John Jalsevac

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Hundreds of pro-life student groups sweeping across U.S. college campuses

John Jalsevac
John Jalsevac
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December 9, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In 1996 a sobering Gallup Poll was released that confirmed what many pro-life activists already suspected, but nevertheless hoped wasn’t true: while 47% of women said they were pro-life when they entered college, by graduation, a whopping 73% said they were now pro-choice. 

Frighteningly, the pro-life movement was losing 26% of all female students who went through a university program. Clearly, if the movement had any hope of survival in the long run, more needed to be done to reach out to students. 

At that time there already existed a group whose mission was to create a pro-life presence on campuses - American Collegians for Life. But without a full-time staff, and without a significant source of funding, there was only so much that the Collegians for Life, which was entirely student-run, could do. 

In 2006, all of that changed. In that year American Collegians for Life received a sizable start-up grant, changed its name to Students for Life of America (SFLA), hired a professional staff, opened its first national headquarters in Arlington, VA, and launched its historic Pro-Life Field Program.

Since then, Students for Life has gone on to become one of the most active, and most successful, pro-life organizations in the country. 

Meet SFLA executive director Kristan Hawkins

In fact, says Kristan Hawkins, SFLA’s first executive director, their organization has been so successful in founding pro-life student groups, that they have far surpassed anti-life organizations in establishing a campus presence. When Students for Life launched in 2006, there were only about 180 pro-life college student groups in the whole of the United States. Now there are over 500, and more are being added every day. 

Amazingly, Hawkins was handed the helm of the newly-minted national pro-life organization at the tender age of 21. She describes the process of getting SFLA off the ground as being akin to starting up a small business – interviewing and hiring staff, opening an office, doing the accounting, and developing all of SFLA’s programs from the ground up.

She describes that time as “really exciting,” but jokes that, “had I known how much work it was going to be, I probably would have given it a second thought instead of immediately saying, ‘Yes, I’ll take it!’” And for her, things have only gotten busier over the years, now that she is married and has two children.

But, she says, the hard work has clearly paid off. In the past five years, SFLA has grown to ten full-time and 2 part-time staff. Every year SFLA hosts a conference in Washington to coincide with the annual March for Life – this year they are expecting a record-breaking 1800 youth attendees, making it “the largest pro-life youth conference in the world.”

And then, of course, there is the core of SFLA’s outreach - those 530-plus SFLA-affiliated pro-life campus groups. That might sound like a lot, but for Hawkins it’s only the beginning – the goal is to reach at least 1,000. 

It’s all part of an effort to build up what she terms a “critical mass,” in preparation for the day when Roe v. Wade is overturned.

She points out that, “when that glorious day comes,” there will be 50 statewide battles in the United States over abortion that will “need trained activists in the states.” Hawkins hopes these activists will be SFLA alumni.

“They’ve been trained, they know exactly what works and what doesn’t work,” she says. “They’re already ready. They’re on the ground, they’re in the states.”

Campuses: Ground Zero of the abortion fight

Hawkins argues that an organization that focuses exclusively on students, and especially college campuses, is crucial because “this is where these girls are having the abortions, this is where Planned Parenthood is targeting for new business, and this is where hearts and minds are being changed.”

The power of SFLA’s presence was illustrated in an amazing way just this week. Steve Macias, one of SFLA’s field agents, was on the campus of Sacramento City College gathering information when he went up to a passing student and asked her what she knew about abortion. She turned to him in amazement and asked how he “knew.”

When he assured her that he knew nothing at all about her, she explained that she was being pressured by her boyfriend to abort their unborn child, even though she knew abortion was wrong.  Thankfully, Steve was able to put the girl in touch with a local pregnancy resource center and put her on the path to saving the life of her child.

But it isn’t always that easy. SFLA has found over the years that their deadliest enemy isn’t necessarily pro-abortion activists, but rather, “apathy.” 

Hawkins says her field agents frequently encounter students who say they are pro-life, “but are unwilling to take a stand.” She attributes this to the fact that students are “inundated with so much information and media” that they begin to grow numb. “It’s funny, because even now you’ll show people a graphic image of an aborted baby, and we have some people who’ll just look right at it and walk the other way. It doesn’t really affect them,” she said.

Pro-life 2.0

Nevertheless, Hawkins says she holds a great deal of hope for the future: increasingly, she says, “this generation sees abortion as a human rights issue.” Part of this is thanks to pro-life parents, raising children who understand the value of human life. Part is thanks to advances in technology. 

