By Valerie Schmalz
The newest leaders of the pro-life movement range from a Canadian seventh-grader to an undercover journalist to the managing editor of First Things magazine. Other young leaders are in the thick of the political fray and many are involved on college campuses.
One of the young pro-life leaders is Kristan Hawkins, who heads up Students for Life of America -- and at 23 has been in the job for three years already, working to fulfill her goal to "abolish abortion in our lifetime." Twenty-four-year-old Ben Clapper is executive director of Louisiana Right to Life and was instrumental in persuading the state legislature to pass a human- cloning ban.
Billy Valentine, a 22-year-old college student, runs a Facebook group, Catholics in the GOP, and his sister Christina received a Young Women Leader Award from the Susan B. Anthony List earlier this year. UCLA junior Lila Rose is running a series of undercover stings of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics.
All share a deep commitment to and hope in life. Abortion is "the civil rights issue of the day," said Mary Rose Rybak, First Things managing editor.
"The largest challenges, the legislative difficulties, are really an outgrowth of our failure to educate people about what abortion really is," said Clapper. "Take it out of the slogans. We have a job, and that is to educate every citizen in this country on the reality of abortion."
"We are the generation that is going to get this done," said Billy Valentine.
young California pro-life professionals
At this year's Walk for Life West Coast, Molly and Annie Bowman were the two young women shepherding speakers, deciding which of many high school and college students would stand behind the speakers on the stage, and generally making sure the closely watched San Francisco event ran smoothly in front of the cameras.
"When I talk to my friends, so many of them are ignorant of the scientific facts of abortion," said Annie, 26. "Heightened awareness is one of the keys to getting the pro-life message out."
Molly, 27, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in political science in 2004 and her sister, Annie, graduated in 2006. Both now work in San Francisco's business and financial center. Both were part of the very successful UC Berkeley Students for Life group and helped organize what has become an annual undertaking, the Northern California Celebrate Life Conference, which brings together pro-life student groups from colleges including Berkeley, Notre Dame de Namur and Stanford University. Their younger brother, Danny, was involved with Students for Life at Berkeley until he graduated in May, and an older brother was involved before them.
As students at Berkeley, Molly and Annie were part of "a small but determined group of people" that highlighted the needs of single parents on campus, Molly recalls. One of its accomplishments: getting diaper decks in all the bathrooms, including the men's bathrooms so fathers could change their babies' diapers, too!
"One of our members was in the student senate and was a fireball about getting funding for it," Molly said.
The idea was to mitigate the perception that it is impossible to have a child and continue in school. "We just wanted to lessen that burden, make it more doable," Molly said. In the past, pro-life groups protested, she said: "We didn't want to just protest, we wanted to do things, to help people in those situations."
"The Berkeley Students for Life decided the approach to take was one of intellectual debate and information," an approach they took with them when they became involved in organizing student involvement in the Walk for Life, which debuted in 2005, Annie said.
"It was heartening for me to see so many young people at the Walk, and I hope that inspires them to do things throughout the year," Molly said. "It is a huge battle to try to counteract popular culture on this issue."
national speaker and retreat leader with Hard as Nails Ministry, Scripture and ethics teacher
Brian Greenfield went to church sometimes, on Easter and Christmas, "if it wasn't too crowded," when he started as a freshman at Seton Hall University. Today, he is a national speaker and retreat leader with Hard as Nails Ministry and teaching Scripture and ethics at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.
"The whole goal is to get people to open their eyes to Christ. That's basically what we do," said Greenfield, 30. "Our society is pretty intense and loud in your face. With the message of God, we have a similar style -- being honest with the kids, but holding firm to what the Church teaches."
Hard as Nails Ministry started when Greenfield's soon to be lifelong friend Justin Fatica invited Greenfield and five other freshmen to form a prayer group. Fatica was the only one who had a strong faith, but somehow the prayer group evolved. Greenfield's faith grew and he and his friends found themselves giving retreats, including confirmation retreats, around New Jersey, Greenfield said. Upon graduation, Greenfield spent six months at the Franciscan Friars of Renewal in New York City and then, while setting out to discern his vocation for a year, Greenfield met his future wife at a retreat he was working on from his base at Seton Hall University. He went on to receive a graduate degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville and now teaches at Gonzaga College High School. Along the way, Fatica, Greenfield and another friend, Tim Hanley, formed Hard as Nails, which now includes nine speakers.
