Are millennials the ‘pro-life generation’? Local students think so

Kelly Luttinen | Special to The Michigan Catholic

In public and Catholic schools, young people hard at work to end abortion

Madonna University student Dominic Romano takes a "selfie" at the Building Bridges to a Culture of Life conference in 2014 at Shrine High School. Photos by Tim Kelly

Madonna University student Dominic Romano takes a “selfie” at the Building Bridges to a Culture of Life conference in 2014 at Shrine High School.
Photo by Tim Kelly

Metro Detroit — You see the words emblazed on T-shirts, bumper stickers and parade signage: “I am the pro-life generation.”

Popular buzz calls them “millennials” — those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000 — and statistics seem to prove their slogan’s claim. A 2013 Gallup poll found 23 percent of those ages 18 to 29 believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances — the highest percentage of any age group — and nearly three-quarters believe abortion should be illegal in at least some circumstances.

Contrast that to 1991, when a full 36 percent of young Americans felt abortion should be universally allowed, and the cultural shift is apparent.

In addition to their growing numbers, pro-life millennials tend to be more passionate about the issue than their pro-choice counterparts. Nancy Keenan, former president of the pro-abortion group NARAL, lamented to the Washington Post in 2012 that, according to the group’s polling, 51 percent of young pro-lifers called abortion an “important voting issue,” compared with just 26 percent of pro-choice millennials.

Marian High School senior Irene Wilson and University of Detroit Jesuit High School senior Michael Kenney emcee the Building Bridges for a Culture of Life conference at Shrine High School in 2014. Photo by Tim Kelly

Marian High School senior Irene Wilson and University of Detroit Jesuit High School senior Michael Kenney emcee the Building Bridges for a Culture of Life conference at Shrine High School in 2014.
Photo by Tim Kelly

One of those passionate young pro-lifers, Christen Pollo, the 24-year-old executive director of Students for Life of Michigan, believes this enthusiasm gap is what will finally bring an end to abortion in the United States.

“These young people are getting involved in the abortion issue more than ever,” Pollo said. “Abortion has impacted our generation in a very powerful, tragic way. We have seen the effects of it on friends and family, and we want to do something about it.”

More than 40 Students for Life chapters exist today in Michigan alone, up from six when the group was started in 2005, Pollo said.

“That is an incredible development in just 10 years. And we’ve seen existing groups growing. There are thousands of us just in this state,” she said.

Membership in the pro-life movement isn’t limited to those who are religious, Pollo added.

“We’re not just Catholics and Protestants. We have liberal students and atheists, because they understand it’s logical and reasonable to be pro-life,” she said. “It’s supported by science and by philosophy.”

It’s not just college students, either. In Metro Detroit, students from both private and public high schools have shown a willingness to tackle abortion head-on, said Kathleen McNulty Wilson, volunteer coordinator for marriage, family and pro-life ministries with the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Wilson, who helps organize an annual pro-life youth conference in the archdiocese called Building Bridges to a Culture of Life, said participation in the conference has doubled since the inaugural event in 2003. The next conference, to take place April 9 at Mercy High School, will see at least 13 Catholic schools and two public schools represented, Wilson said.

Holly McGrath, a junior at Everest Collegiate High School in Clarkston and chairwoman for the 2016 conference, sees it as an opportunity to show her peers what being pro-life is all about.

“When I look around, at my own life and at stories the news does not cover, I see that there is a lot to be said for what is being accomplished in the pro-life community,” McGrath said. “I am especially encouraged by many of my friends who are motivated to stand up for the cause and have done so already.”

For many millennials, standing up for the pro-life cause involves going to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, which this year is today, Jan. 22.

Alexis Motschall, head of the student-run Prolife Club at Grosse Pointe South High School, believes events like the march are examples of how young people are “coming together to celebrate all life and proclaim life’s incredible value.”

Homeschooled freshman Ben Vidosh and junior Blake Smith contact prospective speakers for the pro-life youth conference Building Bridges to a Culture of Life via email while at the office of Mother and Unborn Baby Care (MAUBC) Problem Pregnancy Center in Southfield. Photo by Kathleen Wilson | Archdiocese of Detroit

Homeschooled freshman Ben Vidosh and junior Blake Smith contact prospective speakers for the pro-life youth conference Building Bridges to a Culture of Life via email while at the office of Mother and Unborn Baby Care (MAUBC) Problem Pregnancy Center in Southfield.
Photo by Kathleen Wilson | Archdiocese of Detroit

“I think there are many millennials who believe that abortion is morally wrong, but may be quieted by those around them,” Alexis said.

Approximately 1,200 people are attending the March for Life from the Archdiocese of Detroit, according to Wilson. So many people are expected that the rally held prior to the march at Washington’s Verizon Center has required the need for a second venue to accommodate them.

Wilson’s daughter, Irene, a senior at Marian High School and vice president for her school’s pro-life club, is one of those students participating this year.

While Irene hesitated to say she believed her generation is more pro-life than generations past, she agreed the intensity level among millennials for the cause is palpable.

“I’ve met a lot of people, even at my school, that believe it’s a woman’s right to have an abortion,” she said. “They think you can’t tell her what she can and can’t do. But I think the young people who are pro-life have a better understanding of the issue. They have taken the time to really understand their position.

“The media portrays pro-lifers in such a negative way,” she continued. “Those who don’t identify as pro-life, they seem to blindly accept those claims. But the ones who identify as pro-life are strongly pro-life.”

Those words ring true to Ted Devine, a graduate of Novi Detroit Catholic Central High School, who was involved in planning the 2014 Detroit pro-life youth conference and is currently studying at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

“I believe that anyone who is alive is in the pro-life generation,” Devine said. “I’m pro-life because I made it out of the womb when doctors said I shouldn’t. My life is my own, and no one else can make the decision of whether or not I should be on this Earth.”