Standing Up for Life in Mission Territory

Catholic Students Further Cause for Unborn on Secular College Campuses

Students part of Choose Life at Yale at the March for Life
Students part of Choose Life at Yale at the March for Life (photo: Choose Life at Yale)

A ninth-grade term paper launched Courtney McEachon’s pro-life message.

“My interest in the abortion question began when I wrote a term paper for ninth-grade biology on stem-cell research,” recalled the 21-year-old Yale University senior. “Even growing up in the Catholic Church and attending Catholic school had not exposed me to this issue until then. After that paper, the nagging began: If the product of conception really was a baby, and if a baby really was a person with intrinsic moral value, then abortion is murder, and worse than the injustice itself was perhaps the silence surrounding it. Since then, I’ve been passionate about the pro-life movement.”

McEachon is the former president of Choose Life at Yale and the founder of Yale’s Vita et Veritas Pro-Life Intercollegiate Conference. 

“Well-intentioned volunteers are a blessing to the pro-life movement, but we also need younger students and intellectuals to use their credentials to make a change,” McEachon said. “This is where Yale, specifically Choose Life at Yale comes in. As a small organization, the main effort of Clay has always been to prepare its members to start conversations and dialogues with other students and other organizations that touch on the issue of the importance of human life.”

“The greatest blessing that comes with spreading the pro-life message on a secular campus is getting to see the Spirit at work, changing hearts on this issue,” she added.

“Though it doesn’t happen every day, there are many thoughtful students at Yale who want to learn the truth about abortion and do sometimes evolve to a more pro-life stance,” said the Buffalo, N.Y., native. “Seeing that change is a reminder that every hour spent in a conversation about the sanctity of life is worthwhile and important.”

College students like McEachon on other secular campuses are particularly focused on spreading the pro-life message in “mission territory.”


Gaining Ground for Life

Sylvia Olejnik, 20, felt the call to defend the unborn from an early age, realizing that so many lives were being terminated through abortion, and she had the power to help change that.

“When I was a freshman in college, I didn't know there was a pro-life club at our school,” Olejnik recounted. “I went [to the March for Life in Washington] and also ended up attending the Students for Life of America National Conference, which really fueled my passion by giving me the knowledge that I needed.”

Olejnik, a junior, is president of Boston University Students for Life, a group made up of students who have joined the pro-life movement for a variety of reasons, as Olejnik described. “Some have been pro-life their whole lives because they were raised to be pro-life, but are looking to learn why they should be. Others come to learn about various [right-to-life] issues because they are genuinely curious; while some are incredibly passionate about helping pregnant mothers on campus.”

Her group is no stranger to opposition, with, as Olejnik described, a substantial population of pro-choice, secular and relativistic students on campus. “The pro-choice student group can seem more appealing to students because they run a campaign advocating ‘sexual freedom’ without acknowledging the potential of another human coming into existence.”

Fortunately, the pro-life group’s persistence in delivering a life-affirming message is bearing fruit.

“The biggest blessing has been changing what it means to be pro-life on our campus. Our school actually accepts us and even applauds us for the events that we hold. In addition, we've made great progress with the pro-choice group on campus. They attended our Pregnancy Resource Forum last year, and we have been working on finding common ground,” Olejnik said.


Answering the Call to Defend the Unborn

Amy Styer, 27, is involved in the pro-life group at the University of Georgia (UGA) as a fifth-year Ph.D. student. Her passion for actively promoting the sanctity of life came as a consequence of her conversion to Catholicism. She entered the Church in April 2012.

“I was beginning to fall in love with the Catholic Church, especially the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Eucharist made me confront the reality of the Incarnation. The mind-blowing truth that God made himself a vulnerable fetus in Mary’s womb challenged me to love pregnant women as if they were Mary [carrying] Jesus.”

When Styer began her studies at the University of Georgia, another graduate student encouraged her to join the pro-life group, and she started participating in respect-life activities, including apologetics seminars, campus outreach, prayer vigils in front of an abortion facility, diaper drives, pro-life movie nights and pro-life speaker events.

“Although I was never planning on being so involved in pro-life work, God pushed me into it, and it has been a good journey,” Styer reflected.

Even so, the ministry work has its challenges. “The most frustrating thing is apathy,” she recognized. Despite a significant percentage of the student body being raised in pro-life, Christian homes, Styer and her peers have noticed that “it is difficult to inspire them to be a voice on this controversial subject.”

Fadi Greene, 26, one of Styer’s peers in the group, mentioned protests, anger and insults directed toward them during presentations on campus. Greene, a third-year law student, commented, “Lots of people don’t know how pro-death our abortion laws are, so my familiarity with it helps me to enlighten those people and articulate how the law might change.” Greene continued, “It’s not just abortion either. In my bioethics class, I argued with the teacher and other students every day, on topics ranging from euthanasia to eugenics. I’m sure some students agreed with me on [certain] views, but it is so hard for people to go against their professor.”

In spite of the challenges, Styer, Greene and other Students for Life at Georgia count the blessings of their work, like the note they received from a self-described “nonreligious” student acknowledging that the pro-life movement on campus provided a “new definition of what it means to be a human being” and an understanding of why being pro-life is the better choice. “This is the sort of thing that motivates the group to continue working hard to change this campus,” Styer stated.


Resources for Changing Hearts and Saving Lives

College students looking to get involved in pro-life work on campus have excellent resources available to them. Students for Life of America helps train and equip pro-life leaders and groups, in addition to providing a number of free resources, including activism kits, guidebooks, flyers, graphics and one-on-one support.

Raymond McVeigh, 22, Students for Life’s Great Lakes regional coordinator, is proof that anyone can be a powerful voice for life.

“I am not, at all, a natural activist. I attended the SFLA National Conference my freshman year and was exposed to pro-life apologetics for the first time. I took advantage of the resources and internships that SFLA offers. Through my continued involvement, I have developed into a much more outgoing and persuasive activist.”


The Power of Persuasive and Loving Dialogue

McVeigh has seen the powerful effects of boldly sharing the respect-life message.

“I have personally witnessed students change their position on abortion while engaging with pro-life students in conversation on secular campuses. When pro-life students are courageous and stand up on campus, their voices are extremely powerful. The power of dialogue is immense.”

In addition to Students for Life’s resources, college students who are serious about becoming persuasive voices for life on secular campuses could benefit from reading Catholic apologist Trent Horn’s book Persuasive Pro-Life: How to Talk About Our Culture’s Toughest Issue.

When asked about the greatest lessons she has learned working in pro-life ministry on a secular campus, Olejnik observed, “I have learned to be smart, to be a good listener and to be courageous. I need not worry, because God will speak through me in the moments that matter most.”

Register correspondent Katie Warner writes from California.