by Wayne Smith
Wayne: Profiles in Catholicism appreciates your great record of leadership and accomplishments at Students for Life of America, Do you remember when you were first aware of the concept of abortion?
Kristan: I was in high school when I first began to get interested in the greatest human rights violation of our time. I volunteered for a crisis pregnancy center, which truly ignited my passion to devote my life to ending abortion. I probably would have worked for NASA otherwise!
Wayne: Was this an issue that was discussed by your family when you were growing up?
Kristan: It was a little but I think I would have classified myself as prochoice before I started volunteering at the pregnancy resource center in high school.
Wayne: What were your motivations for devoting your life to defending innocent lives?
Kristan: The first thing I think about when I wake up is how can I try to stop the nearly 3,000 lives that are going to be taken that day by abortion, 888 of them by Planned Parenthood alone. It’s a huge driving force in my life to teach our students about the horrors of abortion, that it doesn’t have to happen and how to work to stop it. It’s a motivation to teach my own kids about protecting life and those most innocent among us.
Wayne: In parishes and Catholic schools do you find enthusiasm for the life issues?
Kristan: We do. Students for Life of America works with hundreds of Students for Life groups at Catholic schools and I speak at several of them during the year as well. The Catholic Church’s teaching thankfully resonates in these schools and with these students. In fact, it was many of our Catholic students who got stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for over 20 hours while they were returning home from the March for Life. They took the initiative to have the “Turnpike Mass” with an altar of snow. I was so proud of them!
Wayne: Do members of Students for Life of America have effective strategies for bringing the message of respecting all human life to the campus? Is there a different strategy for secular schools VS Catholic schools?
Kristan: We train thousands of students a year on pro-life apologetics, how to start a pro-life club, how to recruit members and be active, and how to effectively talk to their peers about abortion. We also have various campus displays that we bring to campuses every semester, like the Planned Parenthood Project, the Human Rights Tour, the We Care tour and our latest one, the We Don’t Need Planned Parenthood tour. Depending on our audience, we will tailor messages so that they resonate with particular groups but overall, our message of supporting women facing unplanned pregnancies and making abortion unthinkable is the same throughout all of our training.
Wayne: Where do you find your greatest support and the most opposition?
Kristan: The answer to both of these questions is people of faith.
Wayne: When you went to the March for Life this past January in Washington DC, you ran into physical attacks from the radical pro-aborts to the point that you and your Students for Life supporters were pushed and struck as you tried to speak on the steps of the Supreme Court. Have you noticed a more violent turn in the opposition to your defense of helpless babies by the radical, despotic far left?
Kristan: I think that the less a person values all life, the more they are willing to be violent. Also, we find that the abortion supporters are so angry. We never advocate any kind of violence to support our position. We need to embrace the opposition with love and compassion. Maybe they are hurting from past experiences with abortion or maybe they know someone who is hurting. We have to be loving.
Wayne: There are many who call themselves "Catholic" but they follow a very secular belief system that is nearly entirely opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church. How do you respond to these people when they oppose you?
Kristan: We don’t judge others for whatever their faith is or how closely they hold to that faith. We just really try to open their eyes to the horror of abortion and the pain it cases women and their families. We try to present every other option so that women facing unplanned pregnancies don’t feel forced into choosing abortion – and the likely physical, mental and emotional issues as a result.
Wayne: Do you see a trend for more young people embracing the life issues and, if so, what do they tell you?
Kristan: Absolutely. Polls indicate this generation is more pro-life than previous generations and Millennials in particular are responding positively to the message that abortion is the greatest human rights violation of their time. I think partly because of the inroads we have made into hundreds and hundreds of college and high school campuses and because of the technological advances of ultrasound, young people see abortion for what it truly is: the ending of an innocent life. They are so passionate on their campuses, they travel to the March for Life and Walk for Life, they pray outside of abortion facilities, and they engage their peers in conversations about abortion. I am so inspired by their passion and drive to not only end abortion, but help women facing unplanned pregnancies. This is the generation that is going to end abortion.
Wayne: What kinds of activities do the Students for Life of America get involved with on a regular basis and how can interested students get involved?
Kristan: We regularly hold training for our students on apologetics, creating and maintaining pro-life clubs, how to hold meetings and recruit, and how to create Pregnant on Campus programs. We also bring displays to dozens and dozens of campuses nationally that are educational in nature and aim to draw students in conversations and heartfelt discussions about abortion, Planned Parenthood, human rights, and the Center for Medical Progress undercover videos.
Students for Life hosts the world’s largest youth pro-life conference in the world in Washington, DC following the March for Life every year in January. We have incredible speakers and workshops and it’s always a great opportunity for students to get involved and go back to their campuses inspired and equipped to abolish abortion. We also host the West Coast National Conference in San Francisco following the Walk for Life that has been growing every year!
Wayne: There are many, according to polls, that see abortion as immoral, yet believe it should remain legal. How do you get them to take the step to accepting that abortion should not be legal and Roe v. Wade should be overruled?
Kristan: The hurdle that we see students trying to overcome is that they believe abortion is immoral yet they don’t believe that they have the right to tell a woman what to do when facing an unplanned pregnancy. We have experts in pro-life apologetics who work for Students for Life that address this conundrum. In the end though, they have to make the leap from not wanting to tell someone else what to do with her body to understanding that the baby is a life entirely of its own, with its own DNA, that has the same right to life as anyone else and that is innocent and does not deserve the death penalty. This view has to be accompanied by concrete ways for pro-lifers to help women facing unplanned pregnancies though. We have to be there for them, supporting them every step of the way, especially if they are feeling pressured to abort by the baby’s father or their family.