“You’ve got 3D and 4D ultrasounds now, something we’ve never had before in previous generations - where a girl can go to Google, type in abortion and see that baby in the womb,” said Hawkins.  These technologies are educating students “about what is life, and they’re showing these students that there’s unborn life in that womb.”

Hawkins is convinced that right now “the momentum is on our side.”

For veteran pro-life activists, organizations like SFLA are the answer to their most earnest prayers. No longer do they need to worry about whether or not there will be anyone to fill their shoes when they are gone. Thanks to SFLA, and other similar organizations, there is a whole new generation of smart, savvy, devoted, and energetic pro-life activists. 

And they are striking fear into the heart of the old guard of the pro-abortion movement. When Nancy Keenan of NARAL, one of America’s top pro-abort organizations, stumbled on the March for Life in Washington last January, she told Newsweek: “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young … There are so many of them, and they are so young.”

SFLA is at the forefront in pioneering techniques that allow them to reach out directly to this new generation of pro-life warriors. “We use a lot of social media,” Hawkins explains. “I think we were one of the first pro-life organization back in ’06 to utilize the power of Facebook to find pro-life students, or students who we think should identify with the pro-life message.” 

The SFLA website is also one of the most cutting edge in the pro-life movement – packed with well-organized, crisply presented information. 

You could call it pro-life 2.0.

But at the same time, says Hawkins, there is no replacement for the tried and true methods of boots-to-the-ground outreach. 

“You can do a lot via the Internet. You can do a lot via referrals and e-mail and calls,” she says. “But really a lot of grunt work comes down to hitting the pavement, being there in person, right on the campus meeting the students. I think that that’s actually one of the most critical things that you have to do. Students are swamped with messages, e-mails, text message. Getting out and personally meeting these students, I think that’s the best thing that you can do.”

And this is exactly what Students for Life of America does best.

To those pro-life students who feel alienated on their college campus, she says, “don’t be discouraged.”

“We are the majority. National polls are telling this,” said Hawkins. But for those students who don’t believe her, she encourages them to come to the SFLA conference in Washington in January, “where I’m sure every single student will leave knowing that we are the majority and that we will be victorious.”

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Vatican’s doctrine chief: ‘Absolutely anti-Catholic’ to let bishops conferences decide doctrine or discipline

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By John-Henry Westen

VATICAN, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has rejected outright the idea floated by Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that various bishops’ conferences around the world would decide for themselves on points of discipline or doctrine. 

“This is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church,” Cardinal Müller told France’s Famille Chrétienne in an interview published today

The question was raised because Cardinal Marx, the head of the German Catholic bishops’ conference and a member of Pope Francis’ advisory Council of Nine, told reporters that the German bishops would chart their own course on the question of allowing Communion for those in “irregular” sexual unions.

“We are not a subsidiary of Rome,” he said in February. “The Synod cannot prescribe in detail what we should do in Germany.”

Vatican Cardinal Müller remarked that while episcopal conferences may have authority over certain issues they are not a parallel magisterium apart from the pope or outside communion with the bishops united to him.

Asked specifically about Cardinal Marx saying that the Church in Germany is “not a subsidiary of Rome,” the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said pointedly “the president of an Episcopal Conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and as such has no special teaching authority.”  He added moreover, that the dioceses in a particular country “are not subsidiaries of the secretariat of an Episcopal conference or diocese whose Bishop presides over the Episcopal Conference.”

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The CDF head warned that “this attitude makes the risk of waking some polarization between the local churches and the universal Church.” He did not however believe that there was the will for Episcopal conferences to separate from Rome.

The important interview also saw Cardinal Müller contest the notion that the pastoral practice or discipline could change while retaining the same doctrine. “We can not affirm the doctrine and initiate a practice that is contrary to the doctrine,” he said.

He added that not even the papal Magisterium is free to change doctrine. “Every word of God is entrusted to the Church, but it is not superior to the Word,” he said. “The Magisterium is not superior to the word of God. The reverse is true.”

Cardinal Müller rejected the notion that we would have to modify Christ’s unflinching words totally forbidding divorce and remarriage.  We cannot “say that our ministry should be more cautious than Jesus Christ Himself!”  Nor could we, he added, say that Christ’s teaching is out of date or that “we need to correct or refine Jesus Christ because He lived in an idealistic world.” 

Rather, the cardinal said, bishops must be ready for martyrdom.  Quoting Jesus he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and if we speak all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

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‘Groundbreaking’: Kansas may become first state to ban dismemberment abortions

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By Ben Johnson

TOPEKA, KS, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Kansas will become the first state in the country to ban a procedure in which unborn children are dismembered in the womb, if Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill that recently passed the state legislature.

