So, why are college campuses “ground zero” for pro-life activism? Because Gallup Poll statistics report that upon entering college, 47 percent of women were pro-life, but by graduation 73 percent said they were pro-choice.
The equation “40 = 50m.” was the theme of the 2013 March for Life. The numbers are significant as they represent the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, causing the loss of millions of lives due to abortion. Reflected in the numbers is the lack of respect for the life and dignity of the human person. My intention here is to look at the new momentum in the pro-life movement found in both the “March for Life” and “Students for Life of America” organizations through the lens of different generations, motivation factors, impact of technology, and messages of hope, interwoven with the themes of human dignity and intergenerational solidarity.
Since the landmark case of Roe v. Wade in 1973, pro-life groups have been active on college campuses. While many of the activists from those early days retain their pro-life position, they are now in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, part of an “aging” population. Due to work, family commitments, and age, most have limited their involvement in the pro-life movement to making donations to pro-life organizations, voting in favor of pro-life issues and for pro-life candidates, forming human chains to show respect for life, and occasionally participating in sidewalk awareness campaigns and prayer vigils. Involvement in these pro-life activities, regardless of age, reflects the characteristics of faithful
One exception to age slowing down a person in political activism against abortion was the founder of the March for Life, Nellie Gray, who died in August 2012, at the age of 88. A Washington Post article states that she organized the annual March for Life almost single-handedly from her home right up to her death. 2 Perhaps, Nellie’s legacy will be her “example of connections between generations, (as) a resource for the well-being of the family and the whole of society.” 3
Nellie’s successor is 40-year-old Jeanne Monahan, who resigned from the Department of Health and Human Services Council as head of the outreach on abortion and issues of “human dignity.” The theme, “40 = 50m,” was her idea to shift the movement’s focus using “civil rights” language. In her short time as president of March for Life, she has built a new website from its former bare bones format, has a blog, and is on Twitter and Facebook. 4
Social media and the Internet have become the new avenue for pro-life activism. It is a sign of the times, and has had a profound impact on all generations. When Pope Benedict met with participants of the “Digital Witnesses” Congress in 2010, he spoke about media as a tool for humanizing and civilizing our work by increasing communication “… above all geared toward the person and the common good that reflects truly universal values.” 5
Abortion, both legal and illegal, impacts all generations. But a new generation has replaced the gray-haired pro-life activists at rallies wearing sandwich-board signs and walking in circular patterns in front of abortion clinics. As noted in a 2002 statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “the pro-life movement is brimming with the vibrancy of youth.” 6 Those in their late teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s, are bringing a new energy and vitality to the abortion debate, along with their smart phones, and social media to text, and instantaneously send pictures and videos around the world.
One of the most active and successful pro-life organizations in the United States is Students for Life of America. 7 The evolution of Students for Life of America (SFLA) began in the 1970s as C.A.M.P.U.S., and was later renamed American Collegians for Life (ACL). SFLA is proud of its growth, in particularly the attendance rate at its national conference, which soared from 450 registered students in 2007, to over 2000 registered attendees in 2013. 8 The organization has grown as a “life-giving synthesis that bestows unity, meaning and hope” in the pro-life movement. 9
So, why are college campuses “ground zero” for pro-life activism? Because Gallup Poll statistics report that upon entering college, 47 percent of women were pro-life, but by graduation 73 percent said they were pro-choice. 10 As SFLA’s first executive director, Kristan Hawkins, states, “this is where these girls are having the abortions, this is where Planned Parenthood is targeting for new business, and this is where hearts and minds are being changed.” 11 SFLA’s signs read, “We are the pro-life generation” and the SFLA mission is “to abolish abortion in our lifetime.” 12 These students want to make their goal clear: this generation will overturn Roe v. Wade.
