The No. 1 question Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, hears from parents and grandparents is: “How do I talk to my kids about abortion?”
It certainly isn’t an easy conversation for adults, but children have a natural love of babies and understand that the life growing inside of a pregnant woman is, in fact, a baby. In order to raise our children to be pro-life, we start by nurturing that love. As they get older, we can be more up front with them about sexuality and how precious human life is, starting at conception.
“Children have a really strong instinct of what’s right and wrong,” says Lila Rose, founder and president of the pro-life organization Live Action, who converted to Catholicism at age 19. “That instinct should be a sign for adults of what’s right and wrong.”
Pray about your pro-life involvement
David Bereit, founder of 40 Days for Life and recent Catholic convert, advises parents to pray before beginning to teach their children about abortion. Ask God for guidance on what you will say and how your family will become involved in the pro-life movement. Discerning how that call to action plays out in your own family life is important.
“Really seek God’s will,” he explains. “If [parents] align themselves with where the Lord is moving them, that will be much more fruitful than trying to put a square peg in a round hole.”
Be honest with young children
When Rose first learned about abortion, she was just 9 years old. This moment in her life set her on the path to pro-life activism. She founded Live Action when she was just 15.
“I was really grateful that when I did find out about abortion, I was able to have a conversation with my mom about it,” Rose says. “She didn’t try to hide it from me but helped me to conceptualize it. It’s traumatic to learn about abortion. Abortion itself is traumatic. But when we learn about it as being something bad that’s happening but also that we can make the decision in our own life to value children, we can use our lives to make a difference for babies and mothers and follow that call to action.”
Hawkins advises parents not to go into detail when telling young children about abortion but to expect a lot of questions. The most obvious one is the question of why. Why would someone do this?
“It gives you time to say that those involved in abortion or promoting abortion don’t know the truth, and they don’t understand that what is inside of mommy is a baby. That the mommy’s scared,” Hawkins explains. “We have to help her. It helps to show the dichotomy that there’s right and wrong, there’s good and evil in our world. And this is what we fight for.”
Hawkins’ four young children, age 2 to 9, know what abortion is in a way that makes sense to each of them. She doesn’t get into describing an abortion procedure, but she is age-appropriately honest, and her children know that babies are dying.
Teach young children about human dignity
Bereit’s son and daughter were raised in the pro-life movement, beginning when they were a preschooler and an infant. They were right alongside their parents praying outside of abortion clinics for mothers, babies, and abortion workers. It was important, he said, that they learn about the dignity of every human being, even those working in the abortion industry. Bereit says that for younger children, discussing human dignity can be as simple as talking to them about how God created them as his children and how he creates everyone in his image.
One approach, says Bereit, is using the Visitation (see Luke 1:39–45). Explaining to young children that there were four people present — Elizabeth and John, Mary and Jesus — will make sense to them and place the seed of knowledge that an unborn child is a human being.
Adapt what you tell your children as they grow
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 17.2 million children in the United States (excluding California and New Hampshire) were aborted between the years of 1995 and 2014. The Guttmacher Institute says the total number is closer to 21 million. Not only have our children lost a large part of their generation to abortion, they are also at risk for having abortions themselves, or witnessing the abortions of friends, when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
As they get older, children will begin to ask more specific questions. As Bereit’s children began to take notice of the women exiting abortion facilities crying, his daughter, who was 4 at the time, connected the dots and asked if the doctors take the babies out of the mothers before they’re ready. He simply told her yes, that’s what happens and that’s why we need to pray.
When it comes to discussing abortion with preteens and teens, we can be more straightforward. Hawkins advises explaining to them how most people who abort are unmarried, and raising a child alone can be difficult. It’s a good chance to remind them, she says, that sex is best saved for marriage. A baby is a new human being who never existed before and will never exist again.
Use theology of the body to talk to preteens and teens
As Catholics, says Rose, we have a unique and beautiful resource that allows us to teach our children about human dignity — St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, in which he places an emphasis on sexuality as a gift and explains how to use it in a way that protects our human dignity. Theology of the body answers questions such as why we were created male and female, what it means to be human, what the purpose of marriage is, and how we can live our lives to create true happiness. It focuses on God’s plan for the union of the two sexes.
“Talking about theology of the body with young people is essential,” Rose says. “Our bodies are this incredible gift. Fertility is this incredible gift. Every child is a gift of God who creates that child with us. The antidote to abortion, as is the answer to many other abuses in our culture right now, is an embracing of theology of the body.”
Rose advises that Catholic parents use Catholic resources when talking to teens about saving sex for marriage with someone who shares their values and understands that marriage is lifelong and life-giving. Your teens may even take that knowledge to their friends.
Talking about theology of the body with young people is essential.
“We are required to share that information with those around us,” Rose says. “Our goal is to not only get to heaven but to bring others with us. Abortion is an incredible stumbling block on the path to heaven. It’s a big responsibility [for] Catholics, who have been given this rich teaching, to share it with those around us.”
Befriend other pro-life families
Bereit, whose wife and children are “cradle Catholics,” is seeing the benefits of raising his children with Catholic teachings. He sees in his children, now 16 and 20, a deep understanding of the dignity of the human person in how they treat other people and speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.
Exposure to other pro-life families will help to cement these ideas. Bereit says not to underestimate the profound impact that faithful pro-life people can have on your children. Exposure to these role models will allow children to learn through example.
“I never expected that I would look back and see the amazing spiritual and personal formation in my children and the leadership development and their ability to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not popular or convenient,” Bereit says. “Because they’re involved in the pro-life movement, I think that God is going to use them in a profound and mighty way to change the world.”
[Do not] underestimate the profound impact that faithful pro-life people can have on your children.
Try different pro-life activities
Bereit says it’s a good idea to try different aspects of the pro-life movement to find the right fit for your family. Pray at a 40 Days for Life campaign, volunteer at a pregnancy resource center, or get involved in a political campaign for a pro-life candidate. Learn about pro-life activities through your parish.
Teenagers and college students can also begin a Students for Life group. Through Students for Life, teens and young adults can educate their peers and begin programs to help pregnant students on their campuses. Students for Life also has a middle-school curriculum for preteens.
“It’s going to make them more courageous,” Hawkins says. “We have a lot of pro-life generation members and student leaders whose parents took them out to Planned Parenthood to pray when they were little or had them participate in the Right to Life parade. Look for opportunities like that.”
Don’t forget, advises Bereit, to lean on God through all of this. God will help educate your children at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. The grace of God will help them to grow at their own pace and their own developmental level.
“I find a lot of people wonder, ‘Can I make a difference?’” he says. “‘Can we as a family, can I as an individual, can I make a difference?’ Every pro-life project that has ever flourished, it was because one person did something in faith. So yes, one person can make an enormous difference — can save a life, can help somebody in a time of need, and can start or grow a pro-life project.
“As you are trying different areas to see what fits, realize the responsibility for the outcome is not on you; it’s on God. Realize that with God all things are possible.”
RESPECT LIFE MONTH
October is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Respect Life Month. For materials, visit CDmag.net/2Mj7qO6.
Book: Theology of the Body for Beginners: Rediscovering the Meaning of Life, Love, Sex, and Gender by Christopher West (Beacon Publishing, 2018)
Training: Theology of the Body Institute
Resources for parishes/groups:
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of Catholic Digest.