Wayne: Do you have any recommendations for how to reach pro-life politicians who are afraid to talk about abortion and/or Roe? Where have you had your greatest successes in talking to politicians?
Kristan: We have to show them that the pro-life position is a winning issue. We have to show them that the grassroots care about this issue and that a significant portion of the pro-life voters are going to look at this issue as the only issue they care about and decide how to cast their vote from there. We also need to thank the pro-life politicians when they do something really awesome and stand behind him. They face incredible pressure to cave on this issue every single day and when they don’t, when they stand up to the pro-abortion forces in government and the media, they deserve accolades.
I was part of the leadership that ran the Stop the Abortion Mandate coalition during the Obamacare fight in 2009. It was intense because we were demanding politicians vote against the bill because it funded abortion with taxpayer dollars but at the same time trying to support politicians who were standing strong against it. In the end, it came down to one pro-life politician, Rep. Bart Stupak, a Catholic, who caved to the pressure and took a horrible deal from Obama. He brought along about a half dozen other Members of Congress and the bill ended up passing the House of Representatives. We were so close to stopping Obamacare and the abortion mandate and it was a tough defeat. But almost every one of those ‘pro-life’ politicians who were the deciding votes lost their next election cycle and dearly paid the price for ignoring such a tantamount issue.
We have had success in getting legislators to pass pro-life legislation on both the state and federal level but if we don’t have a pro-life president, some of the bigger restrictions on abortion cannot be made law
Wayne: Georgetown University invited Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, to speak at their school. How does it affect you and your group when you see schools that are supposed to be Catholic giving a stage to a mass murderer? Is there strong opposition to such anti-life groups from the rest of the students or do they remain indifferent or silent
Kristan: Our Students for Life group at Georgetown is great. They are planning several pro-life events around the time of her visit and we have been supporting them every step of the way. Of course, it is disheartening to see Catholic universities give a platform to someone like Mrs. Richards, who openly opposes Catholic teaching on abortion. We believe these schools need to invite speakers and leaders who will help students to learn about Catholic teaching on life issues and talk about them persuasively to others.
Wayne: What would you say to students out there who do not consider the life issues at the top of their lists as they prepare for their careers?
Kristan: Everyone has different passions and you can certainly pursue a career and still keep the life issues at a prominent place in your life. In fact, we need that. We need more pro-life people in the media. We need more pro-life lawyers, teachers, salespeople, and in all other industries out there. To continue to create a pro-life culture, we need to be pro-life in every aspect of our lives, not just in our prayers or in our tithing. We need to be active in the pro-life movement and bring our friends into it in order to fully transform our culture.
Last year, Students for Life created a brand new program called Pro-Life Future, which is designed specifically to help young adults become active in the pro-life movement. We saw a need for young people who are no longer in college and have made their way into the working world but still yearn to be an active part of the pro-life movement. Pro-Life Future is that bridge and it has really taken off since the launch a year ago!
Wayne: Since you and your team founded Med Students for Life. what is your opinion on An Open Letter from Physicians to all Americans. signed by doctors and medical professionals which expresses grave concern over the actions of Planned Parenthood in selling fetal calling it " the most barbaric form of human trafficking"?.
Kristan: David Daleiden, who founded the Center for Medical Progress and went undercover to obtain those videos, did an enormous service, not only to the pro-life movement, but the entire nation. He was able to expose what many pro-lifers had suspected for years – that the abortion industry was in the business of harvesting and selling the body parts of aborted babies.
The videos were hard to watch. The callousness with which the Planned Parenthood executives, the abortionists and medical personnel discussed abortion and handled the mangled body parts afterwards was stomach-churning. But this is the truth about abortion and we have made it part of our mission to help to get people to see the videos and decide for themselves if they want to support Planned Parenthood any longer
Wayne: Students for Life is touring college campuses this semester with the We Don’t Need Planned Parenthood tour. Can you tell us about the tour and the inspiration behind it?
Kristan: The We Don’t Need Planned Parenthood campus tour was developed after the Center for Medical Progress were released and other alternatives to Planned Parenthood were demanded from taxpayers who were tired of subsidizing the nation’s largest abortion provider. The display consists of banners that make students aware of the alternatives to Planned Parenthood for comprehensive healthcare, minus abortion. Federally Qualified Health Centers outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities over 20-1, operate in all 50 states and offer a wider range of healthcare services. Additionally, FHQCs can help more people with taxpayer dollars than Planned Parenthood by providing more comprehensive healthcare services and energizing the local community with an increase in jobs and economic benefits to rural and poor communities.
We also have iPads for each tour stop that have three-minute highlight reel of the CMP videos that students can watch.
We are going to over 60 campuses this semester and so far, we have received great reactions from students. Many were not aware of the existence of FHQCs or that there were other alternatives to Planned Parenthood.
By conversing with students in a civil and compassionate way, we are able to dig deeper into the hearts and minds of college students and plant a seed. Just recently, a girl who was scheduled for an abortion talked to one of our Regional Coordinators at the campus tour display and had a really good, and emotional, conversation. She is in our prayers that she doesn’t go through with her appointment. If we weren’t on campus and if we weren’t ready to have those kinds of loving conversations, we would have never been able to reach this girl.
Wayne: In closing, we ask all of our readers to pray for your son Gunner and daughter Gracie and for a cure for cystic fibrosis.
Kristan: Thank you so much! I always ask people to please pray for a cure and if they can, to donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation /