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Natasha Hamilton held a model of a 22-week-old fetus at the Right START program at Christ Light of the Nations School. The program teaches eighth-graders about the sanctity of life and related topics, including chastity, fetal development and abortion.
Natasha Hamilton held a model of a 22-week-old fetus at the Right START program at Christ Light of the Nations School. The program teaches eighth-graders about the sanctity of life and related topics, including chastity, fetal development and abortion.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Eighth-graders get Right START on life issues

Program teaches chastity, sanctity of life

Eighth-graders at Christ Light of the Nations School excitedly passed around several babies in their classroom.

These weren’t live babies, just models made of rubber — one was 12 weeks gestation, and another was about 30 weeks gestation. As the students gently jiggled the babies in their hands, they asked pointed questions about pregnancy and fetal development: What are trimesters? Do I have eggs in me right now? Can an unborn baby feel pain?

The 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, now falls under the auspices of the Office of Catholic Education and Formation and is in need of additional instructors as it expands to more schools and Parish Schools of Religion.

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. In class, student Nadia Davis summed it up when she said God “made you how he wanted you to look.”

Terry Trafton, coordinator of Right START, explained to students that at the moment of conception, each one of them was created by God as a unique individual, different from anyone else. “He put that much thought into creating you,” she said. “God is the divine artist.”

After a video on fetal development and subsequent discussion, Trafton shifted the conversation to the topic of abortion. Students watched another video, which gave verbal explanations of the 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, who had an abortion in 1976 and now share their story to educate others about the pain that comes from abortion.

Trafton told students that it’s important to understand what abortion is as they enter high school, and because it’s a topic that is “really big in America right now.”

“We tell them that information is powerful, but information and action is even more powerful,” Trafton earlier told the Review. “Many young people are not given the facts on these issues to make good decisions. It empowers them to make a difference and enables them to change the world.”

Trafton noted that the program’s content has evolved over the years to address rapidly changing needs, including a component on same-sex attraction. The program also includes an information session for parents to attend, with the premise that parents are considered first teachers of their children.

Instructors must have a pastoral approach, as some students may already be knowledgeable about abortion, such as a relative who has had an abortion, or other related issues. “It’s about having healthy conversations,” she said. “We want to hear from the students, too, and we need to be sensitive to their backgrounds.”

Office of Respect Life, Family and Social Responsibility

Cynthia Haehnel has been hired as director of the archdiocesan Office of Respect Life, Family and Social Responsibility. The new ministry group will expand upon staff collaboration in order to develop a greater awareness of the spectrum of all pro-life issues, and to uphold the dignity of all persons from conception to natural death.

Haehnel is an attorney and most recently worked for the Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services, helping children in foster care achieve permanency. She has a bachelor’s degreen from Western Illinois University and a doctorate in law from John Marshall Law School. She is a board member of the St. Thomas More Society of St. Louis, and former co-chair of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Committee, and the Missouri Catholic Conference Public Policy Committee. Haehnel has five children and is married to Deacon Fred Haehnel. They are members of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in St. Charles.

>> 43rd annual Respect Life Convention

The 43rd annual archdiocesan Respect Life Convention will take place Sunday, Oct. 13, at the St. Charles Convention Center. Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood manager turned pro-life advocate and author, will be the keynote speaker. Johnson’s story was featured in the 2019 film, “Unplanned.” She is the founder of And Then There Were None, a ministry that assists abortion clinic workers who wish to leave the industry.

Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso will celebrate Mass at 9:30 a.m., followed by the keynote luncheon and awards ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Two rounds of workshops begin at 2 p.m. Topics include natural family planning, consistent and compassionate pro-life messaging, pro-life successes in the states, pro-life bioethics, emotional virtue and screen addiction.

Tickets for the keynote presentation and luncheon are $50 per person, $500 for a table of 10 and $25 for students, seminarians and religious in formation. To purchase tickets, contact the Respect Life Apostolate at (314) 792-7555 or register online at stlrespectlife.org by Oct. 1.

>> Right START 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 will be provided with training and materials. For more information, email Terry Trafton at terrytrafton@archstl.org.

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