Over the past year, young people have received much attention for their involvement in the presidential campaigns, showing that youth can be a powerful force. On another front, tens of thousands of youths across the country have become involved in an issue just as important to them as a presidential campaign – the pro-life movement – and are showing that their voices and actions are just as passionate as those on the campaign trail. And, we believe, we're also changing the hearts of many people.
Still, it seems the media refuse to pay any attention to this particular form of activism among young people.
Along with dozens of others from Dallas, I experienced the vibrancy of the pro-life movement in mid-January during the 35th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. More than 200,000 people gathered around the Washington Mall to pray for life, but what stood out for me was the large number of high school and college-age students who were there, huddled in the cold, holding hands, praying and marching.
It re-emphasized to me that these are young people with conviction, not "weirdos," as many times we're stereotyped because of our stance.
A recent report from the Guttmacher Institute says that the number of abortions has dropped to 1.2 million a year. That's down 25 percent from a peak in 1990, according to the organization that supports abortions, but whose statistics are accepted as reliable even by many pro-life groups.
Some would say that the decline can be traced back to the morning-after pill that induces miscarriage. But maybe it's because more and more women who become pregnant and are thinking of an abortion are being changed because of prayer and counseling. They realize, like pregnant teenage actress Jaime Lynn Spears, that adoption is an answer.
Earlier this month, I joined more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of youths, at Bishop Farrell's Pro-Life dinner. We heard from the bishop, from an unwed high school student who chose to have her child and from Father Frank Pavone, one of the country's leading voices on pro-life. His message was that the youth, as influencers in our generation, are key to spreading the pro-life message across the country and that we have been successful in that effort. The sanctity of life is surely one of the issues that drew thousands of young Americans to celebrate Mass and even meet in small groups this weekend with Pope Benedict XVI.
For me, pro-life also is a personal mission, driven by my sister Rachel.
In the first few weeks that my mother was pregnant with her, doctors told my parents that the baby had a major heart defect and that she had Down Syndrome. They were told that surgery could correct the heart defect, but that Down Syndrome would require constant care. Abortion, they were told, was an option.
Although they were shocked to hear the news, I remember my parents telling us that abortion was never an option and that they would welcome Rachel as happily into the world as my "normal" brothers and me. Complications forced Rachel to be delivered early on May 8, 1997. She weighed only 2 pounds and spent nearly the next four months in the hospital, gaining weight so she could have heart surgery.
She came home for a month, but on the morning of Oct. 22, just as my parents were taking Rachel to the hospital for surgery, I remember waking up and begging them not to take her because, I said, I would never see her again.
Later that night, my parents told us that Rachel had died in their arms after surgery. I cried all night long. We were all devastated.
After her death, my parents, their friends and other organizations created a garden at St. Thomas Aquinas to remember the "little angels."
I'll always remember Rachel. Many like her, either "not normal" or unwanted because their parents were young, unmarried or poor, I'm sure, have not been given a chance at life.
Whenever I visit the garden, I pray for them and always read the inscription on the plaque to inspire me.
It says of Rachel, in part, "...her courageous battle for life inspired community prayer and reaffirmed that every life, despite the hardships, is precious and should be protected."
Mary Elizabeth Sedeño is a junior at the Cambridge School of Dallas and a Student Voices volunteer columnist.