By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller
James Balch has had female friends tell him that abortion is none of his business, nor anyone else’s.
But Balch, 15, makes it his business.
“This is not just a women’s issue,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “This is a human issue, and the effects of abortion are incomprehensible.”
Balch, who lives in Fredericksburg, Va., is a member of his local Teens for Life chapter, and in June, he joined young people from across the country at the 38th Annual National Right to Life Committee’s Convention held in Pittsburgh, Pa.
It also was the 25th anniversary of the founding of National Teens For Life, part of NRLC based in Washington, D.C. Guest speakers included Jack St. Martin, of Maryland, the founding president of NTL when he was 16.
“There’s a lot that young people can do to support pro-life,” Balch said. “It’s an issue so fully integrated into our society that any of us on the front lines, when we speak to our friends and peers, can have an effect on them now and in the future.”
His parents, Burke and Mary Balch, are pro-life, and both spoke at the Teens for Life convention. His sister, Bridget, 18, was president of a pro-life group in high school and is a member of another group in college.
“I was always taught to appreciate the value of life, and I know the very harmful effects that abortion and other things that degrade life have on our society,” Balch told OSV. “My Catholic faith has played into this, to a certain extent, but this isn’t strictly a religious issue. This is very much a humanitarian issue.”
One of the biggest challenges for a pro-life teen, he said, is facing “animosity, preconceived, judgmental and even extreme” reactions from peers who are pro-choice. So NTL members are prepared with solid facts — for instance, accurate details about the stages of development of an unborn child.
“I know how to respond to these people,” said Bethany Schumacher, 19, of Menasha, Wis., who will be a junior at University of Wisconsin in Madison this fall. “Our organization encourages members to be loving, compassionate and calm, and I have an answer and a fact for every argument that my peers can throw at me. Getting past their emotional defense is probably the hardest part.”
However, she added, “apathy is their biggest defense.”
“They say that they would never have an abortion, but that they wouldn’t stand in the way of someone else’s rights,” she said. “Obviously, that’s not how we [in pro-life] feel about it. It really is an injustice that needs to be corrected, no matter who is involved.”
Schumacher comes from a “big Catholic family” of nine children, including two who are adopted. Her parents are Phil and Karen Schumacher.
“I really didn’t know much about pro-life and abortion when I was little,” she said. “When my sister Maria was a freshman in high school, they started learning about it, and she asked our mom and started investigating on her own. To her, abortion seemed inherently wrong.”
Maria Schumacher became involved in a pro-life group for teens, and when she died at age 14 after being struck by a car while walking with a friend, Bethany Schumacher, then in the sixth grade, joined the movement. She is a member of the Fox Valley chapter of Wisconsin Right To Life, and is involved in teen leadership camps for state members.
“This movement is the most important issue of our day,” she said. “There’s poverty and there’s war, and there are injustices all across the world. This is a fundamental issue that’s happening in our neighborhoods, our schools and in our churches. It’s so easy to get involved and to share the simple message of life, love and hope. You can impact so many people.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania. Visit www.nationalteensforlife.com/index1.htm for more information.
Derrick Jones of Washington, D.C., grew up in the pro-life movement and came of age moving up the ranks. At 14, he co-founded a teen group in Springfield, Ill., served on the national board and in 1994, at 16, was president of National Teens for Life. He is now NTL communications director and co-adviser.
“Our adult chapters mentor the younger generations, and many of those teens go on to help lead the movement, myself included,” he told OSV during the convention in Pittsburgh. “There really is a continuity, and it’s training the next generation to one day take over the leadership reins and take the movement further into the 21st century.”
The teens, he said, are very educated on end of life, euthanasia and assisted suicide issues, too.
“The issues we deal with are very challenging and there are different ones every year,” Jones said. “We are not battling just political or legal reality. We are dealing with a cultural reality as well, and it’s a battle to change hearts and minds. But I am confident that we will see the day that legal protection is returned to unborn children.”
Jones, raised a Catholic, has a personal interest in the pro-life movement. His mother, he said, was young, unmarried and pregnant — “a prime target for the abortion industry.”
She chose life.
“You realize that you are one of the lucky ones,” he said. “A lot of us have stories like that and become pro-life almost as a sense of duty. You realize that something has to give, something has to stop, so you get involved and educate your peers about what abortion has done to our generation and what it has done to our friends.”
Joleigh Little didn’t have a strong opinion about pro-life issues when she was in high school, she said, “But I started researching it and talking about it, and I realized how important it was. I prayed about it and told God that if he wanted me to do something about it, I would. And 25 years later, I still am.”
In 1984, Little, now 39, of Solon Springs, Wis., was one of the founders of a pro-life group for teens in her area. She is now a co-adviser for National Teens For Life and also the Teens For Life director for the Wisconsin Right To Life.
“This is the greatest cause of our time, and it’s a privilege to see young people standing up and speaking out, because it’s their generation that’s being destroyed by abortion,” she said.
Little, who belongs to a non-denominational church, has praise for the unity that binds pro-life people of different faiths, and even no faith at all.
“There are a lot of denominational differences among Christians,” she said. “But when it comes to life, you don’t notice who’s Catholic, Protestant, or anything else.”