IN MEMORIAM: Ray Dennehy (1934–2021)

Life Legal Advisory Board Member Raymond (Ray) Dennehy passed away on April 19, 2021, at the age of 86. Ray was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Francisco for 41 years. He was an articulate champion for the lives of unborn children and was invited to the University of California, Berkeley, for 50 consecutive semesters to debate abortion. He wrote and published six books, including Anti-Abortionist at Large: How to Argue Intelligently About Abortion and Live to Tell About It.

Several founding members of Life Legal were Dr. Dennehy’s students at USF. Life Legal Chief Operations Officer Mary Riley recalls how he could hold a classroom of student enthralled with new ideas. “As a student in Dr. Dennehy’s class, a whole beautiful new world opened in front of me,” she said. “It was a joy watching him make the profound so simple and attractive. He was entertaining, eloquent, witty, handsome, and his piercing logic could knock anyone off of their horse to see the truth, which was always fun to watch.”

Life Legal President John Streett and his wife Mimi both studied under Dr. Dennehy at USF. Their paths continued to cross as Dr. Dennehy continued his marathon schedule of debates on abortion at UC Berkeley. Years later, Mimi recalls, Ray “brought his incredible genius to one of our sleepy Novato parishes for a lively discussion that stimulated the minds and hearts of those attending.”

Dr. Dennehy once said, “at times we don’t even see the plan God has for us, and for me, it’s been to fight for life,” a mission he would carry out “until I reach room temperature.”

Requiescat in pace.

“Back in the late 1950s, when arguments for liberalized abortion laws began to emerge on the public scene, they almost always appealed to the hard cases: the mother will die if she carries the pregnancy to term; the baby will be born deformed; if the woman is forced to carry the child of her rapist, she will suffer serious psychological harm, and so forth. Once the public accepted these appeals to “humanitarianism,” it had, in fact, affirmed, at least implicitly, that a human being may be used a a mere means to an end, rather than an end in himself; for they’d given the green light to the deliberate killing of the innocent…. Once you affirm that a human being may be used as a mere means to an end, you will find it increasingly difficult to show why that principle can’t be applied to cases other than abortion. To affirm that a human being is a mere means to an end is to affirm, whether you like it or not, that it is not intrinsically evil to deliberately kill the innocent and, therefore, that the decision to do so depends on circumstances rather than the dignity of the human person.

“Should we be surprised, then, that we have traveled from legalizing abortion for the hard cases to legalizing elective abortion? Should we be surprised that our intellectuals, especially the professors of philosophy, have proceeded from the moral justification of abortion to the moral justification of infanticide and eldercide?”

—Raymond Dennehy, Anti-Abortionist at Large: How to Argue Intelligently about Abortion and Live to Tell About It

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