The St. Louis Archdiocese is sending a record number of young people to Thursday's annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., since it first began its coordinated "Generation Life" pilgrimage to the event three years ago.
More than 2,000 St. Louis area Catholics will join hundreds of thousands of others at the nation's capital to call for an end to legalized abortion during the march. Filling 39 buses, the St. Louis group leaving Wednesday evening for D.C. includes high schoolers, university students, chaperones and volunteers from more than 60 parishes, schools and youth groups.
Youth ministry director Tom Lancia said the group is predominantly young people, who want to find "active ways" to make a difference in the world.
"They may not be able to vote, but they can show they are going to vote in the future, and that they want this world to know that life does matter," he said. "As young people become voters, those who are pro-life, it's a big issue for them."
For high school students and three-time marchers Colleen and Katie Gosser, the issue is personal. The pair were so-called "mono-mono" twins, meaning they shared an amniotic sac in the womb. Mother Francie said her daughters faced a 50 percent chance of survival because of the risk that their umbilical cords would become tangled and threaten their lives.
"The doctor told us they were a freak of nature," Francie said. "I had three choices: he said I could abort them both, I could do selective reduction or I could take my chances and see if they made it."
The Gossers chose the latter — with another doctor. After daily prayer, Francie said the babies were born healthy, surprising her medical team. For Colleen, it makes the trip more meaningful.
"A doctor thought it was easy enough to tell my mom that mine and my sister's lives didn't mean anything, and I feel like that's wrong," she said. "We have a lot to offer to the world and I feel like all of those who have been aborted did, too."
Lancia said other youth going on the trip have their own connections to the anti-abortion movement, whether they were put up for adoption or know someone who has become pregnant.
But even if they don't have a personal tie, Katie said young people should be concerned about abortion rights.
"When I hear about the numbers of abortions since Roe v. Wade, that's a huge amount of people from my generation that aren't here," she said. "Those are people that I could be sitting with at class, in the cafeteria. My generation is the first one to see the effects of that, I guess, or the major effects of that."
Moreover, Lancia said it's a topic that's hard to avoid these days, in the media and in the political sphere.
"It is an issue that’s being talked about a lot, through Obamacare, so parents are talking about it, so kids need to be informed about it as well," he said. "Teenagers are so independent, they want the answers. They want to know what they are talking about."
Calling For Political Changes
The Gossers' story fits with the March for Life's 2015 theme "Every Life is a Gift," highlighting the relationship between abortion rates and difficult prenatal diagnoses. The March for Life's Education and Defense Fund website indicates that those with such diagnoses "have a much smaller chance of being brought to term by their mothers and fathers."
But many prenatal tests can only be done after a certain number of weeks in the pregnancy, which is why some anti-abortion advocates want to ban the procedure early on.
"I see more and more laws that are pointing to the pro-life movement ... You see how they start looking at when abortions are allowed and they're becoming younger and younger in the womb," Lancia said. "Because the more you can see that child, the more people are like, 'Oh, I don't feel good about this.' I don’t care how far you go back, life is present."
While Missouri has just one abortion clinic, a 72-hour waiting period and laws limiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Lancia said he sees political momentum against abortion rights and hopes that one day the state will see no abortions.
That's why it's important to keep the movement growing by involving young people, he said. In addition to the march, the Generation Life group will attend spiritual and educational programs.
"Our hope is that these teens will walk away with a full understanding with what it means to be pro-life, how we love and care and serve each other from these little babies carried in the womb, to those that die at an old age," Lancia said.
Because of their experiences going to the march in the past, Francie said her daughters have been able to grow into leaders in their schools and youth groups on anti-abortion issues.
"Sometimes it can feel like you’re in the minority when you’re standing up for life like that, but there are so many people who care, too, and there’s always another option besides abortion," Colleen said.
Generation Life will post their experiences on a blog, on Instagram and using the hashtag #genlifestl.