As she walked around the classroom at Mary Queen of Peace School in Webster Groves, Terry Trafton counted off the eighth-graders by groups of four. Instructing one group to stand up at the front of the room, she told the rest of the students: “Imagine they were never born. Now look at your class. Is it different? Just think about all the gifts and talents and personality these people bring to class. Your class wouldn’t be as good, would it?”
The group standing represented a startling statistic: In the year they were born (2005-06), one in four pregnancies ended in abortion. “This is a statistic that represents how we’re all victims” of abortion, Trafton said. “Twenty five percent of your peers are not here.”
That lesson was part of the Right START (Students Tackling Abortion Realities Today)
, a program initiated more than two decades ago by the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate to teach eighth graders about the sanctity of life and related topics, including chastity, fetal development and abortion. The program, which reaches about 2,000 students a year and receives support from the Annual Catholic Appeal, now falls under the auspices of the Office of Catholic Education and Formation
Students are effectively linking these topics as they gain a better understanding of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, said program coordinator Trafton. Of course, for the students, the most exciting part of their lessons is handling the life-like fetal models of babies ranging from 12 weeks to 30 weeks gestation, which gives them a clearer understanding of the preciousness of life inside a mother’s womb.
When a woman has an abortion, who suffers? Terry asked the students.
“The baby,” one student noted.
“The mother and father,” another said.
“Their family,” said another.
“Why does the mom suffer when she chooses abortion?” Terry asked.
“She suffers from emotional, physical and spiritual pain,” said student Maggie Duffy.
“That’s correct,” said Trafton, acknowledging that most women who have an abortion aren’t aware of those consequences.
Before their discussion, students watched a video that gave verbal explanations of the different types of abortion procedures. The video also included interviews with Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood manager turned pro-life advocate; and Chuck and Linda Raymond, a St. Louis couple who had an abortion in 1976 and now share their story to educate others about the pain that comes from abortion.
Students also discuss how to talk to a peer considering abortion and what to do if a friend says she’s had an abortion.They also discussed other scenarios, such as what happens when a doctor recommends an abortion for a baby that has been diagnosed in the womb with a disability, such as Down syndrome.
“You should 100 percent keep the baby,” student Aidan Brawer said, giving a decisive nod.
“God has a purpose for every one of us,” Terry said. “All lives are worth dignity and respect.”
Volunteer instructors needed
The Right START program is in need of volunteer instructors to teach the program to eighth-graders in Catholic schools and Parish Schools of Religion. Instructors should be practicing Catholics, with a full understanding of human dignity and sexuality, and must have a sensitivity to students of different backgrounds. Instructors must have a pastoral approach, as some students may already be knowledgeable about abortion, such as a relative who has had an abortion. Training and materials will be provided to instructors. For more information, email Terry Trafton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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