[John Jalsevac reports for LifeSiteNews.com where this story appeared December 9, 2010. Reprinted with permission. Copyright ©2010 LifeSiteNews.com, Inc. All rights reserved.]
December 9, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In 1996 a sobering Gallup Poll was released that confirmed what many pro-life activists already suspected, but nevertheless hoped wasn't true: while 47% of women said they were pro-life when they entered college, by graduation, a whopping 73% said they were now prochoice.
Frighteningly, the pro-life movement was losing 26% of all female students who went through a university program. Clearly, if the movement had any hope of survival in the long run, more needed to be done to reach out to students.
At that time there already existed a group whose mission was to create a pro-life presence on campuses - American Collegians for Life. But without a full-time staff, and without a significant source of funding, there was only so much that the Collegians for Life, which was entirely student-run, could do.
In 2006, all of that changed. In that year American Collegians for Life received a sizable start-up grant, changed its name to Students for Life of America (SFLA), hired a professional staff, opened its first national headquarters in Arlington, VA, and launched its historic Pro-Life Field Program.
Since then, Students for Life has gone on to become one of the most active, and most successful, pro-life organizations in the country.
Meet SFLA executive director Kristan Hawkins
In fact, says Kristan Hawkins, SFLA's first executive director, their organization has been so successful in founding pro-life student groups, that they have far surpassed anti-life organizations in establishing a campus presence. When Students for Life launched in 2006, there were only about 180 pro-life college student groups in the whole of the United States. Now there are over 500, and more are being added every day.
Amazingly, Hawkins was handed the helm of the newly minted national pro-life organization at the tender age of 21 . She describes the process of getting SFLA off the ground as being akin to starting up a small business - interviewing and hiring staff, opening an office, doing the accounting, and developing all of SFLA's programs from the ground up.
She describes that time as "really exciting," but jokes that, "had I known how much work it was going to be, I probably would have given it a second thought instead of immediately saying, 'Yes, I'll take it!'" And for her, things have only gotten busier over the years, now that she is married and has two children.
But, she says, the hard work has clearly paid off. In the past five years, SFLA has grown to ten full-time and 2 part-time staff. Every year SFLA hosts a conference in Washington to coincide with the annual March for Life - this year they are expecting a record-breaking 1800 youth attendees, making it "the largest pro-life youth conference in the world."
And then, of course, there is the core of SFLA's outreach - those 530-plus SFLAaffiliated pro-life campus groups. That might sound like a lot, but for Hawkins it's only the beginning - the goal is to reach at least 1,000.
It's all part of an effort to build up what she terms a "critical mass," in preparation for the day when Roe v. Wade is overturned.
She points out that, "when that glorious day comes," there will be 50 statewide battles in the United States over abortion that will "need trained activists in the states." Hawkins hopes these activists will be SFLA alumni.
"They've been trained, they know exactly what works and what doesn't work," she says. "They're already ready. They're on the ground, they're in the states."
Campuses: Ground Zero of the abortion fight
Hawkins argues that an organization that focuses exclusively on students, and especially college campuses, is crucial because "this is where these girls are having the abortions, this is where Planned Parenthood is targeting for new business, and this is where hearts and minds are being changed. …