notre Dame professor and is markedly pro-abortion herself. 

Attorney Thomas Dixon, who is representing the protesters, filed another motion for a change of judge in the case, arguing that St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Jenny Pitts Manier is biased. Judge Manier denied any personal or judicial bias in the case.

The “Defendants' Motion to Dismiss” filed by Dixon in South Bend states that “defendants assert that their constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech and equal protection under the law were violated by these arrests and criminal charges.”  Dixon said that the prosecutor has until November 23 to respond. 

The hearing for the motion is set for Dec. 3.

In response to various pleas to the university to drop the charges, Father Jenkins, the school's president,  sent out a form letter explaining that the matter is out of his hands. Despite the fact that the arrests were made by the Notre Dame Security Police, St. Joseph County, Indiana is the prosecuting party.

Stating that others have also taken pretrial diversions or plead guilty on account of school schedules and other conflicts,  Rohling added, “My job first is to raise my children. I cannot continue to travel to Notre Dame for hearings. They will not allow a proxy, so I have to go for every appearance.”

If Rohling pleads guilty to the charges, she will be fined $250, have to pay another $160 in court costs, perform 20 hours of community service, receive one year of unsupervised probation, and have a 10-day jail sentence suspended. “All this,” she says, “for a Rosary, a protest for Orthodox Catholicism, and my free speech rights.”

Despite the cost, the hassle, and the discouragement, she still says, “I'd do it all over again!”

Follow us:

Check out Catholic News Agency Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome