Standing as a pro-life advocate on college campuses in 2022 is not for the faint of heart. From event flier defamation, stolen literature on crisis resources, angry groups shouting them down, to school administrations shutting them down–Students for Life of America (SFLA) leaders have experienced it all.
While the outrage over pro-life speech has historically enraged abortion radicals across the nation, SFLA is seeing a major uptick in violent reactions to tiny baby models of children in the womb. In some ways, reactions to baby models have become more violent with models stolen, broken, and even thrown into sewers.
Take it from SFLA leader at The State University of New York at New Paltz. When tabling on campus, she had a tense exchange with an anti-life student who saw the baby models and printed material revealing the harsh realities of abortion.
When SFLA’s leader knew the student wasn’t finding common ground in their conversation she picked up the 9-month-old baby model and asked if it was a life. The anti-life student replied, “I don’t know if you know this, but that’s not a real baby!” She continued, “That’s not how a fetus looks!” When the student said a preborn baby should be smaller and SFLA showed the earliest gestation model, the student replied, “Wow! There is SO much misinformation here!”
It is one story of many faced by SFLA groups who aim to equip and educate their peers about abortion. As the lack of civil discourse becomes increasingly worse on campuses, we asked licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Dathan Paterno, to provide insight into the heart of the matter.
Dr. Paterno is the Clinical Director of Park Ridge Psychological Services and spoke to the social psychology of college-aged students. “Young people are more attuned to and therefore susceptible to social media,” said Dr. Paterno. “Rather than listen to what a small group of family and friends say about a topic, today’s young people get their cues from Instagram influencers and other extremely left-wing media.”
Michele Hendrickson, SFLA Director of Strategic Initiatives, witnessed this firsthand as a Regional Coordinator for SFLA on campuses. “The amount of times baby models are stolen is increasing, but it’s all about getting the viral reaction,” she said. “It’s oftentimes about what viral reaction can I get or what can I post about this opposing view for social media.” Dr. Paterno stated that extreme language encourages extreme thought and behavior, often with the goal of increased visibility on social media. The more extreme the behavior, he noted the more likely a video will go viral.
Hendrickson spoke about the time when Johns Hopkins University placed a ban on models of preborn babies at various stages of development from being shown on campus. When a pro-life student group displayed baby models, students reported them as ‘disturbing’ which prompted university action.
“Because most universities kowtow to liberal and left-wing groups, left-leaning university students feel emboldened to do and say more extreme things,” said Dr. Paterno. “They know they will have the full support of school administrators, since most of them are virulently pro-abortion. Universities have basically communicated the following: “You can speak or behave in any way you like, as long as it reflects a liberal cause or principle. We’ve got your back.”
SFLA receives frequent pushback from universities including the group ‘Rattlers for Life’ at a private university who will be banned from posting fetal development pictures as this semester concludes. When a university sends liberal students the signal that they are above accountability, why wouldn’t students become violent toward conservatives who don’t share their worldview? Dr. Paterno added, “Violence like this wouldn’t occur at a rodeo or church service, because students would know that it wouldn’t be tolerated.”
When SFLA President Kristan Hawkins holds speaking tours across college campuses in the U.S., she is forthright and witty when participating in questions and answers from the student body. In an epic meltdown from a student defending abortion, Hawkins referred to her as ‘fetus-phobic’ which spurred a visceral reaction from the student who was in fact stating views that suggested she was afraid of the preborn. These students appear to believe that they can hurl whatever insults or misinformation pop into their heads at pro-lifers, but demand to be completely immune from criticism or rational questions themselves.
When anti-life activists believe they dominate the entire campuses’ view on a subject to then be met with the Pro-Life Generation who fiercely oppose the lie that abortion isn’t morally corrupt—they rarely seek to strengthen their arguments and come back better equipped to defend abortion in their speech, and instead resort to violence, vandalism, and vulgar and nonsensical verbal attacks to cram down their view.
Dr. Paterno observed, “Violence almost always stems from insecurity. Leftism’s concentrated focus on victimhood breeds a great deal of insecurity and rage. If you are a victim—let’s say of patriarchy or whiteness—then you have been devalued. What does one do to increase one’s value? Either lift oneself up or bring others down. Leftism preaches and glorifies the latter.”
The truth is that while abortion is always deadly for the preborn, it brings a great deal of physical, emotional, and mental trauma to the mother. Hendrickson stated that the truth hurts and for those who have faced abortion or have a friend who has, seeing a baby model brings a wave of reality of what has been done. And it is often met with anger.
“It’s painful, but rather than moving through and healing, most reactions are anger,” said Hendrickson. “You have to spend your life lying to yourself that killing the preborn is acceptable and when someone puts you face to face with a baby model and the consequence of abortion, hurt people step down in their anger even harder.”
Hendrickson notes that breakthrough does happen as SFLA tables on campuses as she herself witnessed the realization of a woman who had an abortion. After spending time gazing at a fetal display diagram on late term abortion, the woman asked her if this is how it worked to which Hendrickson confirmed. The woman began crying as she said, “That’s not what they [abortionists] told me.”
SFLA believes being pro-life is morally uncomplicated. Our work defending the preborn is too important to remain quiet or lukewarm on. Our fearless student leaders will continue to have difficult conversations even in tense environments because life unequivocally matters.
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