By Susan T. Muskett, J.D., Senior Legislative Counsel
The Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture awarded the prestigious Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal to Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) and his wife, Marie Smith, at a banquet ceremony on the Notre Dame campus last Saturday evening, April 5. The center’s director, Law Professor Carter Snead, presented the Medal, which bears the likeness of Blessed John Paul II.
The Medal is named after Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, which is Latin for “The Gospel of Life.” It is awarded to those “whose outstanding efforts have served to proclaim the Gospel of Life by steadfastly affirming and defending the sanctity of human life from its earliest stages.”
I had the honor of representing the National Right to Life Committee at the award ceremony. As a graduate of the law school at the University of Notre Dame, I was proud to see my alma mater recognize the Smiths for their unparalleled work on behalf of the unborn and innocent human life. I have witnessed first-hand Congressman Smith’s efforts on behalf of pro-life legislation over the years as an NRLC lobbyist, and his passion, dedication, and perseverance for the cause of life are second to none.
“One could not imagine more worthy recipients of the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal,” said Professor Snead. “In their work and in their persons, Congressman Chris and Marie Smith are extraordinary witnesses to the inalienable dignity and matchless worth of every member of the human family, born and unborn.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) calls Congressman Smith “the ‘moral compass’ of the House” – a fitting description for a legislator who is known around the globe for his defense of human rights. His defense of the innocent, the abused, and the persecuted is well-known.
As co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, Congressman Smith is at the forefront of efforts to enact pro-life legislation and defeat efforts to increase access to abortion. His work in defense of the unborn includes everything from defending the Hyde Amendment to helping to enact the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. The “Smith Amendment,” which he initiated, was first enacted in 1983 and prohibits federal employees’ health plans from covering elective abortion. The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, a law authored by Congressman Smith, established a nationwide program to advance ethical stem cell therapies using umbilical cord blood and bone marrow cells. He is currently the sponsor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7), as well as the Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act (H.R. 3279), both of which passed the House of Representatives as a combined bill in January.
Congressman Smith has been a relentless opponent of the subjection of Chinese women to forced abortions, having held numerous hearings on forced abortion. During one such hearing, Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng called in from his hospital bed in China and spoke with Smith about his plight and that of his family.
He has authored three anti-human trafficking laws, including The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
Marie Smith is the director of the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues, which helps lawmakers in countries overseas to organize working groups in their legislatures to help enact pro-life legislation. She has also served on Holy See delegations to United Nations’ conferences.
The Smiths’ involvement in the pro-life movement goes back to their college days at Trenton State College, where Chris Smith co-founded the Trenton State Pro-Life Committee, which Marie later chaired. Chris Smith later became executive director of the state right-to-life organization.
Past recipients of the Evangelium Vitae Medal include Mother Agnes Mary Donovan and the Sisters of Life; Helen M. Alvaré, professor of law, George Mason University School of Law; and Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.