Professor Teresa Stanton Collett remembers reading Roe v. Wade in her Constitutional Law class at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. As a first-year student with a 9-month- old baby, the case impacted her on a deep level. It motivated her to become one of the lone voices in her class articulating a pro-life position.
She has been speaking out ever since.
Collett did not enter law school with ambition to become one of the country’s leading pro-life and family advocates; she left a successful career as the owner of small bridal salons to pursue a profession she felt would keep her intellectually stimulated long term. She has not been disappointed.
Although her religious beliefs help inform and sustain her advocacy for human life and preservation of the family, Collett was pro-life before she was Catholic. Raised as a Methodist, she converted to Catholicism after marrying her husband, Bob. Catholicism resonated with her personal convictions, and she soon became a leader in her church community.
In Collett’s office at St. Thomas Law, filled with legal treatises, texts and articles, stands her treasured photo of her and her husband greeting Pope Francis. She makes a conscious effort to integrate her faith into her teaching largely by modeling a personal commitment to family life. This includes hosting dinners for students in her home, introducing them to her husband, and sharing pictures of her children and grandchildren.
“She treats her students as family,” 3L Tim Garvey said. “She mentors us on the choices we will make as professionals, and how those choices will influence our future family lives. She shows us that you can be a lawyer and still have a fulfilling family life.”
She makes a point to get to know her students personally. When traveling with students from her International Law and Catholic Social Thought courses to the United Nations in New York City, she hosts social hours after each day’s work is done. The gatherings end promptly at 10 p.m. though, to accommodate nightly calls from her husband. The Colletts have been happily married for almost 38 years, epitomizing the devotion she hopes to model to her students.
Her personal commitment to family is deeply woven into her work as a life advocate. The “life issue,” she explained, “is inextricably entwined with commitment between a man and a woman. Family can’t just be a network of affection. It is a commitment that takes work. One of the greatest threats to society is the decline of marriage.” She is particularly concerned with the increase of divorce in older couples. Linking the increase of divorce to a surge in suicides among elderly men, she urged that the pro-life issue is not just about the unborn. Advocacy for life occurs on a continuum; it includes promoting the human dignity of people with disabilities and the elderly as well as advocating on behalf of the unborn.
She also is concerned about society’s emphasis on economics at the expense of the family. She fears that childbearing and nurturing are seen as distractions as opposed to a worthwhile goal for many young Americans. “This is ridiculous. It’s just wrong that our society trivializes the family,” she said. “Having a career and starting a family don’t have to be mutually exclusive.” She said this is particularly hard for women. “We refuse to admit that childbearing is easier in our 20s. The idea that you should postpone is problematic. Our culture needs to reform the notion that children should be put off. In the early years of learning a craft, it makes sense that we should also invest ourselves in creating a family. It only becomes more difficult over time.”
She argued that current culture condones intolerance and unintentional selfishness. Citing parenting styles that require “time for myself,” she worries about the misconception that children are a burden.
She urges young people to recognize that life requires balance, and believes that in hindsight, parents will never regret a commitment to their children and family.
Collett is known for many accomplishments, including appointment by Pope Benedict XVI to a five-year term as consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Family (an appointment Pope Francis extended in 2014), representing U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and various medical groups in the defense of the federal ban of partial-birth abortion, and authoring the 9th Circuit brief, Isaacson v. Horne, that opened the door for increased regulation to protect the unborn. Collett, however, cited her three children as her greatest accomplishment. She hopes that she will be remembered as a person who cared deeply, that she was fair and that she was faithful. She humbly confided, though, that half the time her stomach is in knots that she isn’t living up to all she could be. Yet, many of her students view her as a type of legend.
“Before stepping into her classroom, every single student knows that they need to be razor sharp and extremely prepared,” said Bridget Duffus, a 3L. “She truly loves and believes in the work she does. Whether it is advocating in the form of an amicus curiae brief, arguing for policy change or teaching the Rule Against Perpetuities to a room of first-year law students, she gives 110 percent of herself.”
In some ways, Collett remains the lone voice she started out as in the Constitutional Law course. She recently was singled out by the NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota Foundation. Describing a personal verbal attack with potential to wound even the heartiest of warriors, Collett simply smiled and said she must be doing something right to garner such attention from those with opposing views.
Collett continues her advocacy through the University of St. Thomas Prolife Center, which relies on the generosity of those who support its mission. The center is always in need of volunteers, particularly those who are able to draft amicus briefs and help shape legislation and testimony to advance the protection of human life. Learn more about Collett’s work with the Prolife Center.
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