Good intentions

In the 1920s they were called "The Lost Generation," and lost though they might have been, they spawned Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Today we have the "MTV Generation," youth who are considerably less literary and whose idea of culture is mostly connected to self-gratification.

Into this abyss steps a group of young people who seem a throwback to the days of the Nelson family before Ricky went the way of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. They call themselves "Generation Life" because, as they will eagerly tell anyone who will listen, they are interested in building a culture of life.

Generation Life, in its own words, seeks to empower young people who desire to be active in the pro-life movement. The group is attempting to reach a youth culture grown complacent with physical pleasure with messages that are not only pro-life, but pro-chastity as well. The group consists of mostly white suburban kids from Christian and Catholic backgrounds. They use chastity seminars, conferences and prayer vigils on campuses and near abortion clinics to bring home their message to young adults, but that is not why they recently made the news.

Generation Life’s notoriety came when they held a vigil outside a Chester County courthouse carrying giant posters of a bloody, dismembered fetus. The group calls such a demonstration the "Truth Tour" and has carried these posters into all kinds of public places such as shopping malls, where children can see them.

When I questioned Kim Marshall, who heads the local organization, about it, she neatly sidestepped the controversy by claiming that this was only one tool of many in their arsenal to educate the public. But her director of operations, Christopher Josten, believes if a child is old enough to ask questions about the poster, he or she is old enough to be "educated" about abortion as murder.

Generation Life likes to compare the graphic horror of its posters with the pictures that came out of the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s — blacks being set upon by Bull Connor’s fire hoses and snarling dogs. But another reason may be that shock value works in getting the attention of the news media. Like most protest movements that profess a dislike for the mass media and the way it covers certain issues, Generation Life is only too happy to take advantage of it.

The group sees no moral problem in hassling women entering clinics to have an abortion. They assume these women can be persuaded to change their minds right up until the time they enter the doors of the clinic. The possibility I posed that these women may have anguished over their decision prompted this rhetorical question from Josten: "Is it because they know abortion is wrong?"

Marshall claims her group has changed the minds of some of these women by "educating" them as they enter the clinic. What she may not have considered is that these women may just have decided to change their appointment to a day when Generation Life isn’t picketing.

Although her group is faith-based, Marshall insists that she has no problem arguing before secular groups from a scientific viewpoint. But it is her group’s religious belief — that at the moment of conception, a fetus is given an immortal soul — that drives the passion of its anti-abortion stance. She knows her argument that right from the beginning, a fetus has everything it needs to become a baby, except for the nutrients, is a lot less compelling than her religious argument. And this is also the driving wedge in the abortion debate that makes it so difficult to compromise.

After all, if a fetus is born with an immortal soul, than logically you must be against the morning-after pill (which Generation Life is, and to its credit it does not depend on the phony argument put forth by other pro-lifers on this issue that the pill poses great risks to a woman’s health). And it also logically flows from the belief in a soul at conception that you must oppose allowing abortions even in the case of rape or incest, something even some pro-life groups can’t countenance.

Marshall is very aware that her organization can be seen as a group of "white, suburban kids" (her phrase, not mine) who are out of touch with the ugly reality that forces some abortions. While adoption is almost seen as the answer by pro-lifers (and almost never seen as the answer by pro-choicers), I confronted Marshall with the problem that African-American babies are not nearly as sought after for adoption as white babies. Marshall did not deny it, but claimed that, regardless, no one has the right to deny that fetus a chance at life.

Generation Life teaches chastity until marriage, which makes sense to this father and grandparent, given the unbridled promiscuity that frightens those of my generation. But the fact remains that many of those sexually active teens aren’t going to embrace chastity and we all know it, and Generation Life does not believe in the schools offering safe-sex education as an alternative. The possibility that without comprehensive sex education there would be more AIDS and more abortions doesn’t seem to enter into the equation for Generation Life.

Talking to these earnest young people, you can’t help but be attracted by their passionate good intentions. But that’s what the road to hell is paved with, isn’t it?