Anational leader of abortion advocacy arrived in downtown Washington, D.C., during the 2010 March for Life and could barely believe her eyes.
Nancy Keenan, then president of NARAL, later told a Newsweek reporter: “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young. There are so many of them, and they are so young.”
As if confirming Keenan’s observation, a NARAL survey the same year revealed a sharp “intensity gap” about abortion among millennials. While 51% of pro-life voters under the age of 30 considered abortion to be a “very important” voting issue, only 26% of pro-abortion voters under 30 felt the same way.
Fast-forward a decade, and the cause continues to attract passionate young people. Roughly a quarter of participants in the annual March for Life are high school or college age, and pro-life demonstrations throughout North America are likewise filled with young faces.
Meanwhile, some of the millennials represented in NARAL’s 2010 survey are now at the forefront of the pro-life movement, advocating in various ways for the unborn, abortion- vulnerable women and those struggling with the pain of past abortion.
Columbia spoke with five of these leaders, young Catholic men and women spanning the millennial generation, about their pro-life mission.
I have been pro-life for as long as I can remember, but my passion to defend the dignity of life took stronger root during my senior year of high school. That was when I sought to start a student pro-life group at the high schools in Madera, Calif. Despite opposition from the administration, our efforts bore fruit and the groups took flight. This leap of faith fostered an even deeper desire in me to spread the culture of life.
How I’m involved: I founded SCL in 2017 because I wanted to unite all seminarians under one common mission and banner. We focus on building a strong foundation of prayer, an intellectual understanding of the life issues, and active support so that we may cultivate a profound love for life, especially in the heart of the seminarian.
Pro-life challenges: Among the greatest challenges are polarizing divisions based on political, social and economic conditions. Those divisions have no place in our movement; we truly are a movement of all people. Another challenge is the widespread relativism within our culture, which promotes indifference. We are called to counter this indifference with authentic love.
The pro-life message: It is my strong desire that pro-choice people would come to realize the deep love and hope we have for human life. We are not pro-life only because of our religious beliefs, but also because science and reason tell us that life begins at conception and each human being is unique.
Signs of hope: Anyone who advocates for the dignity of life is a sign of hope. Those who pray before abortion facilities, march for life and witness publicly to the beauty and dignity of life ignite conviction for future generations. Through the involvement of my peers and younger individuals, a ray of hope shines amid the darkness of our culture. The tide is turning, and hearts are changing.
Advice to Knights: My brother Knights, persevere in your convictions to defend the sanctity of life through love and support for those in need. As St. John Paul II often said, “Be not afraid.” Be not afraid to show your support for the prolife cause, to help those in need and to be a public witness for life. Above all, pray without ceasing that the sanctity of life may be respected.
As I was growing up in Red Deer, Alberta, my parents taught natural family planning and ensured that a culture of life was celebrated in our family. My formation at the Newman Centre at McGill University helped me to develop a deeper understanding of the philosophical foundations of the prolife movement. While attending a Physicians for Life conference in med school, I met students from across the country who wanted to practice medicine like me, with a pro-life worldview.
How I’m involved: Despite the efforts of our Catholic medical organizations to lobby the government to maintain a Hippocratic view of medicine, respecting life at all stages, euthanasia was legalized in Canada in 2016. We are now focused on upholding the dignity of our patients’ lives by defending freedom of conscience in this new environment. For the last five years, I have also been a medical consultant for the Marquette University Institute for Natural Family Planning, and I’ve co-authored over 30 articles, mainly related to the science of NFP.
Pro-life challenges: The first step is building friendships with people with different opinions and learning to listen to their perspectives in a sensitive way. When a one-on-one friendship of trust is established, more controversial subjects can be approached. Careful listening is also key to building trust between physicians and patients.
The pro-life message: We cannot simply preach to the choir. We have to “speak in tongues” — learning the best words to reach all kinds of people, doing our best to understand where they are coming from and respecting their freedom while still advocating for the littlest ones who don’t have a voice in our society.
Signs of hope: Once we find fellowship, through our parishes and pro-life organizations, we must also provide a welcoming home for others. We need to mentor younger people to learn to speak with clarity and charity, and we need to share our testimony with them. This new generation is convinced by compelling stories.
Advice to Knights: True religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress (cf. Jas 1:27). The Knights are one of the best examples of this. People who, because of circumstances and upbringing, have not understood the pro-life message, are also “orphans and widows.” We have to open up new horizons to them so that they find in us fathers and brothers who can bring them back home.
As the oldest of eight children, my childhood was filled with the excitement and joy of getting ready to welcome new siblings into our Catholic family. This gave me a profound awareness that each person is infinitely precious from the moment of coming into being. In a word, my desire to protect the lives of little ones in the womb was ignited by my parents’ generous “yes” to life. Later, during my undergraduate studies in Indiana, I wrote my senior thesis about the impact of viewing ultrasound images on the abortion decision-making process.
