[The following are prepared remarks that SPL president Kelsey Hazzard delivered to pro-life Louisiana teenagers at the Joshua Leadership Institute (JLI).]
The Pew Forum did an interesting survey in 2009 about the factors that influence people’s views on abortion. They found that three factors predominated: religion, personal experience, and education. Religion was the primary factor for about one-third of Americans. Personal experience was the motivator for 14%. Education claimed 21%. The rest was a mix of lesser factors, such as friends’ opinions, media commentary, and unidentified influences. But again, religion, personal experience, and education were the big three.
Obviously, I’m not here to talk about religion. I’m not particularly qualified. I know there are some faith-based groups presenting to you this week, so they can cover that ground. I want to talk about the other two: personal experience and education.
Nobody shows the power of personal experience better than Katie Farrell. Katie isn’t famous, but she’s a hero to me. Katie had some very tough life experiences. When she was just 12 years old, she was sexually assaulted. She dealt with the trauma by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. She struggled with addiction issues for years.
Katie had been raised in a devoutly Catholic home, but she didn’t find meaning in religion. Problem was, she didn’t find meaning in much of anything. She had a dead-end job, little education, and no motivation to improve her life. She was just living day to day.
Then Katie met a young man who had some serious troubles of his own. His mental illness and her addictions made for a rocky relationship.
At the age of 21, Katie became pregnant. And that is when she found meaning in her life.
Katie’s circumstances practically made her a poster child for the abortion movement. Her doctors pressured her to take “the easy way out.” But Katie courageously stood her ground and protected her son. Baby Tyler was born on January 22, 2011 the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Katie wasn’t interested in pursuing an adoption plan, but she knew that raising her son would require some radical changes. She rose to the occasion. She tackled her addictions, and when Tyler was old enough, Katie began taking classes at a community college to give them a better future.
One of her first college assignments was to write an essay on something important in her life. She wrote about being pro-life, and about her love for her son. She wrote: “A situation may not be ideal, but it’s no cause for termination of the life one created. My son is healthy, happy, and a little chunky. He’s rebellious and lives to be the center of attention. If I had aborted my child, I wouldn’t have known any of this. I would question for the rest of my life what the “mass of cells” (as many pro-choicers will argue that thing inside your belly is) would have turned out to be.”
Now that is the voice of experience.
Katie ended her essay by saying that she looked forward to attending the 2013 March for Life, on her son’s second birthday. But she didn’t get the chance.
Tragically, that mentally ill young man, the father of Katie’s child, had not been able to turn his life around. And in March of 2012, for reasons that no one will ever understand, he killed Katie, and then himself.
Tyler was left an orphan.
Katie’s mother, Tyler’s grandmother, is keeping Katie’s legacy alive. Not only is she raising Tyler, but she has started a website, KatiesWay.org, and runs a monthly baby supplies drive for disadvantaged mothers in Katie’s home town.
And Katie’s mother—her devoutly Catholic mother—reached out to me. She believes that Secular Pro-Life is the best organization to share Katie’s story. Because Katie’s story isn’t about religion or politics. It’s simply about love.
Of course I was honored that she entrusted Secular Pro-Life to spread that message. And that brings us to the power of education.
For our purposes, education is the most important factor. Obviously, the life experiences someone has had, or the religion in which they were raised, are out of our hands. Education is where the pro-life movement can make a difference and save lives.
You’ve come to JLI to educate yourselves and learn how to educate others. I’ve looked at the schedule, and I’m really impressed! You’ve got a great lineup here. You’re going to have apologetics training, you’re going to watch a sonogram, you’re going to hear from everyone from pregnancy center directors to state legislators. You’re going to learn a lot. And all I ask is that as you’re going through these programs, you ask yourself: does this require a belief in God to make sense? And 95% of the time, the answer is going to be no.
A big part of Secular Pro-Life’s mission is to promote the secular case against abortion. But the thing is, most popular pro-life arguments already are secular. They just aren’t perceived that way.
When the abortion movement got underway in the 1960s, they made a deliberate effort to tie the pro-life cause to religion, and specifically to Catholicism. Remember, anti-Catholic prejudice was a major issue back then; having John F. Kennedy as the first Catholic in the White House was a big deal. Not that JFK was an ideal Catholic or anything, having been involved in several abortions, but I digress.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson was an abortionist who co-founded the abortion advocacy group NARAL. Later he came over to our side, as a result of ultrasound technology. He divulged some of the abortion movement’s strategies, and here’s what he had to say:
We systematically vilified the Catholic Church and its “socially backward ideas” and picked on the Catholic hierarchy as the villain in opposing abortion. This theme was played endlessly. We fed the media such lies as “we all know that opposition to abortion comes from the hierarchy and not from most Catholics” and “Polls prove time and again that most Catholics want abortion law reform.” And the media drum-fired all this into the American people, persuading them that anyone opposing permissive abortion must be under the influence of the Catholic hierarchy and that Catholics in favor of abortion are enlightened and forward-looking. An inference of this tactic was that there were no non-Catholic groups opposing abortion. The fact that other Christian as well as non-Christian religions were (and still are) monolithically opposed to abortion was constantly suppressed, along with pro-life atheists’ opinions.
This had a perverse effect: every time Catholics spoke out about the injustice of abortion, it reinforced the pro-abortion message that abortion was just a religious issue!
Now, about those pro-life atheists. Secular Pro-Life has looked at the polling, and we’ve determined that there are over six million non-religious pro-lifers in the United States. But that’s still less than a fifth of the total non-religious population. We have a lot of work to do.
The non-religious population skews young, and that’s where you come in. I realize that this is the Bible Belt, and you may not know many atheists now. But when you go off to college, I promise you will meet non-religious people. You’ll befriend them. You’ll get into debates with them. The topic of abortion will come up. Maybe an atheist or agnostic friend will even come to you with a crisis pregnancy.
Please understand that many nonbelievers have a gut-level distrust of anything religious. The minute you mention God, they’ll shut down. My own reaction isn’t so visceral, but I certainly think that whenever someone claims to have all the answers, a little skepticism is healthy!
So don’t bring religion into it. There’s no need, and it alienates people.
I don’t know what it is about abortion. If you were talking to someone about human trafficking, and needed to convince them that it’s a serious problem that they need to take action on, would your first instinct be to pull up a relevant Bible verse? Probably not; your first instinct would probably be to talk about the victims and what can be done to help them. Follow that same instinct when you’re talking about the right to life.
Sometimes religious people misunderstand Secular Pro-Life and think we just want to shut up Christians. That’s not true. By all means pray for an end to abortion. By all means attend church. By all means love your neighbor. And you have the right to try to convince people to convert to Christianity, too—all I ask is that you keep those conversations separate from your conversations about abortion.
That’s all I have for prepared remarks. I want to use the rest of this time for conversation. I usually videotape my talks, but I decided not to record this one, so that you all feel absolutely free to raise embarrassing questions. I realize many of you have probably never met a non-religious pro-lifer, so this is your opportunity to pick my brain! Seriously, ask me anything. I am not easily offended. This is a no-offense zone.