by Aaron Smargon ’11
Kelsey Hazzard founded and currently runs SecularProLife.org. She was an undergraduate at the University of Miami in Coral Gables and is now pursuing a law degree at the University of Virginia. At 21 years old, she is an emerging leader in what some have called, “The Pro-Life Generation.”
What was your motivation for founding SecularProLife.org?
It began when I was an undergraduate at the University of Miami and I ran the pro-life group there, and we always had a hard time finding pro-life literature that didn’t have some kind of religious statement. Even if it were otherwise perfectly scientifically accurate, it might close with a Bible verse. We thought that was really annoying, so we ended up making a lot of our own materials and I thought it would be nice to put it online for other groups to use. Then in January 2009 I went to the Students for Life conference and saw a lot of the same religious dominance, and I was inspired to create a group around that idea.
How many people do you estimate use your resources?
We’ve got around 230 people in our Facebook group. Students for Life of America have been very supportive, and they have emailed our publications to campus groups. And occasionally I’ll get an email from a regional pro-life group that says they’re using our literature.
Can you discuss the demographic make-up of your organization?
The demographic make-up of the organization is mostly students. We’re not officially a student group and there are older adults who chip in, but it’s definitely dominated by students. The religious make-up is actually pretty balanced. We have atheists who are very involved, and we also have Christians who think that the secular argument is valuable, even if they aren’t atheists themselves. The religious make-up is really nice, and everyone gets along.
To a majority of the religious community, and even the non-religious community, the term “secular” may denote “atheist” or “agnostic.” How are you working to combat this stereotype?
For us, “secular” doesn’t mean “atheist.” It just means “based in science” or “the kinds of the arguments that don’t rely on God.” I feel like you can be a secular pro-lifer and be Christian at the same time. The question that I would ask a Christian is: “If you lost your faith tomorrow, would you still be pro-life?” If your answer is yes, then you’re a secular pro-lifer.
Are there religious people who vehemently disagree with your position, who say, “For me, it’s really my faith in God that gives me my love and compassion for the embryo, for the fetus?”
Very rarely. They brought it up on Jill Stanek’s blog just last week. I had been featured on Bryan Kemper’s blog and Jill Stanek picked it up. The comments section had some people saying, “I’m only pro-life because I’m Christian, and if I weren’t Christian I’d think that abortion were okay,” which stunned me. That’s the only time I’ve ever come across that attitude. Mostly those people have been incredibly supportive. When we were at the Students for Life of America Conference this past year, our table was next to the Priests for Life table. I don’t know if they did that on purpose or not…. But several priests took the time to come over and thank us for being there, saying, “This has to be more than Catholics,” which I thought was amazing.
That’s interesting, because at the March for Life this year, which I attended, while there were some secular posters, it was predominantly Christian, Catholic really. Do you find this religious affiliation problematic, or do you embrace it as inevitable, considering that religious groups tend to be more activist-oriented?
Well, the March for Life is not terribly representative. You have churches that sponsor entire buses, whereas atheists don’t really have that organizational structure and they’ll just come in alone without signs. And so it’s kind of hard to make generalizations from the March for Life. I’m not saying that churches should stop caring; I’m just saying that non-church people should start caring.
On that note, pro-choice politicians espouse the statement, “Abortion is a decision between a woman and her God.” With what aspects of that do you disagree?
The problem is that if you believe in God, then any moral decision is between you and your God. That doesn’t mean that there are no rules for the government to ban theft or ban murder. They’re trying to use God like a trump card, which I find inappropriate, but the pro-life groups do it too, and I find it just as inappropriate.
Can you give me an example of a pro-life message that you’ve seen or heard with which you take issue?
Just the idea that if you’re pro-life, you’re Christian. You know, “We’re going to start a pro-life meeting with prayer, because we assume that there are no atheists here.” And if you’re going to take that attitude, then you aren’t going to get any non-Christians in your group—surprise! Some people use faith as a shortcut to group unity. They don’t want to take the time and effort to build bridges with different types of people and they would rather say, “We’re all Christians here and let’s get to work.” But when they do that, they miss out on a lot of people, and then the pro-choicers can say, “It’s just a religious thing, it’s not a human rights thing.”
Going back to the statement on abortion, do you believe it to be a woman’s issue?
I do think that the pro-life movement benefits when women speak out, and in my experience the female leadership in the pro-life movement is pretty substantial, particularly with Students for Life. At the same time, there is a place for men. Because abortion is a human rights issue, and because the children who died would have had a great impact on society, it really is everybody’s problem. I don’t want to discourage male involvement.
There’s some pro-choice propaganda poster that reads, “77% of pro-life leaders are men, and 100% of them will never be pregnant.” How did they reach that number? It just doesn’t square up with my experience, unless they take the entire priesthood and count them as anti-abortion leaders, which they probably did…. But definitely, women leadership is great.
What are some steps that college students can take to make their pro-life message more secular?
The main thing would be to advertise that you’re secular, because people aren’t going to know. Be serious: Don’t say, “We’re a secular group, and, by the way, the prayer ritual is next week.” Stay away from gay marriage, stay away from evolution. Concentrate only on life-or-death issues. Be careful about the literature you use, because even if you don’t intend for it to convey a religious message, it might because of the publisher’s religious background.
How do you envision the pro-life movement 30 years from now?
One of the things that we emphasize is that young people are more pro-life and less religious. If we’re the pro-life generation, then ultimately the pro-life movement is going to become more secular, even if current leadership doesn’t want that. Our goal is to help the pro-life movement transition into that and embrace the secular arguments so that we’re ready for the next generation of leadership. If we do that, then we can finally be successful, but only time will tell.
What do you mean by “be successful?”
Having a solid pro-life majority, whether or not Roe v. Wade is overturned. Bringing down the abortion rate dramatically. Having Crisis Pregnancy Centers as a resource everywhere, easily accessible. And having the general attitude be that abortion is unacceptable, unthinkable—the killing of a human being.