How I’m involved: Eager to develop a deeper understanding of the human person and the nature of a culture of life and civilization of love, I pursued graduate studies at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America. A few years later, prayer and discernment led me to an opportunity to work for the March for Life, where we strive to end abortion by uniting, equipping and mobilizing pro-life America. Within the organization, I act as the chief of staff, keeping our team in close collaboration and leading daily operations.
Pro-life challenges: We live in a culture fixated on avoiding suffering at all costs, and this fixation can deter us from sacrificing for what is most beautiful and most precious. My efforts to build a culture of life must begin with offering up my own little crosses in the midst of daily life, and with praying consistently for mothers and fathers to have the courage and support they need to choose life.
The pro-life message: The March for Life chooses a theme each year focusing on what is most needed at the present moment in our culture; the 2020 theme is “Life Empowers: Pro- Life is Pro-Woman.” I wish all women could realize that far from being something shameful or demeaning, saying “yes” to motherhood is always an ennobling, empowering and heroic path.
Signs of hope: Growing up with ultrasound images on our refrigerators, millennials are aware in a special way of the humanity and vulnerability of the child in the womb. They bring a renewed fervor to the fight for life in our country. In a particular way, the hundreds of thousands of young people taking a stand to end abortion at the March for Life are an incredible witness to hope.
Advice to Knights: The life-saving work of the March for Life would not be possible without your generous support. Thank you for persevering in the fight to protect the most vulnerable among us. With the deepest gratitude, I ask you to remain dedicated to building a culture of life at work and at home.
My parents cultivated in me and my four sisters a deep love for life, especially through our Catholic faith and our family’s tradition of military service. The first time I went to the March for Life, two Sisters of Life joined my high school’s bus from Connecticut to D.C. I was profoundly moved by witnessing their bridal and maternal love, reading St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae that one sister lent me, and being engulfed in a sea of joyful marchers on Capitol Hill. The great wounds of our culture and even greater beauty of human life pierced my heart and inflamed it with a desire to lay down my life so that others may live.
How I’m involved: I discovered in the Sisters of Life what my heart was deeply longing for — to be a bride and mother, giving myself fully for the protection of all human life. As Sisters of Life, we have the great gift of serving vulnerable pregnant women and their unborn children, and inviting women wounded by abortion into the healing mercy of Jesus. We also foster a culture of life through evangelization and host weekend retreats for women and men.
Pro-life challenges: Every human person has been created for joy and communion, yet confusion and discouragement often hinder this desire and purpose God has planted in our hearts. One of the biggest challenges (and opportunities) in the pro-life movement today is to keep aflame our joy and to strengthen our solidarity, not letting the storms around us dampen our hope.
The pro-life message: Perfect love really does cast out fear (cf. 1 Jn 4:18); this is a reality that I have the privilege to watch unfold in people’s lives. Love is creative and will find a way. One of the most powerful things we can do to reach hearts and minds is to take time to listen and to accompany the other towards truth, in love.
Signs of hope: I am always struck by the spirit of joy at the March for Life. Countless millennials carry “We are the Pro-Life Generation” signs with smiles on their faces as they march. Without even saying a word, they witness to the world that the pro-life movement is young, joyful and full of hope.
Advice to Knights: Never underestimate the witness of a family’s love to proclaim the sacredness of life! Others will be struck by your joy as a family, your unity with one another and your openness to life in all its blessings and challenges.
My parents met through the pro-life movement, so I grew up in it and have always been passionate about it. I really benefited from doing sidewalk counseling for a year during college, interacting with abortion’s victims or potential victims. That experience haunts me. It keeps me driven while working in public policy, which sometimes can feel a step removed from the front lines of the abortion fight.
How I’m involved: I work in public policy because pro-life laws save lives. Research shows that the Hyde Amendment alone — which prevents our tax dollars from paying for abortions under Medicaid — is directly responsible for 1 million people walking this planet today who otherwise would have been aborted. Public policy is messy; we’re dealing with politicians, and there can be a lot of “gray” area. But there is tremendous opportunity to save children, and therefore we must engage.
Pro-life challenges: The biggest challenge is that Roe v. Wade largely took away the power of the people to legislate on abortion through their elected representatives. It leaves the American people handcuffed while the unborn are legally slaughtered. Since 2016, we’ve been able to shift the balance of the Supreme Court and transform the lower courts, which puts the erosion or even overturning of Roe within grasp.
The pro-life message: Advances in science and technology have proven beyond any doubt that it is a child in the womb. We’ve won that argument. The next frontier is to communicate how the pro-life movement loves and cares for the mother and the child beyond the womb. The reality is that we do actively care for both, but the perception is that we care only about protecting the baby, and that mother and child are on their own after birth. We need to change that perception.
Signs of hope: At the federal and state levels, our government is currently passing a record-breaking number of pro-life laws. No longer does the pro-life movement settle for lip service from politicians — we require action. I think millennials especially understand that: They are action-oriented.
Advice to Knights: Do what you feel called to do, and act. It could be a commitment to private prayer, peaceful witness outside of abortion facilities, volunteering with a pregnancy care center, donating funds to pro-life causes, volunteering for pro-life politicians, or even running for office yourself. Whatever you do, just take action. Innocent unborn children pay the price when we don’t.
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