As a requirement of Texas Right to Life’s Dr. Joseph Graham Fellowship for College Pro-Life Leaders, all Fellows attend a week-long training in Houston in the first and second years to equip them with knowledge concerning the many facets of Pro-Life issues and to build leadership ability. Last week, 29 of our second year Fellows, affectionately known as “Oldies,” attended their second week of training, which focused on medical ethics, Pro-Life political strategy, and apologetics training.
When the Oldies arrived in Houston on Sunday, May 20, Texas Right to Life Political Director Luke Bowen began training by imparting the importance of political involvement in the Pro-Life movement, encouraging the students to educate themselves about their elected officials and to help on political campaigns for like-minded individuals. This encouragement aided the students later in the week when they traveled to Brenham, La Grange, and Fayetteville to campaign for Texas Right to Life endorsed candidate Jill Wolfskill, who was running for the Texas House of Representatives. Although out of their comfort zone, one student shared that working the polls “showed me a new way to get involved in the Pro-Life movement.”
Sarah Zarr, Students for Life of America’s Texas Regional Coordinator, spoke to the students about the various ways they can support pregnant and parenting students on their college campuses, including forming parenting support groups and scholarships for students who choose Life. This discussion even led one Fellow to prioritize fundraising on her campus to create an endowment which would pay for childcare for parenting students at the university’s daycare!
Various Texas Right to Life staff members shared their expertise throughout the week. Development Director Elizabeth McClung led a seminar on fundraising and External Relations Associate Kim Schwartz trained the Fellows on leveraging social media to spread their college Pro-Life group’s message. Emily Kebodeaux Cook, General Counsel for TRTL, discussed the criteria used by the TRTL legislative team to determine whether a Pro-Life bill filed during the legislative session is a priority. She also trained the Oldies to lobby their elected officials when they visit the Capitol in Austin. Part of the Fellows’ lobbying training consisted of breaking into small groups and pretending to lobby Cook to vote for a Pro-Life priority bill.
Katie Burow of the Abortion Dialogue Academy spent ample time with the Fellows, teaching them new ways to dialogue with anti-Life students on their campus to convert them to being Pro-Life. The Fellows later put their training into practice and spoke with students on the University of Houston campus. While on campus, the Fellows had 103 conversations. 18 of the University of Houston students, who initially said they were in favor of abortion in certain circumstances, finished the conversation saying they opposed abortion in all circumstances and are now Pro-Life!
This second year of training also consisted of extensive talks on medical ethics, denial of treatment issues, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide. TRTL Legislative Director John Seago explained the Texas Advance Directives Act, a draconian law which allows Texas doctors and hospitals to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from a patient, regardless of their or their family’s wishes, after ten days’ notice, and Sandra Hollier followed with the story of her four-year-old son who died as a result of this abominable law. Hearing Hollier’s story, one Fellow said, “this put a face to the people we’re trying to protect.” One of the week’s most popular speakers was registered nurse Jenny Hamaan, who shared her personal testimony of hearing doctors’ desire to harvest her organs while she suffered from total locked-in syndrome, a condition in which a patient is conscious but cannot move or communicate due to paralysis of all voluntary muscles in the body. Finally, Burke Balch, former director of National Right to Life’s Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, lectured on the slippery slope of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide throughout the world and presented secular arguments against these practices.
Rounding out the week, the Fellows visited the Brookwood Community to meet the community’s citizens. Brookwood provides “spiritual, educational, & vocational opportunities for adults with special needs,” by allowing them to live in a community which caters jobs, activities, and housing according to the abilities of each resident. The Fellows spent the morning moving furniture and supplies so that citizens with specific physical disabilities would have a more comfortable living environment. Most of the Fellows pinpointed their visit to Brookwood as the highlight of the training. Each enjoyed the opportunity to acknowledge the innate dignity of these men and women whom our utilitarian society often deems useless or less than valuable than a person without a disability.
A week is a significant amount of time to ask college students to commit to an intensive training, usually consisting of 12-hour days with lectures concerning heavy topics. However, in evaluations at the end of the week, all students said the training was a valuable use of their time. “I have much happening in my life right now outside of training,” one student said, “but I know my time has definitely been best spent here this week, learning how best to defend Life on my campus!”