In many ways, technology is changing attitudes and opinions of when life begins, raising increased awareness that human life is a continuum, and how life taken in one generation affects future generations. In his book, The Challenge and Spiritually of Catholic Social Teaching, Marvin L. Krier Mich speaks about teens of today as “ultrasound kids.” They see concrete pictures of themselves in their own “pre-birth existence,” and in turn, they want all unborn children to have a right to life. 13 Hawkins echoes the power of technology to reach the masses: “You’ve got 3D and 4D ultrasounds now, something we’ve never had before in previous generations—where a girl can go to Google, type in abortion, and see that baby in the womb. These technologies are educating students about what is life, and they’re showing these students that there’s unborn life in that womb.” 14
Before ultrasound, pro-abortionists used the term “clump of tissue” to describe the developing embryo and fetus. This dehumanizing term was intended to make the mother feel less attached to new life growing within her. Ultrasound revealed to man what God already knew, that “every person is the living image of God himself.” 15 Pope Benedict offers further insight into human ecology, using the metaphor “book of nature” in his environmental ethic which links care for all of life including the unborn, “(Human ecology) reaffirm(s) the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition.” 16
SFLA is a robust and devoted group which uses social media, and the Internet, to reach its target audience: young men and women on college campuses across the United States. The SFLA website is a starting point for a complete picture of the organization, containing a blog archive, and is complemented by a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, and You Tube, including some videos which have gone viral.
Media can be a powerful instrument of solidarity when it is used with prudence to eliminate injustice. 17 In July 2013, SFLA was present when the Texas legislature signed the HB2 bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks. This historical moment was documented by SFLA field agents and pro-life activists, using their smart phones to send pictures, videos, and texts proclaiming a victory for the pro-life movement. This presence raises awareness, allowing students to identify themselves with the pro-life message.
Hawkins realizes there is no replacement for the tried and true methods of boots-on-the-ground outreach. You can do a lot via the Internet. You can do a lot via referrals, and e-mail, and calls … but really a lot of grunt work comes down to hitting the pavement, being there in person, right on the campuses, meeting the students. I think that that’s actually one of the most critical things that you have to do. Students are swamped with messages, e-mails, text messages. Getting out and personally meeting these students, I think that’s the best think that you can do. 18
That is why SFLA is adamant in educating and training their campus pro-life activists in tangible ways to support the organization’s mission. They teach leadership, communication, and strategy skills, when to be speak up, and when to be silent. They are encouraged and filled with hope in sharing stories of baby saves. They provide their activists with a range of educational materials that compel the casual observer to take a closer look, such as their personhood postcard with the question, “Which hand is the hand of a person?” The selected picture of the tiny hand of the unborn baby is a poignant witness to the truth of the human person. 19 The SFLA “Pregnant on Campus” initiative seeks to transform campuses into places where students can see themselves continuing their education if they have a child. Among other things, this entails having diaper decks, lactation rooms, and ensuring that pregnant students have a place to stay on campus.
As the Compendium states, “(abortion) is a horrendous crime and constitutes a particularly serious moral disorder; far from being a right, it is a sad phenomenon that contributes seriously to spreading a mentality against life, representing a dangerous threat to a just and democratic social coexistence.” 20 Perhaps, the biggest challenge SLFA faces is the sense of apathy about abortion, largely due to a desensitization to the value and dignity of human life that prevails in this culture of death.
The youthful faces of SFLA have attracted the attention of Nancy Keenan of NARAL, one of America’s top pro-abortion organizations. In January 2010, she was present for the March for Life in Washington and told Newsweek: “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young … There are so many of them, and they are so young.” 21
As those in their 20s and 30s look at statistics, they discover that one-in-three-to-four of their generation was lost to abortion. This has led them to feelings of betrayal and sadness at the irrevocable loss of life. They call themselves the “survivor generation,” and they see abortion as a human rights issue. They recognize the “personhood” of the pre-born, the dignity of the human person, and the entitlement of human rights. For them, abortion takes on a whole new meaning as a human rights issue, and it has strengthened their resolve to seek rights for those who cannot speak for themselves. This generation of young people sees the most basic of human rights “the right to life, an integral part of which is the right of the child to develop in the mother’s womb from the moment of conception.” 22
In their yearning to comprehend and imagine a world that includes the lives of those who were aborted, those in their 20s and 30s have declared solidarity with their unborn brothers and sisters, transcending the temporal realm. This generation recognizes the intrinsic social nature of the human person, and that the equality of all, in dignity and rights, were stripped from those who were not given the opportunity to be born. 23 In Evangelium Vitae, Chapter I, The Voice of Your Brother’s Blood Cries to Me from the Ground, Pope John Paul II writes “Not infrequently, the kinship ‘of flesh and blood’ is also violated; for example, when threats to life arise within the relationship between parents and children, such as happens in abortion.” 24 The generation of those in their 20s and 30s wants to ensure that the birth statistics of future generations are not routed by abortion. The 40-year history of Roe v. Wade has revealed the ripple effects of abortion from one generation to the next generation.