Married, with a 14-month-old daughter and another baby on the way, Greenfield says the biggest obstacle to Catholic faith for teens and young adults is sexuality. And that is where the honest witness of Greenfield and his fellow Hard as Nails Ministry speakers comes in (hanm.org).
"Our ministry is not a pro-life ministry, but it is pro-life," Greenfield says. The focus of Hard as Nails, which calls itself a "Catholic-Christian ministry," is primarily high school students and youth groups.
"Within our events, inevitably, sexuality will come up, because with teenagers that is always a hot topic. It is difficult for them to grasp the Church's teaching about sexuality. One, because it is in stark contrast with what they are taught on a daily basis," Greenfield said, and second, because often teens and young adults don't understand the why of the Church's teaching. "When we speak to them about the pro-life abstinence message, we try to make it relevant to them," talking about the benefits of seeing each person as a child of God, not an object, and addressing the "no one is getting hurt" concept.
In the end, it is up to God, Greenfield said: "You convey your message with passion if you actually believe it yourself. They can tell if someone believes it or someone doesn't. Ultimately, it is going to come down to the other person's assent to faith. I believe it, I accept it. The most that we can do is convince them to open up to what God says. If they open up their hearts, then God is able to move them."
podcast host, Right to Life education director
Josh Brahm, 26, is co-host of a youth-oriented pro-life podcast called "Life Report: Pro-Life Talk. Real World Answers" at prolifepodcast.net and says the show has listeners from as far away as China.
"Our fans from both sides of the issue like that we take a 'fair and balanced' view -- giving the pro-abortion-choice side as much intellectual credibility as possible before systematically dismantling their arguments," said Brahm.
The director of education and public relations for Right to Life of Central California in Fresno, Calif., said he saw a graphic abortion picture when he was 11, and quickly formed an opinion when his parents explained what abortion was: "I was stunned that anyone would want to have an abortion, much less that it would be legal," said Brahm. "I decided then that I wanted to be a pro-life speaker when I grew up."
He founded Georgia Teens for Life when he was 18, and took a job as education director of Georgia Right to Life a few years later. In his position with Right to Life of Central California, he said he is working for "an organization that, like me, believes pro-lifers must aggressively use new media avenues to reach the next generation with the truth about life."
Websites, blogs, podcasts, videos and social network sites can be powerful tools, Brahm said. "For example, a fetal development video was uploaded to YouTube and it already has nearly 900,000 unique views. Think of all we can accomplish using new media to educate the public on these important issues!"
2009 SBA List Young Women Leader Award winner
A 13-year-old Toronto girl was chosen as one of the new generation of pro-life leaders last spring by the Susan B. Anthony List because of a speech she gave to her seventh-grade class. Lia's mother posted the speech on YouTube in February, and it has received nearly 750,000 hits.
"Our purpose is to find young women who are showing great promise, who are blazing a trail in a variety of places," Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said. Lia, now an eighth-grader, was one of four young women honored last spring at the annual Campaign for Life dinner in Washington, D.C. Lia is someone with "the raw talent to articulate a message in a way that reaches people," Dannenfelser said. She's also a "cute, silly, regular kid" who loves to dance, play the piano and sew, Dannenfelser said.
"What if I told you that right now someone was choosing if you were going to live or die?" Lia asks in the opening of the 5-minute speech. "What if I told you that this choice wasn't based on what you could or couldn't do? What you've done in the past or what you would do in the future? And what if I told you that you could do nothing about it? Fellow students and teachers, thousands of children are right now in that very situation. Someone is choosing without even knowing them whether they are going to live or die.
"That someone is their mother. And that choice is abortion. Every day 115,000 children are dying through abortion. 115,000. That means that 5,000 children will die every hour. All those lives gone. All that potential gone. And all that hope in the future gone," Lia says.
