Maria Gagliano of Vanderbilt University heard about Human Life Alliance (HLA) when she attended a Students for Life of America conference at the University of Tennessee last fall.
“The Human Life Alliance materials were so eye-catching and well-researched,” she said. Gagliano’s pro-life group ordered 2,500 copies of Human Life Alliance’s latest publication, a glossy, colorful 12-page newspaper insert entitled “We Know Better Now,” which they plan to distribute at Vanderbilt.
“It covers all the important pro-life issues, shares hard-hitting stories, and is easy to read,” said Gagliano. “When I first saw it, I thought, ‘This is great; this is something we can use.’”
“We Know Better Now” is the latest in a series of fact-filled pro-life publications that Human Life Alliance, based in Minneapolis, has produced since 1991. Human Life Alliance found its beginning with the efforts of Minnesota pro-life advocates in the late 1960s, “when few people in the pro-life movement thought that the abortion argument would be decided by the courts,” noted Joe Langfeld, HLA’s deputy director. “After Roe passed, the mission became somewhat delineated. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life became the principal lobbying group, and board members who wanted to focus more on educational ventures incorporated Human Life Alliance.”
While the first HLA insert, “She’s a Child, Not a ‘Choice,’” ran in major city newspapers, a pro-life advocate in California suggested that HLA consider sending it to college newspapers, as well. “She’s a Child, Not a ‘Choice’” subsequently ran in the University of Minnesota campus newspaper, the Minnesota Daily — after considerable resistance from the paper’s student editors — and prompted more than three months of public discussion and debate via letters to the editor.
Since the mid-1990s, the focus at HLA has been on providing pro-life educational materials to college campuses. “Women aged 20 to 24 — college-aged women — are those most likely to have an abortion,” said Langfeld. “Our materials are intended to arm young people to do the work of spreading the truth about the humanity of the preborn child.”
“The HLA publication is always the first thing I suggest to student groups just getting started,” said Sarah Bunch, field coordinator at Students for Life of America’s national headquarters. “A lot of students may know they are pro-life, but don’t necessarily know all the facts about abortion or how to explain it to others. While many national pro-life organizations have more specified interests, the HLA flier covers absolutely everything, so it’s something anyone can pick up — something a student will pick up, because it’s so well-designed and well-written — and learn the foundations of the pro-life argument, from fetal development in the womb to the reality of abortion methods.”
Like Gagliano, Clare Oven, president of Villanovans for Life, first learned about Human Life Alliance at a Students for Life conference. “We want to stir up debate on campus, because we believe that the more people talk about the issue, the more they will be convinced of the validity of the pro-life position,” said Oven. “One of the biggest challenges for us … is to get people who are on the opposite side or ambivalent about the issue to even look at something [pro-life]. HLA’s materials don’t look specifically pro-life on the outside, so students are more likely to read the publication.”
In addition to abortion, Human Life Alliance produces materials addressing chastity and euthanasia. Jillian Roemer, the organization’s distribution coordinator, said that while the group has historically focused on outreach to college students, it has been working more and more with pregnancy-care centers and other community organizations, providing educational materials to any pro-life groups willing to distribute them.
“We’re sometimes accused of preaching to the choir,” said Joe Langfeld, “but the choir needs it sometimes. They need the support; they need to know why they believe what they believe.”
“A lot of students go into college pro-life and leave pro-choice,” Gagliano pointed out. “It’s an important time for decision-making.”
Given the overwhelmingly pro-abortion environment on many college campuses, Langfeld maintained, even the most determined pro-life students — many of them from Catholic families and communities — need support and education: “We let them know they are not alone, help them connect with other pro-life students. We often hear, ‘Thank you, I was ready to give up my beliefs, but you gave me the information and the support I needed.’”
Keeping Up With Turnover
Langfeld said that Catholic and Christian universities are often the most difficult to reach, in part, because, unlike public universities, they do not have to abide by First Amendment laws in support of free speech.
“Private and Catholic schools can reject our publications for any reason,” he said. “The student newspaper at Notre Dame said they couldn’t run our publication without also including a pro-choice argument. At Gonzaga, a student wanted to distribute our piece, but the board of regents said, ‘It’s not our style,’ though Gonzaga later developed its own pro-life piece for distribution; so sometimes, even in rejection, the discussion can lead to pro-life work being accomplished on campus.”
Calls to Notre Dame’s The Observer were not returned.
Many pro-life organizations are working on college campuses, and, according to Langfeld, “Of course every group wants to claim credit” for the fact that an increasing number of young people today oppose abortion. HLA is unique, however, because it focuses solely on providing students with “the best pro-life educational resources to allow them to spread the truth on campus” — all for free.
According to Oven, while the Villanova pro-life group was able to make a contribution to Human Life Alliance to offset the cost of printing, “the fact that HLA is willing to send these publications for free shows that they truly believe in what they are doing and know that education is the key to changing hearts and minds,” she said.
Like Langfeld, Oven maintained that it is occasionally more difficult for pro-life students to advocate on Catholic campuses, because “many Catholic universities are afraid to stand up for their Catholic heritage for fear of offending people. Public or non-Catholic private schools often simply allow everyone to have their say.”
Still, Oven said, her pro-life group has never encountered any opposition at Villanova. She cited on-campus support for pregnant and parenting students, although not all of those resources are well-publicized to the student body.
Pro-life advocates at Catholic and Christian schools often have to fight what Bunch describes as “apathy,” citing responses like, “We’re already pro-life. Why do we need this here?”
Joe Langfeld agreed: “A lot of Catholic schools just don’t think they need good pro-life education. But many religious schools used to have no-pregnancy policies, and not all students will know whether they can be pregnant and remain in school. There could be considerable non-spoken pressure to abort due to the stigma of unwed pregnancy, regardless of a school’s pro-life position.”
The need at all college campuses, he concluded, is great: “And it’s the same challenge, year after year, because of student turnover,” he said. “Pro-life campus leaders graduate every year, new editors take over at college papers. And so we hope that our educational efforts help students to encourage and maintain some continuity from year to year. It’s a legacy of education we want to create.”
Oven also believes in the importance of HLA’s educational outreach. “Education is the key to the success of the pro-life movement. Once people realize what abortion truly is, often they can no longer support it,” she said. “HLA provides great materials that help us to educate our peers in a way that we could not do on our own.”
Nicole Ficere Callahan is based
in Durham, North Carolina.