One day last January, Jonathan Tonkowich was sitting in math class at Thomas Aquinas College in southern California, daydreaming about how to do something constructive for the pro-life cause. What he came up with was Wash for Life (www.washforlife.org), which will make its debut on Sept. 16.
His idea: Local pro-life youth groups in all 50 states will help raise money for the local crisis-pregnancy centers. The Wash for Lifers already have over 137 groups in 35 states set to wash cars that Saturday morning. "Car washes are the classic way that youth groups raise money for anything," Jon tells me. "It made sense to make it a national day with thousands of youth participating so that youth would get excited, and we could make it into a story that tells that this generation is pro-life."
Is he right? Is his generation pro-life? It could be trending in that direction. In 2004, UCLA's annual poll of U.S. college freshmen found student support for legal abortion at its lowest level (54 percent) since the poll began in 1977. "Glamour" magazine last year noted the "mysterious disappearance of young pro-choice women," pointing to a 2003 CBS/New York Times poll that found only 35 percent of women 18-29 responded that "abortion should be available to anyone who wants it"; in 1993, it had been 50 percent.
"Unbelievably shocking," said Alexander Sanger, head of Planned Parenthood. "Isn't it obvious that young women have to be at the forefront of fighting for their reproductive rights because they're the ones who need them?" It's certainly not obvious to Ingrid Mitchell, who works with Tonkowich on Wash for Life, "I worked for a shelter for unwed mothers for a summer and got to experience the courage these women have, and how much they need support and strength. These centers deserve to be recognized for the amazing help they give to women every day."
Wash for Life brings some much-needed positive attention to the work the crisis-pregnancy centers (CPCs) do, in reaching out to women -- and girls -- who may have no other support. CPCs tend to be full of unnoticed heroes -- brave women and the staff and volunteers who help them get what they need to mother their children.
I get the same encouraging vibe from another young woman, Danielle Huntley, a law student at Boston College. Huntley, president of Students for Life of America, says, "The Wash for Life idea is excellent, because it creates an event that young pro-lifers can nationally unite around. College students are particularly interested in working with CPCs because they see it as a concrete way that they can live out their pro-life convictions. I think many students also view it as a resource that more women on campus need to know about, because CPCs provide the resources -- emotional, spiritual and material -- that women do not receive from their campus health services."
There's no doubt these kids get the life part of "pro-life." They're passionate about saving specific lives. Kristin Hansen, spokeswoman for Care-Net, a coalition of crisis-pregnancy centers whose database Wash for Life has used as a starting ground for making connections, says that in her experience young men and women like Tonkowich and Ingrid are more the rule than the exception: "We are seeing more young pro-lifers move in a similar direction as Wash for Life, with a desire to directly help the woman in need -- and do more than march."
This Sept. 16, young Americans will be getting their hands dirty. No aborted-fetus placards, no empty rhetoric; just good old-fashioned neighborly support for a member of the community. And when you ask them why they're raising their rags to your windows, you might be as impressed and encouraged as I am. Almost 34 years after Roe, we might be getting somewhere -- at least if these kids have anything to say about it.