Pro-Life Clubs: Not Just For Religious Campuses Anymore

From the coed dorms of Berkeley to the student housing hard by Harvard Yard, pro-life college students are airing out their ideals on some of the country’s most militantly secular campuses.

In fact, pro-life clubs seem to be growing — in numbers as well as fervor — in some of the places they’d be expected to wither and die.

Item: University of California-Berkeley and Stanford Students for Life were front and center in the first Walk for Life West Coast Jan. 22 in San Francisco, marching behind a banner that proclaimed “Abortion Hurts Women” and holding signs for their schools.

Item: Princeton students attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., published an op-ed in The Daily Princetonian and masterminded a student-newspaper ad campaign that reached 14 schools.

Item: Harvard students devised the on-campus “Natalie” campaign, in which a six-month series of pictures of an unborn baby, named Natalie, are posted around campus during the school year.

“We’re really encouraged by what we’ve seen. There are more and more Students for Life groups popping up each year,” says Holly Smith, advisor to National College Students for Life, an arm of the National Right to Life Committee. The upswing is particularly marked on secular campuses, Smith told the Register.

“I think the groups probably thrive because there is a tension where, if you don’t speak up, nobody else will,” adds Smith. “You really feel like you are on a crusade.”

Students know when their peers are pregnant and having abortions, Smith points out. “A lot of students I’ve seen have been inspired to get involved,” she says, “either because they knew a girl who was pregnant and didn’t know where to turn or because they had professors who were shoving the abortion rhetoric down their throats.”

Recent surveys have consistently shown that people from 18-29 years old are more pro-life than older generations, says Smith, who is a recent graduate of Jesuit-run Seattle University and a new mother. A 2003 poll of freshmen at 400 schools, conducted by the University of California-Los Angeles, found that 55% of all college freshmen believe abortion should be legal — down from 64% a decade earlier.

Stephen Braunlich, president of American Collegians for Life, says his experience corroborates the numbers. “It is my belief that this generation is increasingly pro-life because we know the consequences of abortion,” says Braunlich, who attends the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. “There are classmates and friends we’ll never know because of it. Roughly 40% of abortions are performed on women our age, and we can see that it hurts the mother.”

Spurring Thought 

All the groups contacted for this article approach their activities with a dual focus: getting the pro-life word out and helping those who are pregnant.

At Berkeley, students conducted a “Celebrate Life” week Jan. 24-28; it included a rally capped by a talk by Sally Winn, vice president of Feminists for Life of America, at the campus’ free-speech mecca, Sproul Plaza. There was also a visual commemoration near the bell tower later in the week.

In the bell-tower memorial, students attached 450 baby-blue ribbons to trees in memory of the 45 million children aborted since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, according to Lucia Schoeffer, co-president of Berkeley Students for Life. “It was a peaceful and provocative thing to do,” Schoeffer, 21, said. “People didn’t really get mad except one lady who tried to tear off the posters. People were pensive. I think it really just made them think.”

The Berkeley students are now planning a pregnancy-resources forum for April, in conjunction with school officials, pro-abortion and pro-life groups, and off-campus pregnancy-center representatives, says Schoeffer.

In addition to lobbying for more diaper-changing stations in university restrooms, achieved via an earlier pregnancy-resources forum moderated by Feminists for Life, they want the university to provide class note-taking to pregnant and parenting students, as it does for students with disabilities. The university health center has tentatively agreed to give out Berkeley Students for Life’s pregnancy-resource brochure, after some revisions, to pregnant students. The students also volunteer at a women’s shelter and arrange speakers each semester.

At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT ProLife puts up posters around campus with photos of ultrasounds, says sophomore Kevin DiGenova. The success at MIT last spring of Harvard’s “Natalie” campaign — featuring full-color posters of babies in different stages of fetal development — inspired this year’s homegrown poster project, says DiGenova, 20, a mechanical engineering major.

“Because we are a student organization, we can put them up on the bulletin boards,” explains DiGenova. “Once a week, the cleaning people take them down. The next day, we put them up again.”

Pro-Life Central

As for stirring up controversy, pro-life student groups engender more apathy than hostility, says Braunlich. Smith says it is hard to gauge the number of pro-life student groups because, by their nature, they are in flux. A group active one year may dry up the next year as key movers graduate.

Meanwhile, cooperation and collaboration are hallmarks of the current crop of student pro-life groups. National Right to Life, American Collegians for Life and Feminists for Life of America representatives all note that they serve as network centers and information clearinghouses for the students to communicate with each other and share resources.

National Right to Life gets about six student inquiries a month; Smith says she has about 1,000 students on her email list. Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life of America, says that since her group began its college outreach program in 1994, it has completed some type of campus project with students at 650 schools.

As Smith sees it, the post-Roe generation is the future’s hope. As students’ emphasis on ultrasound and fetal-development pictures show, science is on the side of those protecting life. She added: “As the generation most affected by abortion, we act in honor of the friends we will never meet, on behalf of those lives that are currently endangered by abortion, and for the women and men we know who are mourning the intentional killing of their children rather than enjoying the rewards of parenthood.”

Valerie Schmalz writes

from San Francisco.