LOS ANGELES — A new generation of pro-life leaders is rising in California, and they have set their sights on creating a pro-life California by building a pro-life movement that has fresh new ideas, social-media savvy and is truly bilingual.
California is the most populous state in the United States, with 38 million people, 15 million of whom identify as Latino. It’s also the state that accounts for the most abortions of unborn children, 17.7% of the total U.S. abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And it is the state where the abortion industry is getting ready for a rapid expansion.
The California Legislature passed two bills that expand abortion access in the state — allowing nurses and midwives to perform first-trimester, vacuum-aspiration abortions and changing building codes to allow those abortions to occur in primary-care clinics.
But despite these legislative losses, young pro-life leaders are seeking to build a new movement that brings the pro-life message to people in California in fresh, engaging ways. They are social-media savvy, but also make it a priority to translate the pro-life message into Spanish as part of their outreach to the growing Hispanic community.
Changing Youth With the Pro-Life Message
“This generation is amazing, and they going for it,” said Casey Tesauro, West Coast regional director for Students for Life of America (SFLA).
Tesauro, 25, said that the pro-life students she works with are “definitely fearless,” but they generally take a different approach to educating their peers and others about abortion than the previous generation did. They are much more focused on dialogue and building relationships in order to change hearts and minds.
“The idea of dialogue is really popular with this generation,” Tesauro said. Rather than arguing, the approach seeks to find common ground for a discussion and understand where the other person — possibly a post-abortive mother or father — is coming from. “We encourage our students to really focus on listening to the person.”
Students for Life has two major initiatives that Tesauro is helping chapters bring to their campuses to further the dialogue toward a culture of life. She said that, over the next two weeks, the “Planned Parenthood Project” will come through more than 40 college campuses and inform them about Planned Parenthood’s abortion business and how it profits from their age group.
Tesauro explained that all the material Students for Life gives to students on campuses is taken from Planned Parenthood’s annual report.
“One thing we are seeing with this Planned Parenthood Project is students don’t like being taken advantage of, especially by a big business,” she said.
But a long-term project for chapters, Tesauro said, is the “Pregnant on Campus Initiative.” Planned Parenthood aggressively targets for abortion single, college-age women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 58% of women having abortions are in their 20s, and 85% of women having abortions are unmarried. So Students for Life chapters are advocating that their colleges and universities make themselves friendly to women who are pregnant and friendly to families, by building diaper-changing stations, offering lactation rooms, providing housing for student mothers and their families and changing school policy toward pregnancy.
“We want to tell her that she doesn’t have to choose between an education and having her child,” Tesauro said.
New Media Savvy
But the new, younger pro-life leadership is also tapping into the vast potential of new media and social media to connect audiences with the pro-life message.
But they also admit they are playing catch-up, because the pro-life movement has not kept up with Planned Parenthood’s pace in taking advantage of these new-media tools to engage the culture.
“I think that there has been a lack of sufficient response to how fast everything is moving in the state of California,” said Jonathan Keller, Right to Life of Central California’s executive director.
According to a 2013 Pew research study, 72% of Americans are engaged in social media, while 80% of Latinos — who equal California’s non-Hispanic white population — also use social-networking sites.
Keller, 30, said that God has blessed his group with “a very pro-active, very media-savvy and social- media-savvy staff.” He’s the second-oldest member of his staff — the newest hire being the 35-year-old Hispanic outreach director, Michael Salinas.
Keller said they conduct large-scale community outreach in the central valley region of the state, but new media and social media are critical to those efforts. The Right to Life group has dual Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts to engage with a local audience and larger statewide and national audiences. They have a television program called Life Report: Pro-Life Talk. Real-World Answers that broadcasts on the local Catholic television and radio stations, but is also available for free on iTunes and YouTube.
But he said that if the pro-life education message is going to translate into pro-life civic action, then the pro-life movement needs to take a lesson from President Barack Obama’s election success (and Mitt Romney and John McCain’s failure) to be strongly present in the digital environment. Keller pointed out that Obama’s concerted effort to reach out to youth through social media inspired them with a cause and turned them into passionate activists who manned phones and walked precincts.
“I think they [McCain and Romney] failed to adequately grasp how fast the world is changing when it comes to social media and being able to converse with the up-and-coming generation,” Keller said.
A Bilingual Message
The next generation of pro-life leaders in California realizes one thing: The pro-life movement must speak English and Spanish to get the message into the Latino community and all of California.
Astrid Bennett Guttierez, spokeswoman for Hispanics for Life (Hispanos Pro Vida) and co-host of EWTN’s The Catholic View for Women, explained that her Los Angeles-based group was trying to create a pro-life Hispanic grassroots.
“It’s not so much that [Latinos] accept abortion, but they’ve never really thought about it,” she said.
Gutierrez pointed out that neither the Catholic Church, nor the pro-life movement can afford to ignore the need to make websites and educational materials easily accessible in Spanish. She also noted that Latino youth born in the U.S. are preferring more and more to speak Spanish, and that Planned Parenthood is heavily engaged in marketing itself to the Hispanic community and expanding its access.
To counter those efforts, Hispanics for Life has been working through the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to establish chapters in almost 300 parishes, Gutierrez said. They are also working with Priests for Life to re-catechize the Latino community and awaken them to the reality that the abortion industry is an even greater priority than the important issue of immigration reform.
Gutierrez said that Hispanic culture is “more visual,” and graphic images of abortion have proved key for Hispanics having “a frank and open discussion about abortion,” which is not always the case with other populations.
“When Hispanic people find out [the truth] about [abortion], they are so surprised. They are shocked,” Guttierez said.
Keller said Right to Life of Central California has grasped this reality, and they are getting the pro-life message into the Hispanic community. He said Michael Salinas, their Hispanic outreach director, will be translating all their materials into Spanish, including the website.
Students for Life’s Tesauro also said she has spoken with many student activists at California campuses who are committed to being leaders in the Latino community and getting them connected with the pro-life message.
‘The Pro-Life Generation’
And these efforts to get the pro-life message into Spanish and engaged with Latinos may prove critical to breaking the stranglehold of Planned Parenthood on the Democratic Party in California, where Latinos form a large constituency.
Keller said that one of his organization’s “primary goals” is to reach out to the Hispanic community and help them “connect the dots on abortion” and demand lawmakers represent their pro-life values.
Tesauro said she firmly believes that the youth “are the pro-life generation,” and she has hope that the youth will make the difference in California.
“I really am hopeful,” she said. “Because every time I visit a college, I walk off that campus feeling more hopeful and encouraged that abortion will end.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.