The state House passed a ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions, called dismemberment abortions in common parlance, by 98-26 on Wednesday.

The Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which had already passed the state Senate in February 31-9, now heads to Gov. Brownback's desk.

Brownback, a staunch defender of life, is expected to sign the act into law.

"Because of the Kansas legislature's strong pro-life convictions, unborn children in the state will be protected from brutal dismemberment abortions," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, which has made banning dismemberment abortions a national legislative focus.

The procedure, in which an abortionist separates the unborn child's limbs from his body one at a time, accounts for 600 abortions statewide every year.

Nationally, it is “the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA, accounting for 96 percent of all second trimester abortions,” according to the National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook.

“It’s just unconscionable that something happens to children that we wouldn’t tolerate being done to pets,” Katie Ostrowski, the legislative director of Kansans for Life, told The Wichita Eagle.

Leading pro-life advocacy groups have made shifting the debate to dismemberment a national priority, with similar legislation being considered in Missouri and Oklahoma. Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., who is NRLC's director of state legislation, called the bill's passage in Topeka “groundbreaking.”

"When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone," she said.

The abortion lobby has made clear that it is uncomfortable engaging in a public relations tussle on this ground.

Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues associate of the Guttmacher Institute, said that dismemberment is “not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”

On the state Senate floor, Democrats tried to alter the bill's language on the floor by replacing the term “unborn child” with fetus. “I know some of you don’t believe in science. But it’s not an unborn child, it’s called a fetus,” said state Senator David Haley, D-Kansas City.

If the bill becomes law, the abortion industry has vowed to fight on.

Julie Burkhart, a former associate of late-term abortionist George Tiller, said the motion's only intention is “to intimidate, threaten and criminalize doctors.”

“Policymakers should be ashamed,” she said, adding, “if passed, we will challenge it in court.”

Gov. Brownback has previously signed conscience rights protections and sweeping pro-life protections into law.

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Anne Hendershott

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How NOT to move beyond the abortion wars

Anne Hendershott
By Anne Hendershott

March 26, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- A few years ago, when an undergraduate student research assistant of mine—a recent convert to Catholicism—told me that he was planning to meet with a well-known dissenting Catholic theology professor who was then ensconced in an endowed chair at a major metropolitan Catholic university, I told him: “Be careful, you might end up liking him too much.” I jokingly told my student not to make eye contact with the theologian because he might begin to find himself agreeing with him that Catholic teachings “really allow” for women’s ordination and full reproductive rights—including access to abortion.

I was reminded of that conversation this week when I began reading a new book by yet another engaging Catholic theology professor at a major metropolitan university who also claims (pg 6) that the argument he puts forward in his book, Beyond the Abortion Wars, is “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine.” Written by Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University, the new book purports to be in line with Catholic teachings and promises “a way forward for a new generation.” But, Camosy delivers yet another argument for a woman’s right to choose abortion when confronted with an unborn child that he has described—in the past—as an “innocent aggressor.”

Indeed, Camosy has spent much of his career trying to convince us that he knows Catholic teachings better than the bishops. Criticizing Bishop Olmsted for his intervention and excommunication of a hospital administrator for her role in the direct abortion at a Phoenix Catholic hospital, Camosy suggested in 2013 that “the infamous Phoenix abortion case set us back in this regard.” Implying that Bishop Olmsted was not smart enough to understand the moral theology involved in the case, Camosy claimed that “The moral theology in the case was complex—which makes the decision to declare publicly that Sr. McBride had excommunicated herself even more inexplicable. The Church can do better.” For Camosy, “Catholics must be ready to help shape our new discussion on abortion. And we must do so in a way that draws people into the conversation—not only with respectful listening, but speaking in a way that is both coherent and sensitive.”

This new book is likely Camosy’s attempt to “draw people into the conversation.” But, there is little in his book that is either coherent or sensitive. Claiming to want to move “beyond” the abortion wars, Camosy creates an argument that seems designed to offend the pro-life side, while giving great respect to those who want to make sure abortion remains legal.

