WASHINGTON — Paramount among the hundreds of thousands of pro-life Americans who will rally Jan. 22 on the National Mall in Washington for the annual March for Life are college students, drawn from the nationwide network of young Americans who represent a generation that is increasingly pro-life.
This year, students from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., will be the march’s standard-bearers, proudly carrying the famous “March for Life” banner.
Kathryn Brown, the president of the school’s Ravens Respect Life club, estimates eight busloads of students will make the 1,100-mile trip to lead the march.
“When we saw that Notre Dame was leading the march last year, we said, ‘We should do that next year,’” she told the Register. “So, last June, I emailed March for Life President Jeanne Monahan on my own and asked if we could lead the march in 2014. She emailed back and said that we absolutely could.”
The Knights of Columbus council at Benedictine College began the yearly trip in 1985, with about 10 people, Brown said. This year, the school will be sending more than 400 students wearing matching red-and-black stocking caps at the head of the march.
“We will be the loudest and most spirited group there,” Brown promised. “We have a reputation as ‘the loud bunch from Kansas.’”
In addition to Benedictine, students from across the country are traveling long distances to attend the march, including a group of 45 people from the College of Saint Mary Magdalene in Warren, N.H. Leo Bond, coordinator of the Magdalen College contingent, told the Register that their small Catholic school cancels classes to encourage students to attend.
Said Bond, “Being a part of the march and seeing so many different schools that are represented here reaffirms … how many people embrace this position and are here to advocate for it.”
Magdalen College will be joining the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., on a 13-hour bus ride to take part in the march. Diocesan March for Life organizer Valerie Lynn Somers says that the diocese already has 305 people signed up to attend — their largest group ever.
Somers, who has been attending the march since 1989, said that she most enjoys watching how the crowd has evolved over the years.
“When I started going, my parents were some of the youngest in the crowd. It has evolved to young faces and into such a large crowd. It is so uplifting,” she told the Register.
One such young face is Kirsten Dodge, a freshman at the New Hampshire Technical Institute, who is attending her fourth march. For Dodge, the reality of abortion became tangible when someone she knew had an abortion.
“I found out that she had gotten the abortion because she had been misinformed,” said Dodge, who said that her first trip to the March for Life helped her know more about the topic. “Going there opened my mind, and, now, I am a lot more active in the pro-life movement.”
She said that her favorite part of the march is looking down Constitution Avenue near the conclusion of the march. “When you look down the hill, you really cannot see an end to the crowd. They just keep going. I love that because it shows how many people show up for the cause,” she said.
‘Pilgrims, Not Tourists’
Dodge also provided insight into the experience of enduring the 13-hour bus ride. “We pray a Rosary every hour, and it kind of gets us ready for the march,” she said. “We are pilgrims, not tourists.”
Claire Chretien, from Bama Students for Life at the University of Alabama, agreed.
“We always become a lot closer,” said Chretien, who noted that campus participation in the March has grown from six attendees to 28 over the past two years. “The Holy Spirit allows us to be together in such close quarters without hating each other! In fact, we love each other even more by the end of the trip.”
Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America, notes that these students are part of a growing college pro-life movement: Her nationwide organization has climbed from 180 campus organizations in 2006 to 882 today, and their annual conference, held the day before the March for Life, is expected to have 2,300 attendees.
Hawkins believes the pro-life argument is resonating deeply among college students. “Polls show that this is the most pro-life generation since Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton,” she told the Register. “It is more mainstream than ever to stand up and say, ‘I believe in life, and I believe abortion is wrong’ on a college campus.”
Recent polls back up Hawkins’ claims. An internal poll conducted by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League in 2012 found that 51% of pro-life young people saw abortion as an “important issue,” while only 20% of pro-abortion young people saw the issue as important.
Additionally, a 2013 Gallup poll found that 57% of Americans aged 18-34 believe that abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances or completely illegal, whereas 41% of the same demographic believe abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances.
Pro-Life Launching Pad
Somers said that the annual trip to Washington helps to renew and deepen the commitment of its participants to stand up for life.
“As exhausted as you are when you come home,” she said, “you get off of the bus from the march and you think, ‘We can keep up the fight for another year.’ It’s a real supercharge.”
And for pro-life students, the March for Life serves as a yearly launching pad for pro-life efforts in their local campuses and communities.
Benedictine’s Brown said that, at her college, students pray the Rosary outside of an abortion facility in the area and provide resources to pregnant women. They also publish a campus newsletter and visit a local nursing home to celebrate the dignity of all human life.
“We have a lot of really solid Catholic students,” she noted. “They know what they stand for, what they believe, and they are willing to stand up for that. We know that we should defend the gift of life that God has given all of us.”
Christopher Crawford is the
director of pro-life ministry at The George Washington University.