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Pro-life activists speak with students on Students for Life of America's We Care Tour. Courtesy of Students for Life of America
Tina Whittington

Opinion

Spreading the pro-life message with compassion

Tina Whittington
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Pro-life activists speak with students on Students for Life of America's We Care Tour. Courtesy of Students for Life of America

The photos plastered everywhere in the media from the Hobby Lobby case over the summer were of young women celebrating the decision. It was quite the coup for the pro-life movement, who for decades have been portrayed as groups of older men and women, usually white, and never compassionate. Pro-choicers have shown pro-lifers yelling at women going into abortion clinics, taking pictures of the cars of patients, and engaging in all kinds of other cringe-inducing behavior.

So it’s really no wonder that pro-choicers don’t want to engage in discussions with pro-lifers and automatically write them off. But what if the pro-life movement got a makeover? What if they really were portrayed as compassionate – caring about both the woman and her unborn child?

Students for Life of America is seeking to change this stereotype. For the past several weeks they have been touring college campuses all across the country with a display called the We Care Tour. It seeks to bring awareness to sexual assault that happens all the time on college campuses and let victims know that there is help and where to get it. And because sexual assault does happen so often, pregnancies inevitably result. Therefore, the tour also addresses how to talk about abortion in cases of rape in a compassionate and non-Todd Akin kind of way.

We aren’t going to change minds if we can’t have a civil discussion with people who disagree with us. The pro-life movement is getting a makeover and it’s happening on college campuses across the country.

Because of the topic and how pro-lifers can be portrayed as not caring about the mother who is seeking an abortion and only about the preborn child, I thought this tour was going to encounter significant resistance on campus. So imagine my shock when I witnessed students engaging in positive discussions with their peers on campus about abortion. Not only that, I saw that when pro-life students were compassionate and caring and were open to finding common ground with those they disagreed with, amazing things happened.

As soon as we set up our display at Boston University, a woman from the campus’s Center of Sexuality, Gender, and Activism was the first to come over and check it out.  She had expected our display to be biased and to take objection to it but after reading all of our materials she ended up staying and talking with us for about an hour.  She even came to the speaking event that night, took more of the materials we had, and asked if the BU Students for Life group would consider participating in their sexual assault awareness event in April.  She did not 100 percent change her mind on abortion but after seeing our display, talking to us, and coming to the speaking event that night she agreed that women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy, even those who conceive in rape, need life affirming resources. 

At Western Kentucky University, a similar situation happened and the first person who showed up at our display was a student from the Women’s Studies Department.  She was very excited to read the display and then challenge my position in a friendly dialogue.  After an almost 40-minute conversation, she changed her position on abortion for genetic abnormalities, rape and incest, poverty, and for reasons of overpopulation – all areas that she came to admit that abortion does not “solve,” and therefore was not necessary for any of these reasons.  She told me that she was still calling herself “pro-choice” but that I had really opened her eyes up to the compassion of the pro-life movement, that maybe abortion is not as compassionate a solution as she had thought it was. 

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Sometimes just being a compassionate ear for someone who needs to talk is worth everything. At one campus I was able to talk to two women who were raped in high school. The first girl was raped because of a bet one of her “friends” made with another one of her “friends.”  She was receiving on-going counseling and was very uncertain how she felt about abortion. The second girl had been raped by her boyfriend and took Plan B. She had received no counselling and admitted that the rape made her hate both men and children.  She was adamantly pro-choice but decided that maybe if she got some counseling it would help her so she left her contact info on the group’s sign-up sheet and asked us to follow up with her to hold her accountable to attend counseling.  I gave both of these girls my contact info and the second girl let me give her a hug – she said it was her first hug outside her family in a year.

Would this girl have let a pro-lifer who was yelling at her, or anyone else for that matter, hug her? Probably not. Would any of these students have engaged with a pro-life student who wasn’t showing outward signs of openness and willingness to have civil discussions? We have many pro-life men at our campus displays and I feel they have to work twice as hard to come across as compassionate and caring, especially to women who have been hurt by abortion.

But as I watched the pro-life students at this display, I could see the pro-life movement having a makeover then and there. There were so many young women who were talking to their peers about abortion and young men being supportive and compassionate.

We aren’t going to change minds if we can’t have a civil discussion with people who disagree with us. The pro-life movement is getting a makeover and it’s happening on college campuses across the country.

Tina Whittington is the Executive Vice President of Students for Life of America.

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