Editor’s Note: When the typical American thinks about the pro-life movement, they probably summon images of Catholics clinging to rosaries and Bible-thumping Evangelicals — in other words, a largely religious cohort. In truth, support for the pro-life cause is far more widespread, and no outfit illustrates the point better than “Secular Pro-Life,” a youth-oriented group founded in 2009.
Founder Kelsey Hazzard was in college, and in the process of drifting away from her Methodist upbringing, when she became convinced of the case against abortion and attended her first March for Life. She freely confesses she was a bit put off by the overt religiosity of it, and wanted to create a space for non-religious folk, especially her younger peers, to be both pro-life and also secular.
Hazzard has a slew of tips for religious pro-lifers looking to expand their coalition, most of which pivot on the core idea of not taking religious faith for granted, and not making it seem like a requirement to join the club.
Secular Pro-Life has a number of irons in the fire, including an on-line campaign to celebrate the lives saved over the last 40 years by the Hyde Amendment, the anniversary of which falls on Sept. 30.
Recently Crux’s Charles Camosy spoke to Hazzard about her organization, both its background and its current projects, and how pro-lifers motivated by religious beliefs can reach out to those who aren’t.
Camosy: You probably must get this question multiple times per day, but what is it like to be a non-theist within a set of pro-life communities dominated by religiosity?
Hazzard: We make it work. It helps that Secular Pro-Life is youth-led. (I’m 28, and my co-leaders are all in their 20s and 30s.) The Millennial generation is both the most pro-life generation since Roe v. Wade, and the least religious. There’s bound to be overlap.
Thanks to social media, non-religious pro-lifers can find one another and create a community of our own.
That’s not to say we’re isolationists, by any means. I work alongside Christians all the time. Again, age is a factor. Due to changing demographics, Millennial Christians are regularly exposed to differing points of view. Many have close friends who are not religious.
The anti-LGBT, “religious right,” fire-and-brimstone brand of Christianity doesn’t carry much currency with them. All of that facilitates Millennial Christian and non-Christian pro-lifers getting along well, in contrast to the culture war mentality that our elders historically espoused.
In my generation, Christians and non-Christians making common cause on human rights issues like abortion just isn’t controversial.
Older, more religious pro-lifers have generally been welcoming too, but it’s not always as smooth. Sometimes they have misconceptions about what atheism is, or are confused about why an atheist would be pro-life. I love it when they express friendly curiosity – I can talk all day!
Many devout Christians have thanked me for that conversation, because in the process, they’ve learned how to defend their pro-life beliefs without quoting the Bible or making arguments that rely on the existence of a deity. They’ve learned how they can broaden their audience.
Every now and then, a religious pro-lifer will give me a hard time. (In one memorable encounter, someone suggested that Secular Pro-Life was Satan’s attempt to infiltrate the pro-life movement. I retorted that if I had made a deal with the devil, I’d be a lot wealthier!)
But overwhelmingly, most of our opposition comes from abortion advocates.
Do you have any recommendations for religious pro-lifers when it comes to being more welcoming of pro-lifers who are not religious?
If someone is about to give a speech, and it opens with a prayer, I tune out. It’s not a matter of deliberate disrespect or hostility – I just assume that the speech isn’t meant for me. Same thing if your pro-life literature has a scriptural quote on it. Those things turn non-Christians away.
I realize this is a fine line, because I’m not trying to censor anyone or go to extremes. Like, yes, it’s totally fine for your pro-life group to throw a Christmas party! My point is: be mindful of your audience.
If your goal is to convince apathetic Christians to join the cause, quote as much scripture as you want. But if you’re out to make a case for life to the general public, lay off the God talk. Legally, religious considerations can’t form the sole basis for public policy anyhow.
You have to be able to justify the right to life on secular grounds too.
Once you’ve attracted non-Christian membership, you have to have stuff for us to do if you want to keep us. If all you have going on are prayer vigils, how are we supposed to participate? Put religiously neutral events on your calendar, like prenatal development displays, marches, and baby/maternity supply drives.
Can you say a bit about what Secular Pro-Life is up to as an organization?
So much! As I said before, we are a youth-oriented organization, so we do a lot of college speaking engagements. We’re at the Walk for Life and March for Life, and the corresponding Students for Life of America conferences, every January. We also do a lot of educating and advocacy on social media throughout the year.
But right now, our primary focus is our upcoming campaign to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment on September 30.
Well, the 40th anniversary of Hyde on Sept. 30 is nearly here. What kinds of initiatives will Secular Pro-Life be promoting around the anniversary?
The Hyde Amendment has prevented close to two million abortions since its enactment in 1976. Statistically speaking, if you were born on the Medicaid program after 1976, there’s a one in nine chance the Hyde Amendment saved your life.
Medicaid kids need to be heard here. The Hyde Amendment’s opponents are treating them as little more than an abstraction, “pregnancies carried to term.”
Our #HelloHyde campaign is all about bringing the faces of Medicaid kids onto the American twitter feed. No more abstraction. We’re introducing America to the human beings behind the debate.
Say #HelloHyde to Taylor; she’s a student at Texas A&M. Say #HelloHyde to Laura; she’s four years old and she can write her name. Say #HelloHyde to Stargift; she’s an aspiring midwife. One out of every nine people saying hello would be dead if the abortion lobby had gotten its way.
Their survival is worth celebrating!
How can people get more involved in supporting the Hyde Amendment?
If you’re under 40 years old, ask your family if you were born through the Medicaid program – and if the answer is yes, submit your photo to the #HelloHyde campaign! The nametag and instructions are all available at HelloHyde.org.
If you’re not a Medicaid kid, we still need you! Go to HelloHyde.org to learn all about the history of the Hyde Amendment and where we get the “1 in 9” statistic. Educate your friends. And of course, use the hashtag!
On September 30, you’ll be able to tweet #HelloHyde photos directly from the website. Be an amplifier for the pro-life message.
The Hyde Amendment is under attack precisely because it has been such a major victory for disadvantaged children. The entire pro-life movement, of every faith and none, must rally to save the next generation of Medicaid kids from government-subsidized destruction.