In conclusion, in the spirit of solidarity, both March for Life, and SFLA, are restoring human dignity by demonstrating a respect for life through education, initiatives, and campaigns that support a culture of life. The pro-life movement has a young face, with fresh ideas, that have been propelled by the new wave of social media, and technological advances in ultrasound. Yet, it is intergenerational in spirit and mission. The wrinkles on the faces of the unborn visualized through ultrasound has created an indisputable image of life in the womb, challenging the present notion of personhood. The wrinkles of the veteran pro-life activists are badges of honor for raising the present generation of pro-life activists to become the “generation for life” that overturns Roe v. Wade.
“A Matter of the Heart.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. N.p., 12 Nov. 2002. Web. 25 July 2013.
Boorstein, Michelle. “New Face of March for Life.” The Washington Post: B.1. Jan 25 2013. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2013 .
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Cittá Del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2004. Print.
“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. N.p., 2011. Web. 25 July 2013.
Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae. John Paul II. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 25 Mar. 1995. Web. 25 July 2013.
Jalsevac, John. “Hundreds of Pro-Life Student Groups Sweeping Across U.S. College Campuses.” Human Life Review Fall 2010: 104-6. ProQuest. Web. 25 July 2013.
Mich, Marvin L. K. The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2011. Print.
“Pope Says the Media Is a Tool for Humanizing.” Rome Reports TV News Agency. N.p., 26 Apr. 2010. Web. 21 July 2013.
Students for Life: Pro Life Youth, Anti-Abortion Facts, and Pro-Life Training Students for Life. Students for Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013.
- It is a moral obligation for Catholics to develop a well-formed conscience, exercise prudence and use moral truths as a compass to transform the world through active participation in political life. See “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States,” (Washington DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011) 14, 17, 19, 31, 34. ↩
- Michelle Boorstein, “New Face of March for Life,” The Washington Post, 25 January 2013, B.1. ↩
- Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, (Washington DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004) 222. ↩
- Boorstein. ↩
- When used properly the Internet and social media are effective tools to spread the common good. See “Pope Says the Media Is a Tool for Humanizing,” Rome Reports TV News Agency, 26 April 2010. ↩
- The pro-life movement has renewed hope and gathers energy from the involvement of young people. See “A Matter of the Heart,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 12 November 2002. ↩
- John Jalsevac, “Hundreds of Pro-Life Student Groups Sweeping Across U.S. College Campuses,” Human Life Review, Fall 2010: 104-6. ↩
- Students for Life of America (SFLA) website www.studentsforlife.org ↩
- Compendium, 545. ↩
- Jalsevac. ↩
- Jalsevac. ↩
- SFLA website. ↩
- Marvin L. K. Mich, The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching, (New York: Orbis Books, 2011) 78. ↩
- Jalsevac. ↩
- Compendium, 105. ↩
- Mich, 56. ↩
- Compendium, 561. Notes (con’t) ↩
- Jalsevac. ↩
- Compendium, 527 ↩
- Compendium, 233. ↩
- Jalsevac. ↩
- Compendium, 155. ↩
- Compendium, 192. ↩
- John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Evangelium Vitae, (25 March 1995), 8. ↩