Pro-life means pro-babies and pro-moms
The Supremes may overturn Roe v. Wade, but the work of Students for Life will go on
Kristan Hawkins is the president of Students for Life, an activist group that mobilizes pro-life college students and high schoolers in their schools and communities. Hawkins is one of many pro-lifers who expect the U.S. Supreme Court will use Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving a Mississippi law that protects babies from abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation, to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that created a constitutional right to abortion.
What is your earliest pro-life memory? And how did you first get started with pro-life work? My mother was involved in a local Right to Life group, and they had a float in the Fourth of July parade. The theme of our float was to “be a lifesaver,” so I remember going up and down the street and finding a bunch of Life Savers candies. My next memory is of being in high school, looking for volunteer work, and meeting a woman at my church who offered me the opportunity to intern with her at a pregnancy center. I didn’t fully understand what that would involve until I started working there.
How did that experience affect you? When I entered the pregnancy center, I would love to say that I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. But I did not. I was completely overwhelmed by the reality and violence of abortion. That summer I reorganized the supply room—did all the things a normal intern would do—and counseled women. When I went back to my high school, I knew I had to do more.
I started a pro-life group at school, got involved with local politics, and stayed involved in college. In 2004, I worked on President Bush’s reelection campaign and met people who were heavily involved in the pro-life movement. That’s how I met the people seeking to launch Students for Life.
Students for Life had already been around for a while. How did you get involved? Three students at Georgetown started Students for Life, then called American Legions for Life, in the late 1980s. The activity of the organization ebbed and flowed depending on the leadership or what was happening in Washington, D.C., in a given year. Its main function was organizing an annual conference for leaders of university pro-life groups after the March for Life.
Around 2005, the student board wrote a business plan to start going directly to college campuses and finding conservative students to get involved. The idea was to go where the abortion industry directly targeted these young people and encourage pro-life activism on campus. That’s when the name became Students for Life of America. With new funding from an investor, the group launched full time and conducted a search for a full-time executive director. That’s where I came in.
I often see you in pictures holding a bullhorn at a Students for Life protest. There are a lot of pictures of me on the bullhorn from five years ago. But the past few years, I haven’t actually gotten on the bullhorn that much. It used to be me on the bullhorn with a few folks standing beside me and people being unsure about making so much noise. I love seeing these young people today who show up and are like, “I have my own bullhorn. I brought my own batteries. I’m ready to lead the pro-life generation chants.” It shows that Students for Life is not my organization: It is very much our pro-life generation’s organization.
Do you have a favorite chant? There’s a chant the 1970s one that goes, “Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go.” A couple years ago, I changed it to “going to go,” and it always throws our staff for a loop. But I think if you asked our student leaders, their favorite chant would be “Pro-woman, pro-life.” Because that is why a lot of young people serve in this movement: They care about the babies and their moms. They see this very much as a two-front war that we’re fighting and a battle that they’re waging on their campuses for two victims of the abortion industry.
What’s your go-to remedy after a day of chanting? I often leave events with a hoarse voice, so I usually get a medicine ball tea with honey at Starbucks on my way out. I’m not a big tea drinker, but it has just enough sugar to disguise the tea. It has mint and honey and lemon—all the things that help with your hoarse voice.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, how will that change Students for Life’s mission? When we launched 15 years ago, our vision was to create a post-Roe organization. A lot of my mentors at the time told me, “You have to stop talking about abortion-free America or abolishing abortion or reversing Roe, because it makes you sound naïve.” So it’s been personally gratifying the last year to hear a lot of folks using the language of a “post-Roe” America.
The work Students for Life does day to day will largely remain unchanged because we will continue working to change minds on campuses: making sure communities across America know about nonviolent alternatives to abortion, informing people about the dangers of chemical abortion.
Tell me about the group’s legislative work. In 2019, Students for Life started a 501(c)(4) called Students for Life Action. The goal was to help young people get involved in their state capitals: testifying on abortion-related legislation, lobbying elected officials, going door-knocking in districts where elected officials need to be held accountable. We saw the handwriting on the wall for Roe. Phase two of the pro-life movement is this 50-state battle to make abortion illegal and unthinkable.
In 2019, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York signed into law the Reproductive Health Act that made abortion legal for all nine months and even reversed the state’s homicide laws so that people charged with killing a pregnant woman wouldn’t be charged with two deaths. He celebrated this law by lighting up the One World Trade Center in pink.
That for me solidified that we were going to have to get our young people to the state houses to show the state legislators who vote for such extremist bills that they are vastly out of touch with the majority of this generation. That’s what we’ve been doing since then. Last year, spring 2021, our student leaders in more than 30 states testified on behalf of pro-life legislation or against pro-abortion legislation.
Where should the pro-life movement focus its attention if states receive more power to legislate on abortion? The places that we need to be focusing on, in my view, are the so-called “red” states, where we can reasonably predict that there will be very aggressive bans on the violence of abortion. Those are the states that normally haven’t seen the influx of the abortion lobby into their state elections. But we know in the post-Roe America, when there’s going to be this 50-state battle, Planned Parenthood and their PACs and their 501(c)(4)s will be flooding into the states. We’re going to need a trained army to make sure we shore up these states before moving on to the “purple” and “blue” states.
How optimistic are you that this 50-state battle will start this summer? I was pretty pessimistic going into the oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case on Dec. 1. I was outside of the court with Students for Life the day of the arguments. When I left the court, I headed straight to the airport to return home and listened to the oral arguments while sitting in the airport. And I was blown away by the willingness of the Mississippi Solicitor General to come out and just say it: We’re here to reverse Roe v. Wade because it was a grievously wrong decision.
The Supreme Court justices were asking questions like, Isn’t the Constitution neutral on this issue? Why should the court take a stance on something that the Constitution is so plainly neutral about? Meanwhile, the abortion lobby’s basic argument for why they were against this Mississippi law was the court can’t go back on a decision it’s already made. That was pretty much it. That made me optimistic.
How did the leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court affect your attitude? I continue to be very optimistic. We know from legal experts that the mere fact that the court took up this case meant there was an overwhelming willingness on the court to possibly revisit Roe. The leaked draft showed us that—at least in February—the justices recognized Roe v. Wade as a constitutional wreckage.
Seeing that draft and the strong language upholding our Constitution renewed my hope that everything we have been working toward is coming to fruition. But our focus right now is the same as it has always been: mobilizing the grassroots to make the voices of the pro-life generation heard on behalf of the voiceless preborn child.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the date of a pro-life chant against Roe v. Wade.
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