Canada Nov. 17, 2017

Pro-life movement connecting with young people

By Deborah Gyapong

Sean O'Hare of Students for Life of America, Ruth Shaw of National Campus Life Network, and Jonathon Van Maren of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform speak at Life Canada's national pro-life conference in Ottawa Nov. 3. "Every day I wake up this country is a little more pro-life,” says Van Maren. (Deborah Gyapong / CCN)

OTTAWA (CCN)—The pro-life movement in North America is reaching out to young people on university campuses because that’s what the abortion industry is doing, say campus pro-life activists.

Ruth Shaw, executive director of Canada’s National Campus Life Network told Life Canada’s national pro-life conference the aim is to “build a culture of life on campus” because it is in the “18-24 age group where most abortions take place.”

The network aims to “bring the pro-life movement to campus in a strategic and winsome way,” she said Nov. 3 in Ottawa.

Planned Parenthood, one of the biggest abortion providers in the United States, “is targeting college campuses,” said Sean O’Hare, president of the board of directors of Students for Life of America, the largest pro-life organization focused on youth with a presence on 1,150 university and college campuses.

“Seventy per cent of Planned Parenthood’s abortion facilities are within five miles of a college campus and a poor minority community,” O’Hare said.

He called Planned Parenthood “the Goliath of the abortion industry” because it performs 328,000 abortions a year, one third of the total amount of abortions in the United States. It is a $1.2 billion business and “profit centre.”

Planned Parenthood’s business model includes encouraging women “to have at least three abortions by the time they are 25,” O’Hare said.

College students are “the prime audience” of the abortion industry, he said. “That’s why the young generation is so vital.”

Students for Life of America is the fifth-largest pro-life group in the United States, with a $5.7 million budget, O’Hare said. “We outnumber Planned Parenthood’s presence by four to one.”

While its budget is small compared to the Planned Parenthood Goliath, O’Hare compared the movement to David. “All you biblical scholars out there, you’ll recall David won that one,” he said.

Ten years ago, however, the pro-life movement had a branding problem, he said. The movement had a “young people problem,” because “the pro-life brand was turning people away.”

“We have changed the narrative,” he said. Instead of a movement characterized as “stale, angry, boring and bitter,” it’s become one that’s “young, hip, joyful, and happier.”

“Happy warriors are hard to fight,” he said. “It’s shifted.”

Now, at many pro-life movements you’ll see young people carrying signs saying, “We’re the pro-life generation.”

Three different polls show 53 per cent of millennials believe abortion should be illegal, either in all cases, or with some exceptions for rape and incest, he said. “They may not be all the way there, but we consider them politically pro-life.”

“Millennials are animated by a fight against injustice,” O’Hare said. “Abortion is the greatest human rights issue of all time.”

Since the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973 there have been an estimated 60 million abortions in the United States, he said. The majority of America’s 325 million people “have been impacted by abortion” either directly or indirectly through a family member or friend.

“This is a post-abortion culture,” he said. “How we approach the issue is with compassion (and) with truth,” he said. “Abortion is not palliative; it does not heal” the underlying reasons why a woman sought an abortion in the first place. “It papers it over.”

“Killing another human being is wrong,” he said.

Jonathon Van Maren, communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, told the conference the pro-abortion movement in Canada is greying and depleted.

“When your movement is based on killing off young people, it’s difficult to replace them when you want to replenish your activist base,” he said.

“They’ve left the battlefield to us,” he said. “The momentum is with us. The abortion rights movement barely exists. It’s up to us to ensure their legislative work is undone.”

In 2019, Canada will mark 50 years of legal abortion and about four million abortion deaths, Van Maren said. But the pro-life movement goes back to the founding of Christianity 2,000 years ago, when the early Christians faced a culture where abortion and infanticide were commonplace.

“Abortion and infanticide have always existed, but they have been defeated time and time again.”

“The first pro-life laws made it a crime to commit infanticide,” he said. “With God’s help a culture of life can spring out of a culture of death.”

“We’re asking for science-based public policy like everyone else,” he said. The pro-choice movement made abortion a matter of choice, “not about what is being chosen.”

“When we confront them with the evidence, I’ve seen hundreds of young people change their minds,” he said. “They can see lives saved. Not every day’s awesome, but I know every day I wake up this country is a little more pro-life.”

But the pro-life movement often faces violence, contempt, spitting, and other hostile reactions. “How do you manage to reach out to a culture that broken?” said Van Maren. Dialogue can “change to anger very quickly – that’s why so many people are reluctant to talk about this.”

Pro-life campus groups in both the United States and Canada are fighting for their rights to mount displays and lectures on university campuses, he said. In the United States, the Constitution’s First Amendment helps out, while Shaw points out in Canada “we have hate speech laws.”

But the young pro-life activists who get spat upon do not see themselves as victims, Van Maren said, but instead as standing up for the real victims of abortion, the unborn.