Earlier this month, Students for Life of America returned to the Lone Star State to celebrate the Texas Heartbeat Act (SB 8), which bans abortions as early as six weeks when a preborn child’s heartbeat is detectable.
Signed by Governor Greg Abbott last month, the bill generated substantial media attention after high school valedictorian Paxton Smith criticized it during her graduation speech. In a now-viral video, Smith claimed that the pro-life legislation represented “a war on [her] body and a war on [her] rights.”
“I have dreams and hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does,” the valedictorian said.
“And we have spent our entire lives working towards our future, and without our input, and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us.”
Now, Smith may genuinely believe that she is standing up for women. But rhetoric like hers demeans women’s accomplishments by attributing them to abortion instead of their personal strengths and virtues.
In addition, it appears that she has also misunderstood the pro-life argument against abortion.
Organizations like Students for Life oppose abortion because it is wrong to deliberately take the life of an innocent human being. Pro-lifers are not forcing women to do anything against their will by defending the preborn, as the children we are advocating for have already come into existence.
Not only do we want every person to have equal protection from violence, but we want to ensure that women have the supportive resources they need when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
While Paxton and other pro-abortion protestors rallied in Texas to oppose SB 8, Students for Life’s demonstration countered their message by promoting values of life and human dignity.
In contrast to the other side’s rhetoric, Sarah Zarr, Texas and Southern Regional Manager for Students for Life and Students for Life Action, hopes that people who witnessed the demonstration she helped lead will see that the pro-life movement has the resources to care for women and their families.
“So we don’t need to have this fearful message of ‘Oh my goodness, it’ll ruin a teenager’s life if she gets pregnant or a college student’s life, that she can’t meet any of these goals,’” she said.
“Because what we do with Standing With You at Students for Life is make sure that, as women, we can accomplish our goals and have our babies. And those two things aren’t exclusive.”
While Smith and the rest of the participants protesting against the heartbeat bill classified their demonstration as a “youth rally,” Zarr noted that hardly any young people were present at their event.
In its coverage of the event, however, ABC Nightline claimed that a preteen girl had organized the pro-abortion rally, but Zarr refuted this point.
“I was surprised that they pinned [the rally] on a 12-year-old girl, saying that it was her idea and that she was the one who organized it, even though it was clear there were other community organizers there.”
During a speech that she read before a crowd, the 12-year-old girl referred to abortion as a “basic human right,” among other commonly cited pro-abortion slogans. For Zarr, the sight was “heartbreaking,” as it was clear the girl was just repeating things that people her age would not understand.
In contrast to the pro-abortion demonstration, except for one parent, everyone that Zarr brought to the pro-life rally was a fellow student. The prevalence of young people standing against abortion, Zarr speculated, is one reason why the protestors on Smith’s side became emotional at the sight of pro-life demonstrators.
“I think they just thought they were going to be unopposed. And I think Paxton thought that everybody was going to agree with her. And so then they were just upset when that wasn’t the case.”
The antagonism from the pro-abortion side against the pro-lifers was present at the start, according to Zarr. As Students for Life members set up for the rally, the other side started making offhand comments about their presence, prompting the group to respond with pro-life chants and productive dialogue efforts.
“We felt like we should get a chance to respond if they were going to talk about us,” Zarr said. “So we just started trying to speak the truth back to what they were accusing us of.”
Other hostile actions from the opposing side included an attempt to steal a bullhorn from one of the Students for Life members. At one point, someone from the pro-abortion rally also accused Zarr and her fellow pro-lifers of failing to care for young women who suddenly find themselves pregnant.
This led to one of Zarr’s student leaders sharing the story about the time she unexpectedly became pregnant in college and how multiple pro-life and government resources provided her with the alternative she needed to abortion.
“And the crowd literally went silent and just listened to her story that she told into the bullhorn, and then they had nothing to say back to her,” Zarr said. “And so they just kind of like, ignored it and moved on with their rally.”
The abortion supporters were not the only ones to ignore the student leader’s story, however. Nightline also neglected to include it in their report, something that Zarr believes is a shame, as it was testimony that needed to be heard.
“So here’s somebody who’s been through this situation that you’re saying you need abortion for, and it’s actually not true,” she said.
“And so I think if they’re going to accurately represent both sides, they should have showed, ‘Oh, here’s a woman that did it. And here’s why I’m saying that you can’t do that.’”
Despite the opposition from the other side, Students for Life intends to continue its efforts to reach others with kindness and awaken them to the need to protect preborn lives.