Especially offensive for pro-life readers will be Camosy’s description of the abortifacient, RU-486 as a form of “indirect abortion.” The reality is that RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” effectively ends an early pregnancy (up to 8 weeks) by turning off the pregnancy hormone (progesterone). Progesterone is necessary to maintain the pregnancy and when it is made inoperative, the fetus is aborted. For Camosy, who claims that his book is “consistent with settled Catholic doctrine,” this is not a “direct” abortion. To illustrate this, Camosy enlists philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s 1971 “Defense of Abortion”—the hypothetical story of the young woman who is kidnapped and wakes up in a hospital bed to find that her healthy circulatory system has been hooked up to a famous unconscious violinist who has a fatal kidney ailment. The woman’s body is being used to keep the violinist alive until a “cure” for the violinist can be found. Camosy makes the case—as hundreds of thousands of pro-choice proponents have made in the past four decades—that one cannot be guilty of directly killing the violinist if one simply disconnects oneself from him. Likewise, for Camosy, simply taking the drug RU 486 is not “directly” killing the fetus. He writes:

The drugs present in RU 486 do not by their very nature appear to attack the fetus. Instead, the drug cuts off the pregnancy hormone and the fetus is detached from the woman’s body…. Using RU 486 is like removing yourself from [Judith Jarvis Thompson’s] violinist once you are attached. You don’t aim at his death, but instead remove yourself because you don’t think you have the duty to support his life with your body…. Some abortions are indirect and better understood as refusals to aid (pp 82-83).

Perhaps there are some readers who will find Camosy’s argument convincing, but I am not sure that many faithful Catholic readers will agree that it is consistent with settled Catholic doctrine.

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As one who is hardly a bystander in the abortion wars, I wanted to like this book. As an incrementalist who celebrates every small step in creating policy to protect the unborn, I had high hopes that this book would at last begin to bridge the divide. A decade ago, in my own book, The Politics of Abortion, I joined the argument begun by writers like Marvin Olasky in his Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, that it is more effective to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people than to create divisive public policy at the federal level. I share Charles Camosy’s desire to end the abortion wars—but this war cannot end until the real war on the unborn ends. This does not mean that the two sides cannot work together—battling it out at the state level—where there is the opportunity for the greatest success. But, complex philosophical arguments on whether RU 486 is a direct or indirect form of abortion are not helpful to these conversations.

Camosy must know that we can never really “end” the abortion wars as long as unborn children are still viewed as “aggressors” or “invaders” and can still be legally aborted. Faithful Catholics know that there is no middle ground on this—the pro-life side has to prevail in any war on the unborn. It can be done incrementally but ground has to be gained—not ceded—for the pro-life side. Besides, Camosy seems a bit late to the battlefield to begin with. In many ways, he seems to have missed the fact that the pro-life side is already winning many of the battles through waiting periods, ultrasound and parental notification requirements, and restrictions on late term abortion at the state level. More than 300 policies to protect the unborn have been passed at the state level just in the past few years. The number of abortions each year has fallen to pre-Roe era levels—the lowest in more than four decade.   Much of these gains are due to the selfless efforts of the pro-life community and their religious leaders. Yet, just as victory appears possible in many more states, Camosy seems to want to surrender by resurrecting the tired rhetoric—and the unconscious violinists—of forty years ago.

While it is disappointing, it is not unexpected considering Camosy’s last book lauded the contributions of Princeton’s most notorious professor, Peter Singer—the proponent of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide. Claiming that Singer is “motivated by an admirable desire to respond to the suffering of human and non-human animals,” Camosy’s 2012 book, Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization, argues that, “Though Singer is pro-choice for infanticide, on all the numerous and complicated issues related to abortion but one, Singer sounds an awful lot like Pope John Paul II.”  In a post at New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a progressive organization led by Rev. Richard Cizik (a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals who was removed from his position because of his public support for same sex unions, and his softening stance on abortion) Camosy wrote that he found Singer to be “friendly and compassionate.”  Camosy currently serves on the Advisory Board of Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership—where he has posted Peter Singer-like articles including: “Why Christians Should Support Rationing Health Care.”

One cannot know the motivations of another—we can never know what is in another’s heart so it is difficult to know why Charles Camosy wrote this book. It must be difficult to be a pro-life professor at Fordham University—a school known for dissenting theologians like Elizabeth Johnson. But, if one truly wants to advance a culture of life in which all children are welcomed into the world, it would seem that inviting Peter Singer to be an honored speaker to students at Fordham in 2012 is not the way to do it, nor would claiming that RU-486 “may not aim at death by intention.” Perhaps it is unwise to continue to critically review Camosy’s work from a Catholic perspective because it gives such statements credibility—and notoriety. But, as long as Camosy continues to claim that his writings and policy suggestions—including his newly proposed “Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act”—are “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine,” faithful Catholics will have to continue to denounce them.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine. 

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