Her mother, Kimberly, videotaped Lia the day of her classroom presentation when she came home and then posted it on YouTube for family and friends to view. Kimberly also sent a link to Focus on the Family and toBound4Life, two organizations whose resources Lia had used. Somewhere along the line, it got picked up by a large e-mail distribution list and went viral, she said. "My point was to share it with everybody I knew. I didn't know it would go around the world. I was just proud of my daughter," Kimberly said.
To protect her daughter, Kimberly asked that Lia's last name not be used. Her public speaking career has taken off: Just recently, Lia traveled to Georgia to speak at a pro-life event.
Dannenfelser said it is the viewpoint of a young girl that comes across so effectively: "It takes age and painful experience to distance ourselves from the reality of abortion. It was not just outrage, it was well-articulated outrage. She has not been distanced by pain."
Lia's YouTube video is posted at: www.youtube.com/user/FyreFoxXP
managing editor of First Things, winner SBA List Young Women Leader Award
As a young Catholic intellectual, Mary Rose Rybak makes the case that the "hook-up" culture denigrates men, women and children.
"It's no small thing that Roe v. Wade and the contraceptive culture step on fertility, the distinctly feminine trait," said Rybak, 25, managing editor of First Things magazine. Rybak organized a major conference on femininity this year called "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?" She writes on women's issues and America's sexualized culture, particularly as it has emerged since Roe v. Wade. Rybak was hired by Catholic thinker and polemicist and First Things founder Father Richard Neuhaus, who died earlier this year.
"What's followed is an unnatural disassociation of sex from fertility, and likewise the disassociation of females from femininity with the current of the culture," said Rybak. "This, of course, has innumerable effects on society at large, and, on the smaller scale, is leaving many women unhappy, unfulfilled and cheated by the sexual-license agenda. It's my mission to allow their voices to be heard and bring these issues to the surface in a world where debate on these issues is discouraged."
Rybak was one of four young women presented with a Susan B. Anthony List Young Women Leader Award in March at the organization's Campaign for Life dinner. A 2005 graduate of Providence College, Rybak previously was managing editor of the New Atlantis, a journal on technology and society published by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where she organized and moderated "Modest Proposals," a conference on changing trends in sex and dating (the conference is available at eppc.org on the event page). Her articles have appeared in the American Enterprise, the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, National Review Online and First Things Online.
A Cleveland native, now based in New York, Rybak is engaged to a "nice Catholic boy" she met at a Catholic bookstore and says one of the big misconceptions women face on the dating scene is that it is not possible to be cool, personable and pro-life. "The current trend is to downplay what used to be feminine and masculine qualities. We are finding women who hate to admit they maybe want children later in life, who find it somehow submissive and bad to consider marriage," she said.
Rybak said her interest in the issue of what comes before pregnancy -- a state of mind and attitude -- stems from her strong pro-life beliefs and opposition to abortion: "That is the civil rights issue of the day."
Two years ago, as a college sophomore, Billy Valentine helped organize a pro-life protest when former President Bill Clinton came to Steubenville, Ohio, to campaign for his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"We had students inside and outside the event" calling attention to Clinton's "extreme pro-abortion views," Valentine said. "It caused him to get very angry and we put it up on YouTube and it got a half million hits."
Having graduated in August from Franciscan University of Steubenville with a major in Legal Studies and a minor in Human Life Studies, Valentine, 22, plans to continue his political activism. He runs a Facebook group, Catholics in the GOP. He is also the former vice president of Students for Life of America, whose goal is to create pro-life clubs on each campus in the country. He notes studies show the majority of students enter college pro-life and leave pro-choice and that college-age women have the largest percentage of abortions.
Valentine organized 40 fellow collegians to campaign in Iowa for Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback when Brownback ran for president. Valentine helped create a petition against a pro-choice vice presidential candidate when it was rumored Sen. John McCain was considering one.
Valentine is currently working as deputy campaign manager for Rob Wasinger, a 2010 congressional candidate in Kansas. Wasinger, a father of nine, is the former chief of staff to Sen. Brownback and did pro-life work for him. Valentine also has worked for pro-life congressional leader New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith.
