Teens learn to defend the pro-life message


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — Conventional wisdom says that kids can’t sit through a 15-minute talk without getting fidgety, according to Mike Spencer, Midwest director of training for the Life Training Institute. But the 46 teenagers at St. Wenceslaus Parish listened intently for more than three hours July 15 as he spoke about how to defend the pro-life message. Many stuck around afterward to ask questions and offer comments. “That’s not to my credit, it’s to theirs,” Spencer said. “They are engaged in this issue.”

A group of 46 teenagers attended a training session about defending the pro-life message July 15 at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City. Speaker Mike Spencer of the Life Training Institute is on the bottom right.

The talk, sponsored by Johnson County Right to Life, was intended to help teenagers break down the pro-life argument into two essential points. “They know the pro-life position is right, but what they haven’t been told is how to articulate it and argue for it in a meaningful way.”

Spencer explained that the first line of defense is scientific: the ability to explain what an unborn child is. “From the earliest stage it is a distinct, living and whole human being,” he told the teens. “This is the question the other side wants to gloss over; they assume an answer they haven’t actually argued for.” Because the science of human embryology makes a case that an unborn child is a distinct, living and whole human being from the moment of conception, “I think we can establish with good credibility the humanity of the unborn.”


The second part of this argument is to approach it from a philosophical angle. “What is it that makes us valuable as human beings?” Spencer asked the teenagers. “Either human beings are valuable because of what they can do, or they are valuable simply because they are human.” Pro-choice advocates do not seem to agree on what makes someone valuable, he said. “One might say, ‘it’s measurable brain activity;’ others say ‘heartbeat;’ others say ‘self-awareness.’ … This so-called view divorces humanness from personhood. It’s a completely artificial distinction.”

Spencer adamantly told the youths that their message will not be considered or heard without expressing a sense of compassion. He encouraged them to find common ground; for example, if someone argues for abortion in cases of rape, the pro-life advocate can first say that he or she agrees that rape is a horrible thing. Then, a respectful argument about the humanity of the unborn child, despite the circumstances of conception, can begin. “If you don’t have a heart of love, if you only think of spewing answers, you aren’t going to be effective,” Spencer said.

Sheryl Schwager, executive director of Johnson County Right to Life, said youths from three of the four Iowa dioceses attended the talk, as did youths from western Illinois.

Among the attendees were siblings Maria and Maylee Brown of St. Wenceslaus Parish. Maria, 15, joked that she was initially enticed to come to the event by the promise of a free T-shirt, which everyone in attendance received. What she got out of the event was “better than any free T-shirt … I learned how to destroy the ‘pro-choice’ argument without destroying the person, how to share my pro-life views with others, and the best way to defend the weakest in our society.”

Maylee Brown, 17, “learned how to explain that the only differences between us and the unborn are size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency, none of which are valid reasons to kill the unborn.”

Siblings Kieran, Maggie and Colin McDonald of St. Wenceslaus also attended the presentation. Kieran, 19, is a student at the University of Notre Dame. He looks forward to sharing what he learned with the university’s Right to Life group, of which he is a member. Maggie, 18, who will be a college freshman, says that what she learned will equip her as she participates in pro-life groups, as well. Colin, 15, is thinking about the future. “Those of us who swim against the cultural tide will naturally collide with those who ‘go with the flow,’” he said. He expects that pro-choice advocates will “lash out at me. Thus, I need to be prepared to answer their accusations, which I now believe I can.”

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