After attending the Generation Life pilgrimage for the first time as a freshman, Anna Jones marched back to St. Louis, determined to start a pro-life club at Kirkwood High School.
At the end of their pilgrimage, Generation Life teens were invited to make a personal commitment to life issues — thus how Pioneers for Life was born.
"Going on the march and seeing that there were a good number of pro-life people there, I said, there's got to be some people at Kirkwood who believe what I believe," said the member of the youth group at St. Gerard Majella in Kirkwood.
By the beginning of sophomore year, Pioneers for Life was off the ground and running, with nearly two dozen people attending the first meeting. The group organized a debate on abortion, and outside of school held a fundraiser for a local pregnancy resource center. Students also focus on other life issues, including service for the elderly, and have done research on life issues, integrating that into their schoolwork where possible.
Anna said her Catholic faith drives her, but she has made it clear to others in the club that not everyone will have the same faith-based views on life issues. "It comes down to respect," she said. "I told them, we don't need to have one more thing between us. Let's just focus on what we can do for the unborn and what we can do for each other and grow from there."
Pioneers for Life is currently on hiatus, but as a senior, Anna is determined to hand off the group to younger students to bring it back next year. She said the challenges she's faced — she's received some push back from some students and faculty and had her house vandalized twice — is a cross she is willing to bear.
"It has been the biggest blessing to go to a school where I am constantly challenged to carry a cross, to help people carry their cross and to lean on the cross," she said. "It's given me the opportunity to stand up and be who I am called to be."
When Pat Coughlin called to reserve a spot for the Missouri Life Caravan, she didn't know a single person going on the trip to Washington, D.C. But as it turns out, Coughlin was well-known by members of Missouri Right to Life, which organizes the annual bus trip.
Missouri Right to Life had come to Coughlin's defense, when in the mid-1990s she was fired from her teaching job as an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis. With a doctorate in social work and master's in nursing, Coughlin taught a course called Child Development through the Life Cycle. During that class, she showed students "The Silent Scream," a 1984 documentary that used ultrasound images to show the horrors of abortion in graphic detail.
"I gave them the opportunity to stay or leave," recalled the now 82-year-old member of St. Justin Martyr Parish in Sunset Hills. "Four of the girls left the room, went to administration and tried to get it stopped. A couple of days later, the administration called me in and I lost my job." Coughlin said she was given other reasons for the termination, but members of Missouri Right to Life stood outside of the school in protest. Local and national media picked up the story, and Coughlin was invited to appear as a guest on WGNU (920 AM).
"As a result, Chuck Norman, who owned the station at that time, asked me if I would like my own show," she said. "He liked my voice, and he liked what I had to say." The show, "What's Up Doc," aired for 13 years, and Coughlin used every opportunity to talk about pro-life issues.
"So instead of being able to talk to 20 kids in a classroom, I was able to talk to thousands and thousands of people about pro-life issues," she said.
This was Coughlin's first year attending the March for Life — her work schedule, plus helping care for a grandchild with special needs, kept her away. "This was always on my list, I always wanted to do it," she said. "This year, I knew I was supposed to come."
Alexis Carrasquillo, Zita Myers-Carrasquillo
Alexis Carrasquillo believes that "everyone deserves a life." That's why she was inspired to attend the March for Life with Rosati-Kain High School.
It was the first march for Alexis and her mother, Zita Myers-Carrasquillo, who came along as a chaperone. Alexis called the experience "awesome," although she said "there were some things I didn't want to see," referring to some graphic images of aborted babies along the march route.
For Alexis and her mother, taking a stand for the unborn has been the newest link in their efforts to support life at all stages. Alexis has been a member of Teens on a Mission, a volunteer organization started out of their parish, St. Matthew in north St. Louis. The group does service projects in the Ville and other places, including volunteering in soup kitchens and making meals for homeless people. The mother and daughter also are involved with another organization, Top Teens of America and Top Ladies of Distinction, where they have participated in charity walks and other service projects.
Prior to the march, Zita said she had never discussed the topic of abortion with her four daughters (Alexis is her youngest). But coming on the march gave them that opportunity.
When asked why it's important to stand up for the unborn, Alexis said: "Everyone deserves a life. It's horrible what (abortion) does to babies. I don't see how anyone could do that. Even if you don't want the baby or can't handle it, you can put (the baby) for adoption. They should get a chance to see the world."
>> Pro-Life Women's Conference
A national conference for pro-life women will be making a stop in St. Louis this summer.
The Pro-Life Women's Conference will take place June 22-24 at the St. Charles Convention Center. Hosted by And Then There Were None Ministry and the Alice Paul Group, the conference includes speakers, breakout sessions and panel discussions to help women become more active in the pro-life movement.
The first Pro-Life Women's Conference was held in 2016 in Dallas, Texas. Abby Johnson, pro-life activist and founder of And Then There Were None, said the conference is especially targeted toward young women to give them information on the various components of the pro-life movement. The conference also will include a focus on self-care and preventing burnout.
"Abortion is not just a women's issue, but the abortion industry certainly targets women unlike men," said Johnson. "Being able to rise up as a collective and come together and say we as women who are being targeted by abortion reject abortion — that's a really powerful statement for women to make."
Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director, said she is inspired by the growing number of young people involved in pro-life issues. "One of the reasons that this generation is so pro-life is that their first baby pictures of themselves were in the womb," she said. "They are able to see how truly vulnerable they were in their mothers' wombs."
To register for the Pro-Life Women's Conference, see www.prolifewomen.com.
— Jennifer Brinker