Annual National Pro-Life Summit draws 3,000 high school, college students

Ellen Wittman, a junior at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, speaks at the Pro-Life Summit in Washington Jan. 25, 2020. The event, held by Students for Life of America, drew more than 3,000 high school and college students, which organizers said was its biggest crowd for the annual event.(CNS photo/courtesy Pro-Life Summit)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke drew loud cheers from a Washington crowd Jan. 25 when he said of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton: "We intend to have these decisions completely repealed."

In 1973, in Roe and its companion case, Doe, the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand nationwide.

He was a speaker at the annual National Pro-Life Summit the day after March for Life on the National Mall, which featured President Donald Trump speaking from the platform. Trump was the first sitting president to address the rally in person.

A conference video drove home the point that elections matter. It included images of a smiling Trump; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who supports legal abortion; and Trump's two Supreme Court appointments, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, considered the president's top pro-life court appointments.

Cardinal Burke hailed Trump's rally appearance as "a historic moment," adding, "All of us are those responsible for kicking forward the respect for human life in our nation."

The National Pro-Life Summit drew more than 3,000 high school and college students to the Marriott Marquis. Organizers called it the biggest crowd they've had.

Sponsoring organizations included Students for Life, Live Action, the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom.

Young people are the conference focus because, as one speaker observed, all of them were born at least 25 years after Roe v. Wade was decided; they can see abortion as the taking of a human life and not a constitutional right; and they can be trained in pro-life advocacy in workshop sessions.

"We have to decide whether we're the first post-Roe generation this year," said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life. Or as Kay Cole James, president of the Heritage Foundation, put it as she began her speech, "You little adorable deplorables!"

It was a full day of networking and swag selling as well. One table sold Patriot mobile phones, a company that promises none of its fees go to support abortion. Another group, Love Facts, promoted chastity. 64 organizations were represented.

Among the 30 workshops were "When (and How) to Sue Your School" and "Inside the Brain of the Unborn," and sessions on how to enter media, politics, medicine and law as a pro-lifer. Nearly half instructed students on political tactics, legislation and attracting women voters.

Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration, and before that, a vice president of Heritage Action, the conservative policy advocacy group.

"Your numbers never receive the attention they deserve by the mainstream media, but every year, your families and your communities see someone who cares so much about this truth you hold dear that you march," Vought said.

He credited himself for the Trump administration's recent decision to deny $60 million in Title X funds to Planned Parenthood. He added, "We want to defund Obamacare, too."

"President Trump is the most pro-life president in history based on the advances he has made for the pro-life movement," Vought said. "I can tell you that when decisions advance to the Resolute desk, he always sides with life."

Vought listed other achievements, including the appointments of 187 conservative federal judges, and the reinstatement of the so-called "Mexico City" policy, which prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations from promoting abortion if they want receive U.S. health aid.

The ban was first instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, and upheld by President George H.W. Bush. It was overturned by President Bill Clinton as soon as he was inaugurated in 1993; President George W. Bishop reinstated it in 2001. It was overturned by President Barack Obama immediately after his first inauguration as president in 2009. Trump reinstated it when he took office in January 2017.

"Folks, all this was done in the past three years," Vought said, adding that more could be accomplished "hopefully in the next four years."

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who in 2013 signed a bill requiring doctors to show pregnant women a sonogram of their fetus if they were considering an abortion, said: "The abortion industry and the news media -- sometimes indistinguishable -- provide a false narrative about abortion."

James, in her remarks, said: "The president of the United States can never make America great again until we secure the rights of every pre-born child. One of the most pro-life things you can do is vote."

"The most terrible lie the abortion industry tells us is the fiction that they are on the side of women and they stand for feminine power," said Charmaine Yoest, a vice president of the Heritage Foundation. "Our mission is to hold out an alternate story: To tell women that they can still face the future."

The conference's high political content was familiar to Ellen Wittman, a junior at Miami University of Ohio and a Catholic who heads the Students for Life chapter there. Her brother Bob is press secretary for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

"I would say that I'm very involved in the political process," she said in an interview with Catholic News Service. She helped with lobbying for a bill signed into law in April 2019 by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected on an ultrasound, usually around six-weeks into the pregnancy. Three organizations have sued to stop the law.

"I think a lot of people are single-issue voters, and I think pro-life is one of the issues they focus on," Wittman said.

She praised Trump's speech for a particularly Catholic line that said, "Children are made in the image of God."

"When he hit that point, it definitely made the Catholics aware," Wittman said.

Charlotte Pence, a daughter of Vice President Mike Pence and author of "Where You Go: Life Lessons From My Father," was the keynote speaker at the evening session. She spoke of helping her father prepare for questions in the vice presidential debate against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia in 2016.

"Of course, one of the most difficult ones was going to be about abortion. I wanted my dad to really practice his answers," she said.

At first, his answers in the practice debate "were more fact-based" about legislation, "but I knew that he had such a heart for these people; he had such intense compassion for men and women in that situation," Charlotte Pence said. "And I knew that his reasoning doesn't come from a place of judgment at all. It comes from a place of love, for that child, for that mother, and for the communities that abortion affects."

As a result, Pence instead asked Kaine to consider St. Teresa of Kolkata -- who once said abortion was "the greatest destroyer of love and peace" -- and promote adoption as an alternative to abortion.