On May 10, 2012, Nancy Keenan, the outgoing president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, spoke with the Washington Post. The Post reported: “In recent years, Keenan has worried about an ‘intensity gap’ on abortion rights among millennials, which the group considers to be the generation of Americans born between 1980 and 1991. While most young, antiabortion voters see abortion as a crucial political issue, NARAL’s own internal research does not find similar passion among abortion-rights supporters.”
One of the groups most responsible for the “intensity gap” among the young is Students for Life of America. For 27 years, the group has hosted a conference in conjunction with Washington, DC’s annual March for Life, held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. This year, for the second year running, Students for Life will host the SFLA’s West Coast Annual Conference in San Francisco. The conference will take place on Sunday, January 25, the day after the Walk for Life West Coast, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. The theme of the conference is “Illuminate: Truth, Hope, & Life.” The day-long event features prominent pro-life speakers, including David Bereit and Shawn Carney of 40 Days for Life; former Planned Parenthood clinic director, author, and activist Abby Johnson; Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life; Wynette Sills of Californians for Life; Katie Short of Life Legal Defense Fund; Kristina Garza of Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust; Casey Tesauro, Tina Whittington, Kristina Hernandez, and Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life, and others.
Last week Catholic World Report spoke with Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.
CWR: You are the president of Students for Life of America. How did that happen? Tell us how your pro-life convictions developed.
Kristan Hawkins: I started in the pro-life movement when I was just a teenager and was asked to volunteer at a pregnancy resource center. After spending three months counseling women not to abort their children, I started the first pro-life group at my high school and eventually was asked to be the West Virginia Teens for Life president. In high school, I organized my first political protest and events aimed at educating students about abortion. I graduated as valedictorian and went to Bethany College in West Virginia, where I started the first pro-life group on campus. I majored in political science with the hopes of becoming a full-time pro-life activist, and graduated summa cum laude in 2005.
Before coming to SFLA I worked for the 2004 Bush/Cheney re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee, and served as a political appointee in the George W. Bush administration at the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
In 2006, I became SFLA’s first full-time employee and started immediately to grow the organization. I was always a passionate pro-lifer and activist and this was my chance to grow the pro-life movement exponentially, instilling pro-life values just when young people are beginning to come of age and question the world more intensely. We want to be there when that happens.
CWR: The theme of last year’s West Coast Conference was “Be the Revolution!” This year’s is “Illuminate.” Tell us what that means.
Hawkins: The civil rights movement was one of the nation’s greatest revolutions, and it started from the grassroots. In fact, it started with brave black college students who refused to be seen as less than their white counterparts. I have seen the bravery of pro-life high school and college students on their campuses as they fight their school administrations for the right to exist. I’ve seen them go public with their stories, risking alienation from friends and family. They are continually fighting for the rights of all, especially the preborn, who have no voice.
And they are the little lights all around the country that are illuminating the fire of passion, the fire of intensity against abortion, the ultimate injustice. We are not only honoring these students at the conference but equipping them to go back to their campuses and light the flames of their peers and communities to reach and serve women in crisis pregnancies, to take on the Culture of Death that pervades their campuses, and to mobilize thousands of others to join our human rights cause.
CWR: Some institutes of higher education, even nominally Catholic ones, are incubators of the Culture of Death. Joe Langfeld of the Human Life Alliance has cited studies showing that “60-70 percent of young people consider themselves pro-life when they leave high school. But only 29-30 percent (depending on the study) consider themselves pro-life when they leave college.” Obviously SFLA is fighting that, but it must be a challenge.
Hawkins: Nothing we do for good is going to be easy, right? But the right to life is the most important right there is and we should do everything we can to protect it, especially those most vulnerable among us—the preborn. Students for Life is working really hard to keep young people pro-life by our philosophy of “Belong, Believe, Behave,” which means that we try to bring young people into our pro-life movement through getting involved because of their friends. Then they come to learn about pro-life apologetics, human development, and the true intentions of the abortion industry, which lead them to believe in the pro-life message on their own accord. Lastly, because of their convictions, they will begin to behave in ways that encourage the pro-life message among their peers and in their communities.
This millennial generation of pro-lifers blows away their pro-choice peers when it comes to intensity. They are so much more intense about being pro-life than pro-choicers are about being pro-choice and that will go a long way in abolishing abortion in our lifetime.
CWR: On the blog Secular Pro-Life Perspectives, I read that Planned Parenthood has bragged about having more than 200 campus groups, to which the pro-life blogger responded, “Awww, that’s cute. You want to know how many college campuses have Students for Life groups? 838.” Tell us how SFLA has grown and your plans for the future.
Hawkins: That’s not exactly a number that Planned Parenthood should be bragging about, but then again, they brag about how they are defenders of “women’s health,” which includes more than 300,000 abortions per year, so it makes sense their priorities are off.
SFLA has grown exponentially since its inception in 2006, when we started off with 181 groups. It has grown because SFLA has taken calculated steps to cultivate relationships on hundreds of college and high school campuses, training and equipping young people to talk about abortion compassionately and help women with unplanned pregnancies. These young people are so passionate about abolishing abortion and we are able to channel that passion into action. At our national conferences alone every year we train more than 2,500 students and, in the last eight years, we’ve trained more than 21,000 students.
SFLA also has regional coordinators in most areas of the country, but we are currently raising money to hire more. [With] SFLA team members all over the nation, we are able to personally cultivate relationships, train students, and mobilize when necessary.
CWR: Did you make it to the Walk for Life West Coast last year? If so, how did you like it?
Hawkins: I did. I was with a bunch of pro-life students holding our 10-foot “We are the Pro-Life Generation” banner, praying near the Stop Patriarchy pro-abortion counter-protestors. It got scary because they were spitting at us and the situation turned so dangerous that police had to surround us for protection. Despite the challenging circumstances, it was a great learning experience for our students who were there with me. Many of them admitted to me after the event that they had been scared from simply recruiting on their campuses, but after being with me at the event, they wouldn’t be scared to stand for their beliefs on campus any longer. And in fact, some of those student leaders have become some of our top activists on the West Coast this school year.
Overall, it was so encouraging to see the huge turnout for the Walk and so many young people. We also had our first West Coast National Conference the day after the Walk for Life last year, which was a huge success. This year it is looking like it will be the same, and I can’t wait to get to San Francisco to walk for life with so many other pro-lifers. The Walk for Life sets a great example in the midst of one of the most pro-abortion states in the country.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!