Thousands of college students from across the country travel to Washington or San Francisco to participate in pro-life marches every year, usually on the Jan. 22 anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision. For some, the witness they provide comes at a social cost.
“At the Students for Life meetings here, we joke that it’s easier to come out as being gay at Stanford than it is to come out as being pro-life,” said Mary Ho, a Stanford junior and economics major.
Ho flew across the country as a freshman to attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C., and walked in the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco last year. This year, she and others from her college will be carrying a “beautiful, brand-new banner” in the walk.
“It’s inspiring to be connected with so many people who are part of the cause. It’s affirming,” Ho said. “One of the most memorable parts of last year’s march was all the protesters there. I was walking on the side near them and it was kind of scary. They were screaming and some of them were dressed up oddly.”
She said she is becoming proficient at defending unborn children’s right to live because she has become passionately pro-life: “I like talking to people about it, and at this very liberal college I have plenty of opportunity.”
Thomas Aquinas College, six hours south of Stanford in Santa Paula, is the polar opposite to Stanford. According to Director of Alumni Relations Mark Kretschmer, two-thirds of the student body attends Walk for Life West Coast.
“It is all student led,” Kretschmer said. “They drive up, and this year they hired a bus with an anonymous donor’s money. The Thomas Aquinas contingent is the biggest single group there. The kids sleep in one of the church’s gymnasiums, on the basketball court.”
Laura Billeci is the student organizer for Thomas Aquinas College. She said that the school doesn’t have to convince any student to attend the Walk for Life.
“Our students really want to make a stand for what they hold to be true, and this is a really beautiful and prayerful way of doing it,” Billeci said. “We make a pretty big splash. Seeing all the college students marching offers encouragement to others who might want to go public as being pro-life,” she added.
Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio also makes a big splash. More than 1,000 Franciscan students drive five hours to participate in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., according to Joseph Esposito, director of research for The Cardinal Newman Society, which works to strengthen the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges. He also cited Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., and Southern Catholic College in Dawsonville, Ga., as other colleges that send large contingents.
“The active participation of these students reflects a vibrant pro-life commitment,” Esposito said. “It’s heartening to see that happen year after year.”
Nearly 100 students from Benedictine College will drive 18 hours from Atchison, Kan. Other participants are closer to home. Casey O’Conor, a junior at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said he has marched both his years at CUA, and he does it because it’s an opportunity for him to evangelize by his actions.
“It gives everyone a moment to stand up and say, ‘I’m for life,’” he said. “When people see you’re passionate about something, just to live a life, it radiates to them as something special.”
The university president excuses any class absences necessary to attend the march, according to Mary McCarthy of the school staff. Last year, 271 Catholic University students walked, and more than another 200 served as hospitality workers for the 1,600 visiting students who sleep in the basement of the Basilica of the National Shrine or on the gym floor at the university.
“The March for Life is a pretty big deal on campus,” McCarthy said. “The students are very involved.”
The same could be said of Christendom College in nearby Front Royal, Va. According to Esposito, “virtually the entire student body” participates in the march. That includes senior Sophie Coy, who is planning on attending law school next year. She has been going to the March for Life since she was 8 years old, but now it is her college encouraging her to go as well as her parents. She needs little encouraging.
“It’s really important for Americans to see young people here,” Coy said. “It says to them that this is what we want, to be pro-life. I intend to go to marches for the rest of my life.”
Coy said that all 398 undergraduates at Christendom are pro-life, so there’s no need for a Students for Life club. She is a member of Shield of Roses, a group that goes to 7 a.m. Mass every Saturday of the academic year, followed by a visit to Planned Parenthood headquarters in the nation’s capital to pray the Rosary and offer sidewalk counseling for women who are going to the place to have an abortion.
“And once a semester we have MegaShield Day. [Last month] about 120 to 150 students showed up at Planned Parenthood,” she said.
She is proud of her small, Catholic college, Coy said, because “it not only teaches you to think, but it gives you a good grounding in your faith.”
O’Conor, who is majoring in philosophy at Catholic University, is also happy with his choice of schools, although he admits that not everyone on the campus is clearly pro-life.
“The teachers on the whole are very supportive of us and classes missed are excused. We are able to talk with people openly because of the environment at CUA, so we have the chance to enlighten the other person without arguing,” O’Conor said. “Dialogue is what we need.”
At Stanford, according to Mary Ho, dialogue is also possible with pro-abortion students who make up the majority on campus. At her public high school in Sacramento, most students seemed to be opposed to abortion, she said. She was surprised when she got to college.
“The largest religious community at Stanford is Catholic,” Ho said. “But how many [pro-life] Catholics? I’m not so sure.”
Like Coy, she learned to be pro-life from her parents, but she thinks young people are beginning to realize the immorality of abortion on their own. Considering the thousands of Catholic college students who spend money, time and energy to march in pro-life marches each January, she may be right.
Paul Barra is based in
Reidville, South Carolina.