"My plan is to continue working on political campaigns and to organize pro-lifers to be involved politically, whether it is on the campaign trail or by lobbying for pro-life policies in Congress," he said.
Valentine sees the election of President Barack Obama as "an awakening of the pro-life movement. I am confident we will be able to fight back. I think our movement has been successful in showing that giving birth is the best choice for the mother and that abortion actually hurts women."
legislative correspondent, winner SBA List Young Women Leader Award
Christina Valentine's "servant attitude toward the life issue" is what prompted the Susan B. Anthony List to honor her as a Young Woman Leader this year, said the group's president.
Valentine, 24, works as a legislative correspondent for Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and is involved in the Values Action Team on Capitol Hill, a group of staff and elected representatives who meet regularly to strategize on issues such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, marriage, and social justice. She worked with the Republican Party's Catholic outreach last summer and campaigned for Brownback for president. In the previous presidential campaign, she was a student organizer of a 2004 demonstration against Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry for his abortion stance.
"A week after we got back to school from summer break, Sen. Kerry was visiting Steubenville," Valentine said. She was head of College Republicans at Franciscan University at the time. Working with Students for Life and others, pro-life students organized about 500 students who walked, praying the Rosary, from the school to the park where Kerry spoke.
The students held signs that said "You can't be Catholic and pro-abortion" and stayed silent during his speech, Valentine said. The protest, the largest pro-life protest of the campaign, was on Fox News.
"We wanted to get coverage so people could see we weren't standing for it," she said.
Valentine is the oldest of five children in a family that has, Christina Valentine says, parents who are "very convicted people" on the life issues. Her younger brother Billy is national vice president of Students for Life (see profile at left). Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said Valentine interned for the pro-life organization over the past year and "there is just a spirit of service. It is not about herself. She is clearly going somewhere and going to blaze some trails out of that spirit."
Looking at the pro-life movement today, Valentine said, "the big issue we have to face is, if you say you are pro-life, you are automatically put in with all these non-compassionate people. We care about the child, and we care about the women."
Some in the pro-life movement are "almost impassioned to the point of unapproachable," Valentine said, but the key is that what happens next "has to come from trusting God. He is going to direct where this goes, and it's really not up to us."
national speaker and young-adult ministry coordinator
"If God is for us, Who can be against us." -- Romans 8:31
The first thing that visitors to Ansel Augustine's website, HolyHotBoy.com, see is his motto: "Only God, Nothing but God," and the citation from Romans 8:31.
Now a national speaker, who made his debut as the keynote speaker for the National Black Catholic Congress in Buffalo in 2006, the 32-year-old is the New Orleans archdiocesan coordinator of Black Youth and Young Adult Ministry and is on the faculty of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana and works with Xavier's Campus Ministry.
Augustine's message is simple: "No matter what you're going through -- we all have our own storms -- if we keep our eyes on Jesus, the one who calms the storm, we will be all right."
Augustine speaks from the heart, not only because he loves his city, but because of recent tragedy. Augustine evacuated his home due to Hurricane Katrina and returned as soon as he could to rebuild -- and found himself identifying the body of his girlfriend and 18 family members who had stayed behind and died in the hurricane. For a while, he lived homeless on the streets at night, and when the sun rose, worked on rebuilding seniors' homes for Catholic Charities. He also helped to rebuild his home parish of St. Peter Claver. Asked by the archdiocese to coordinate teen and young-adult ministries, Augustine continues to volunteer with St. Peter Claver, where the youth ministry has grown from 50 to nearly 90 youths who come each Wednesday night. "It's important to let them know it's their faith, it's their place to be themselves," he said. "If we connect with them and they are comfortable, then we can help them understand why abstinence is important -- why it's important for them to know the Church's teaching on abortion, on social justice. We are helping them realize who they are in the Catholic faith."
"The main, important thing is to look out for the protection of life from the womb to the tomb as we say in our community," Augustine said, and that means making sure that mothers have diapers for their babies when they are born and that families aren't afraid to go to the hospital because they can't pay the bill and don't have health insurance.
