Kathleen Gilbert

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2,000 students pack largest pro-life conference in the world

Kathleen Gilbert
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BETHESDA, Maryland, January 26, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Anyone feeling discouraged about the future of the pro-life movement must have missed the Students for Life of America National Conference.

According to pro-life leaders gathered at the Bethesda Marriott last weekend, in 2011 a new picture of the country’s abortion debate began to emerge: abortion facilities are closing; abortionists are quitting or being exposed; and young adults are more zealous than ever to make abortion be history, as proven by the army of 2,000 youth that travelled across the country to attend the conference and the March for Life the next day.

The day-long conference packed the star power of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Live Action President Lila Rose, and, in a bittersweet turn, was able to include Kortney Blythe Gordon – one of two pro-life activists who died last year in a tragic car crash – and her daughter Sophy in an unexpected way.

Leaders noted that this year the country is stepping into the 40th year since Roe v. Wade. David Bereit of 40 Days for Life pointed out the biblical significance of the 40 year period.

“The reason [the Israelites] spent 40 years in the desert is because they were not faithful,” said Bereit. As 2012 gets started, he said, “we see that we are on the verge of a turning point.”

Accordingly, organizers of the conference themed the event – the largest pro-life conference in the world this year – in audacious terms: envisioning the game plan once Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Speakers emphasized that the battle to end abortion would largely be waged on the home turf of those in attendance.

“The abortion industry has its sights set on your college campus… they have your campus in their crosshairs,” said SFLA Executive Director Kristan Hawkins.

To help the students in attendance fight back, several speakers gave a broader-lens look at the abortion issue. Patrick Fagan of the Family Research Council discussed the role of easy divorce and a lack of faith in marriage behind the surge of abortion in society.

“When a man and a woman are not committed to each other in marriage ... the danger to the unborn child is massive,” said Fagan. “That’s the way ultimately to drive down abortion: the real route is back to love.”

The takeaway line of the day, tweeted and recalled by several students, was delivered by Stephanie Gray of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform: “If those who are whiter can’t kill those who are darker, then those who are older should not kill those who are younger.”

Students cheered with enthusiasm at the arrival of Mike Huckabee, who praised the energy of the crowd before a screening of his pro-life documentary, “The Gift of Life.” “People in my generation have fumbled the ball,” he said. “You’re not going to.”

The former Arkansas governor also disclosed one of the evening’s biggest surprises: Kourtney Blythe Gordon, the Students for Life staffer who tragically lost her life with unborn daughter Sophy in an October car accident, had been filmed for the documentary watching an ultrasound image of Sophy only one week before their deaths. Kourtney’s parents agreed to allow the footage to stay in the film.

Kourtney, Sophie, and Jon Scharfenberger, another pro-life activist who died from injuries sustained in the same crash, were honored with the creation of three Everyday Hero awards in each of their names. The winners included Kathleen Wilson, co-founder of Mary’s Shelter; California sidewalk counselor Don Blythe of At The Well Ministries; and John-Paul Deddens, founder of Students for Life of Illinois.

Several students, some of whom had attended the conference multiple years, praised the event for delivering on its promise to both energize and equip.

“I’m going to tell [my friends] every single thing that I got. I got so much information from here,” said Jersey City college freshman Evette Martinez, who flashed a new pink pro-life wristband.

Nick Pienta, a college sophomore from Ohio, said that the conference was “one of the strongest showings of the pro-life movement I’ve ever seen.”

“This isn’t just a rally where you go and cheer on about how we’re going to end abortion,” said Pienta, 19, who was introduced to the conference this year. “It’s really informative. It really struck me as a personal challenge.”

The next day, as the students joined hundreds of thousands for the March for Life on Capitol Hill, the spirit of the conference was reflected in one notable change.

The familiar “Roe v. Wade has got to go” chant had a new twist: “Roe v. Wade is soon to go.”

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