EUGENE — The principles of human rights and the discoveries of science have brought more and more young people into the pro-life movement.
The dynamic was on display Feb. 4 when the niece of the most famous figure in U.S. civil rights visited Marist High School here. Alveda King, the 62-year-old niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed support to students who have become pro-life activists.
"The movement really does belong to the young now," said King. "It is going to continue to grow. This generation will usher in the fall of Roe v. Wade."
King, a former Georgia state legislator who lives in Atlanta, contends that her famous uncle was "very pro-life." She joined about 100 protesters, about half of them students, outside Planned Parenthood in Springfield. The group prayed the rosary and sang hymns. A few drivers honked in support and several people yelled angrily.
King says she does not get challenged by people in the civil rights movement who are pro-choice. "Deep down, they know I'm right," she said.
King believes women do indeed have a right to do what they want with their bodies. The problem, she said, is that science has show that an unborn baby is not simply part of the mother's body, but is a distinct being.
King criticizes abortion provider Planned Parenthood for carrying out "Black genocide." The organization's founder, Margaret Sanger, is thought by some to have been racist. And now, Planned Parenthood has what is at least a cynical business plan. It intentionally locates its centers in African American neighborhoods; minority women get abortions at a much higher rate than white women.
Like her uncle, King is a strong advocate of peaceful protest. "You can't be pro-life if you go and bomb a clinic," she said. Her own family home was bombed during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
King is not Catholic. But she works for Priests for Life, helping the pro-life organization reach African-Americans. She is a member of Silent No More, a group of women who speak out about the problems they experienced after having abortions. King terminated two pregnancies before having a religious turnabout in 1983.
"I made the wrong choices and they hurt me," she told a gym filled with the entire Marist student body. "I made the right choices and they healed me."
King said she believes young people value life more now than they did in the past two or three decades.
"It's definitely a younger generation of pro-life leaders," said Tate Rupp, a sophomore and president of Marist for Life. "In addition to faith, science now shows that life begins at conception. That's very convincing. It's life when the cells start to divide. We just need to ask, 'If you can kill a child in the womb, why not a 2-year-old?' It's a matter of life, religion or not."
Rupp, a member of St. Alice Parish in Springfield, says the club is not meant to be political or even confrontational. The main ministries are prayer and educating the wider public on the pro-life issue.
The club, with about a dozen members, began four years ago. The impetus was President Obama's first act in the Oval Office — allowing non-governmental organizations to perform or promote abortion overseas even if they receive federal funds.
"The kids are brave enough to go against culture, but culture has kind of changed," said Heidi Sušec, a Marist theology teacher who is advisor to the student pro-life group. "The club has changed the culture here at Marist."
King's visit was funded by the Portland-based Storms Family Foundation. It was Rosemary Storms Montgomery, a member of St. Mary Parish in Eugene, who suggested that King come to Marist.
"These young people are the survivors," Montgomery said. "They know that many of their peers are not here because of abortion."
Jay Conroy, Marist principal, is an enthused backer of Marist for Life. When he practiced as an attorney, one of his most fulfilling tasks was helping distraught pregnant women find adoptive families for their babies.
"I am really grateful to you for stepping up," Conroy told the pro-life club, which draws students willing to speak out.
"If we don't speak for them, who will?" said Maddi O'Bannon, a freshman.
"I thought it would be a good way to carry out my Catholic ideals," said Jack Kiesewetter, a sophomore.
After leaving Marist, it's more challenging to be pro-life, says Haley Marsh, a 2012 graduate who now is a nursing student at Lane Community College. She has remained an activist. "It's hard when we are surrounded by people who are against us," said Marsh. But she believes her generation is not prone to be pulled one way or another by interest groups.
"We just know what is right," she says.
The pro-life message is not usually heard at the University of Oregon, said Amanda Rudd, president of University of Oregon Students for Life. That's why Rudd invited King to make an appearance at UO after the Marist talk.
"My generation saw the hippies and free love and we stayed neutral," says Ed Krupka, a member of St. Paul Parish in Eugene and a local pro-life leader. "Now we're telling the next generation to look out. We need to stand up to this."