Working with the youth group in his parish, Augustine was dismayed by the policy of barring young girls who became pregnant because of a fear the other young girls' excitement over the upcoming birth would undermine Church teaching on abstinence. So Augustine and the director of religious education made sure they were involved in the young girl's life, that they found the father if possible, talked to the parents. "We made sure she knew that she was still a child of God even though society frowned on her," he said. "She was still loved by her church community and the child was still loved by her church community so she would not go out and have an abortion."
executive director Catholic Citizenship of Massachusetts, local elected official
The executive director of Catholic Citizenship of Massachusetts says, "Our children's hearts and minds are really where this battle is being waged."
Victor Pap graduated from Suffolk College in Boston "not very strong or solid one way or the other" about the life issues. But then he worked for a pro-life congressional candidate who lost. "The radical left targeted him constantly," Pap said. "To see how these guys were such good guys and were targeted -- that is how I had my 'road to Damascus' political conversion."
Married and the father of two small children, Pap, 33, now runs Catholic Citizenship, the primary Catholic grassroots education organization in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Catholic Citizenship works with Massachusetts' four bishops and with the state Catholic conference to "help shape and promote public policies that are pro-life, pro-family and pro-poor," according to the website catholic-citizenship.org.
"We educate and inspire Catholics to run for local office, educate parish communities on the political process and we advocate on issues important to the bishops," Pap said.
Pap also serves as an elected city councilor in the Boston suburb of Weymouth.
When he was first energized after working on the failed congressional campaign of a pro-life candidate, Pap ran for state legislature in his hometown of Weymouth -- and lost by 600 of 5,000 votes. "It only strengthened my resolve further," Pap said. He became more involved in government and politics, served as staff member to several state legislators, and worked on the marriage amendment process. On the Weymouth City Council, Pap sits on the town education committee. He also serves on his parish council. "I've been able to encourage the school committee to really examine abstinence," Pap said.
Pap said he has come to believe that local school districts are a critical battleground as well. "Basically, what's happened throughout the whole state and throughout the whole country is that Planned Parenthood has seen the opportunity to go into local schools and implement their vision for our children -- which is one filled with contraception, easy access to abortion providers and, in many cases, teaching children how to obtain an abortion without parental knowledge or consent," Pap said.
director of Louisiana Right to Life
Ben Clapper became an activist in college, but it was a visit as a high school senior to a Chuck E. Cheese franchise that first shook him up.
"I was at a Chuck E. Cheese's for a friend's birthday and across the street was the local abortion facility," which had just shut down, Clapper, 25, said. "I was impacted by the dichotomy. Chuck E. Cheese, where the motto is 'where a kid can be a kid' and it was the exact opposite across the street."
He started a state pro-life student organization called "Louisiana Students for Life" while at Loyola University New Orleans.
Today, he focuses Right to Life efforts on youth education and nurturing new leaders. Initiatives include a weekend retreat that trained almost 90 high school students to be pro-life leaders. Camp Joshua, which Right to Life runs in conjunction with the Knights of Columbus, seeks to instill in students the characteristics of Joshua: strength, courage and boldness. Clapper also holds "Abortion 101" and "Pro-Life Persuasion" workshops for adults, and his group is helping start a New Orleans maternity home.
On the legislative front, Louisiana Right to Life was instrumental in the passage of a state human cloning ban, and is now working to ban the creation of human-animal hybrids and to protect health care professionals' conscience rights.
Clapper and his wife, Kristen, whom he met at the pro-life club in college, have an infant daughter, Kate.
Despite a pro-abortion president and Congress, Clapper said: "I don't believe the U.S. is any less pro-life because of that. We are seeing more and more people becoming active, and we are seeing fewer and fewer abortionists and fewer and fewer abortion facilities. I think we are winning. Either in our generation or a future generation, I really do think we will see the end of abortion in this country."
UCLA student, undercover journalist, activist
Lila Rose began going undercover to expose illegal or unethical behavior in the abortion and women's reproductive health industry when she was a freshman at UCLA.
The San Jose, Calif., native has since founded her own organization, Live Action. Its sting operations prompted the Indiana attorney general to investigate Planned Parenthood and the Orange County, Calif., board supervisors to cut nearly $300,000 of Planned Parenthood funding. "Abortion is the greatest human rights abuse of our day," said Rose, who feigned pregnancy in a counseling session with a counselor at UCLA who advised her to obtain an abortion. Rose has since done the same in a series of encounters at Planned Parenthood clinics.
