DALLAS—Maria Graham remembers a weekday morning last summer outside the Fairmount abortion center in Dallas, when she and a friend approached a woman about to enter the building for her appointment.
“She said that having an abortion was her only choice. She didn't have another choice because she had gotten a divorce and she didn't have a job and she had this little two-year-old son,” Graham recalled. “We talked to her and told her God was going to help her.”
The two sidewalk counselors then showed her pictures of aborted babies, and noted her troubled reaction.
“She said, ‘Nobody deserves that,’” Graham said. “She was thinking [about it], I could tell.” The woman finally decided against the abortion and went for help at the White Rose, a crisis pregnancy center.
“She actually had her baby in February, a little girl named Christa, and I got to go see her,” said Graham. “It is so neat to see a little life that, if God hadn't used us there that day, wouldn't be here.” Also, during the course of her pregnancy, the mother received a job offer from her obstetrician.
“It's a perfect example of how God wanted that baby not only for the baby's life, but also for her life,” she said. “She wrote … a letter that said, ‘You saved Christa's life, but you also saved my life that day.’”
It's not every day that such an encouraging story can be told—especially by a 14-year-old.
Maria Graham, who was only 13 when she began sidewalk counseling last year, has just joined a team of teens traveling throughout the Dallas area telling their peers the facts of fetal development, the choice of adoption, the importance of chastity, and ways that teens can join the pro-life effort.
Called “Youth for Life,” the initiative was born within Bishop Charles Grahmann's Pro-Life Committee, and in eight months the speakers have addressed hundreds of teens in dozens of parishes in groups as small as 20 to as many as 200. The group is led by former parish youth minister Tammy Amosson, who was drawn into pro-life work by the gritty testimony of former abortion clinic owner Carol Everett.
Everett, well known on the pro-life speaking circuit, talks about how abortions are marketed specifically to teens and how fake abortions are routinely performed on non-pregnant teens.
“I was just amazed. I felt so passionate about letting [teens] know the truth. [Abortion selling] could be happening to them,” said Amosson. “I feel that they are very receptive to the [pro-life] message when it's told to them in a loving manner. If you don't talk about it, what they are hearing is what the media is telling them.”
Indeed, of the Catholic youth who answer a questionnaire passed out at Youth for Life speaking engagements, only one-fourth respond correctly that life begins at conception, Amosson said.
“I really feel their eyes are opened for the first time [at the talks],” she said. “When we tell them the truth, they are horrified and want to take action. We hope to set the fire within them to do something, then we plug them into their parish.”
Youth for Life panelists speak to students from sixth grade through 12th grade, and the younger the students, the more receptive they are, Amosson said.
“Unfortunately, the high school students have been influenced and are more set in their ways. A lot of their parents are pro-choice.”
Although the team will go “wherever we're asked,” including a YMCA youth shelter, two parishes have asked them not to come, she said. “It's not the norm, but it does happen,” she said.
Prior to Youth for Life, the diocese did not have a youth outreach except to offer periodic “True Love Waits” chastity seminars, said Karen Garnett, executive committee chairman for bishop's pro-life committee.
“ With Youth for Life we're getting to the real roots,” said Garnett. “In the big picture, the cause of all these unwanted pregnancies and babies dying is lack of chastity. We will continue to fight abortion as long as there is no practice of chastity.”
Sixteen-year-old Joan Corpuz, a Youth for Life panelist, recently told members of her own parish youth group at St. Mark the Evangelist in Plano that she made the decision at her confirmation four years ago to abstain from sex until marriage.
“My mom told a story about how great her wedding night was and how it was her first time to give up her virginity to my dad,” she said. “I know that being a teenager, it's hard to control yourself, [but] it's important to have good self-control, good discipline for what you really want to do.”
She began her talk by passing around a rose and asked the audience to each take a petal or leaf from it. She then compared the picked-over rose, representing a life of sexual promiscuity, to an untouched, long-stemmed red rose.
“Your virginity is so pretty, like a rose,” she said. “I want my wedding night to be very special, and I don't want it to look like this stem.”
Other panel members speak from their experiences, such as 16-year-old Jeannine Slee, who was given up for adoption at the age of three weeks by her birth mother, then a senior in high school. J.J. Havlik, who had two friends who committed suicide, talks about the importance of telling a parent if a friend confides thoughts about taking his or her own life.
Besides its presentation team, Youth for Life publishes a quarterly newsletter and brought 19 students to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January. Amosson said the group's goal is not to create more competition for teens'time, but to be a resource for parish youth and an encouragement to become involved in their own way, from participating in pro-life rosaries to wearing “precious feet” pins.
Maria Graham, for one, will spend one day each week this summer praying and offering information in front of one of Dallas's seven abortion clinics. She said she actually finds it easier to counsel pregnant strangers than to give her talk on pro-life involvement to her own peers.
“It is stressful,” she said. “How can I tell them and tell them the right way? I think God wants me to, but it's hard for me.”
By doing so, Graham is merely practicing what she preaches.
“You sort of think you have to wait until you're an adult before you can actually do things that can help save lives,” she said in a recent talk. “We have a really great gift in our faith and our trust in God, and I think we have to be willing to share that with people.”
“You don't always know how God is going to use you.”
Ellen Rossini writes from Dallas, Texas.