Looking beyond politics to save babies
Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life talks about her strategy for winning young hearts
Kristan Hawkins launched Students for Life America’s full-time operation in 2006 and has since helped grow its number of pro-life campus groups from 180 to more than 1,000 in all 50 states. I talked with her recently about the state of the pro-life movement.
You’ve said that even if you win the election, if you don’t win the hearts of young people, you’re ultimately going to lose the culture because they’re the ones that shape the future. Culture drives politics. Young people drive culture. We can have this great victory, be excited for the next 4 to 8 years, make all these plans of what we’re going to do in Washington, D.C., to “drain the swamp.” But if we don’t win these young people, the people that are in our high schools or in our college campuses, in 25 years they can come to Washington and erase everything.
How is Students for Life working to win the hearts of young people? We took a campaign-style approach of going on to the college campuses and really taking the offense, not being on the defense anymore in the pro-life movement. We went out, we found mainly Christian students, where they congregate on campuses, and we said, “Hey, we have a mission for you. We want you to join our organization and launch Students for Life on campus.” We’ve gone campus to campus. It’s labor intensive. We have a team of 33 employees spread out all across the country because it’s really about relationships. You’re asking students to give up their most precious asset, which is their time and also their reputation, their name on campus, to stand up for what’s right.
We train them in how to be effective leaders on their campuses. We don’t really have to train them on how to be pro-life. They know in their heart of hearts that abortion is a grave, moral wrong, but they just don’t feel comfortable talking about it.
How are you received on college campuses? I think what we’ve done with Students for Life has been unique for our movement because we took a campaign-style approach toward a social issue. I always joke to new employees and new team members, “Welcome to the political campaign that never ends.” It’s very much like serving in the political campaign where you’re racing to an election day. Our problem is we don’t know when that final day will be. We don’t know when abortion will be abolished.
Our motto is “Belong, believe, behave.” I was talking to someone earlier today about abortion in cases of rape. This is a gentleman who identifies himself as pro-life and he didn’t really know how he felt about abortion in case of rape. I said, “You know what, we were able to go to college campuses, secular, in major universities, and we were able to talk about rape and sexual assault and abortion. We get invited into the gay groups on campus. The LGBTQ groups actually invited Students for Life into their group because we first showed them that we loved them.
These young people have the right impulse that something is broken in the world and that they want to fix it. That’s right. You have to be able to tap into it. Young people, like all other previous generations of young people, they’re passionate. They see issues in black and white. Especially with our issue, with abortion. We talk about this as a human rights issue. They are literally just waiting for someone to tell them where to go and someone to tell them, “This is how you can make an impact.” This is a generation … that has grown up with the internet. They truly believe and they’ve actually seen first-hand how a group of young people can change the world. Think about the Arab Spring and Twitter and all the things we’ve been able to do that have changed our world and changed our nation.
I remember growing up, a lot of people didn’t wear seatbelts. Now if I get in the car, and I don’t put my seatbelt on, my kids correct me. It is amazing how social change can happen through young people. We often model ourselves after the anti-smoking campaigns. Where did they go first? They went into the schools. I remember as an elementary school student seeing pictures of the black lung. They had campaigns: “Kissing someone who smokes is like kissing a frog.” They had the young people going home to their parents saying, “Please stop smoking mom and dad, I don’t want you to die.” That is what we have to do with abortion.
We have to go into the schools. One, not only are these the culture drivers, but these are the people who are being targeted by Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood’s going after them for their dollars. We talk about defunding Planned Parenthood on the national level and the state level, but we also have to defund Planned Parenthood of the customer dollars.
Do you see an end to abortion? I’m very hopeful. Our vision at Students for Life is to abolish abortion in our lifetime. I think people kind of think that’s a little arrogant or kind of crazy, but that’s what we’re about. We believe in seeing the end to abortion. We’ve envisioned it, and that’s what we work toward. That’s one of the challenges I have when I speak with Christian audiences a lot is do we as Christians believe that abortion can actually be abolished? We believe in a God who spoke the world into existence but then we tell our friends, “Yeah, but we can never end abortion.”
Listen to Warren Cole Smith’s complete conversation with Kristan Hawkins on the Jan. 13, 2017 edition of Listening In.
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