"Lila is the perfect example of whyveteransin the pro-life movement should have great hope in the future," stated Cathy Ruse, executive director of Life Prizes of The Gerard Health Foundation, which presented Rose with a $50,000 award in January. "She has brought a boldness, creativity and passionto the pro-life cause that is causing the country to take notice."
Not bad for a 21-year-old history major who plans to graduate next spring but who can sound like a little girl when she visits abortion clinics pretending to be a young teen whose adult boyfriend has impregnated her. Her undercover operations -- dubbed the Mona Lisa Project -- became a staple of the pro-life press this past year as well as drawing mainstream media attention.
During the summer of 2008, Live Action conducted the series of stings of Planned Parenthood clinics. The organization has so far released five videos from Arizona, Tennessee and Indiana, in which Rose posed as an underage girl aged 13-15 with an older boyfriend. A grand jury is investigating Planned Parenthood in response to footage shot at an Indiana abortion clinic where a nurse advised her to travel across state lines to Illinois and to say her boyfriend was in the same grade. On May 14 the Orange County Register ran "She pretends to be a pregnant teenager," a profile of Rose and her campaign. In April, talk-show host Glenn Beck interviewed Rose and showed footage of her secretly videotaped encounter with a Memphis abortion clinic staffer who advised her to lie about the boyfriend's age when she went to a judge for a bypass of Tennessee's parental consent law.
Rose says Live Action is growing rapidly because of its appeal to college students and young professionals. "We are working out of our college dorms or our own homes," said Rose. "Our resources are unique because they are made by students for students."
executive director of Students for Life of America
Kristan Hawkins is hesitant to mention her age, because at 24 she is barely older than the college students who are the target audience for Students for Life of America (SFLA).
The executive director of the national student pro-life organization has taken the organization to a new level. It is a path she embarked on after volunteering as a high school sophomore at a pregnancy center in Steubenville, Ohio. She saw a video of what an abortion was: "It was there that my life goals changed, and I knew I had to fight for the unborn for the rest of my life."
Students for Life of America took its new name in 2006 and hired Hawkins, transforming itself from American Collegians for Life. The pro-life group was founded in 1988 by a group of pro-life Georgetown University students and was effective because of its youth and energy but subject to an ever-changing leadership as its members graduated and moved on. Since 2006, Hawkins and her team have expanded SFLA to 492 on-campus pro-life groups across the country.
Perhaps SFLA's most innovative strategy is the Campus Field Program, which hires recent college grads for short stints and assigns them a geographic region where they help pro-life students build on-campus pro-life clubs. The organization now boasts an updated interactive website. Hawkins is particularly proud of a new Missionaries for Life summer program which "brings in campus pro-life leaders for a summer semester to learn what it takes be a pro-life leader."
In addition to managing the daily operations of SFLA, Hawkins is the official spokeswoman and a public speaker. She has appeared on the Fox News' show "Hannity & Colmes" and has been quoted in numerous national and regional newspapers. She also hosts the syndicated radio show "On Campus with Students for Life" on National Pro-Life Radio and is a co-host on the TV show "LifeTalk."
Hawkins even went undercover to a Planned Parenthood clinic while she was pregnant with her infant son, who was born Jan. 30. The video of a Planned Parenthood counselor telling her in October 2008 that her 22-week-old unborn son might be born alive before he is killed is posted at www.studentsforlife.org.
The past few months, Hawkins and Students for Life have been focused on the health care debate, speaking out against rationing and the inclusion of abortion in the reform plans. The organization has launched two websites related to the debate -- www.stoptheabortionmandate.com and www.healthcareforgunner.com.
The second website refers to eight-month-old Gunner, son of Hawkins and her husband, Jonathan. Baby Gunner has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that can be life-shortening and requires a special diet and intensive care because the lungs fill up with mucus. The website looks at what a nationalized health care plan would mean for Gunner and others with chronic health conditions.
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