Stalwart senior takes a stand

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Stalwart senior takes a stand

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Senior Carly Sarnowski is an intern on the front lines of a contentious cause. For the past month, she has spent around 10 hours outside Planned Parenthood each week, acting as a “sidewalk counselor” for the Coalition for Life, a St. Louis-based pro-life organization. Her work involves on-site prayer and engaging Planned Parenthood clients in conversation, ultimately hoping to dissuade them from terminating a pregnancy.

“It’s still a daunting thing to do,” she said. “It’s a very new side of the pro-life movement for me. I’ve been very used to reading articles about this issue, I’ve been very used to doing …the Run for their Lives and sort of being separated from it. And when you’re outside Planned Parenthood, you’re very close to it. I’m still getting used to, ‘Hey, maybe things aren’t like the way I’ve read about them.’ The issue has a face now for me. I’m still sort of wrestling with that.”

She described a recent encounter with a woman who brought her and her co-workers bags containing salad, peaches and lemonade in gratitude for their efforts.

“It had been kind of a discouraging day, [we] hadn’t got a lot of stops or a lot of turn-arounds or anything like that, so that was a good pick-me-up.”

Talking about clients who arrive for abortions, she remarked, “You always kind of know, and so that is discouraging to see, that it’s still happening despite our best efforts.” Lately, with heightened tensions spurred by Planned Parenthood’s video controversy, counter-protesters have assembled, bearing pink signs that read “I stand for women’s health.”

A self-described “politically interested freshman” when she first came to SLU, Sarnowski signed up to join in SLU’s Students for Life (SFL) during that year’s activities fair.

That following January, she participated in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. As a sophomore, she took on the demanding task of planning the next trip to the March. These activities cemented the pro-life movement’s central importance in her life.

“When I started in this movement,” she said, “it was a lot about the baby and you hear about, ‘Oh, these babies are dying, isn’t that horrible?’ And that is horrible, but as a young woman, I’ve become very much, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ This could be me walking into that Planned Parenthood. What would I want to hear? And there are two victims—there’s the woman and the baby.”

Her stance is a notably nuanced blend of faith, philosophy and politics. “Everything I do is influenced by my faith. I think as I grew older and I became more mature in my pro-life thinking, as I developed a political philosophy, that’s when I started to own this movement and this cause … It’s a philosophical movement for me.”

SFL’s president, Sarah Blackwell, elaborated on today’s pro-life movement and her club’s approach: “There’s a lot of disagreement within the pro-life movement as a whole on what is the best way to share our message and what’s the best way to approach this. The group that came on campus is a prime example of that. So we try to challenge the stereotype that pro-lifers are always negative or trying to shame women. We also try to challenge the stereotype that it’s all about abortion and we don’t care about women. Because that’s very not-the-case.”

On the same day that the woman gave her bags of food, Sarnowski’s shift coincided with the presence of Operation Save America and States of Refuge, the groups that staged demonstrations along North Grand Boulevard on Sept. 17.

“It just made me really sad, because these people, they are already coming into this probably with a bad perception of us, and this just made it worse. If it had just been my co-worker and me, maybe we could have broken down some of those stereotypes and had a conversation, but unfortunately it couldn’t happen.”

SFL later released a statement extending “sympathies toward anyone who was personally affected by the signage and words used in the recent demonstration.”

Where this fact of division within the pro-life movement arises, Blackwell draws a distinguishing line. “We try to be a very positive presence on campus,” she said. “One of our mottos is ‘to build a culture of life,’ so we try to hold events that are very educational, and we want to acknowledge the real horrors of abortion and other offenses against life—like euthanasia, the death penalty—but do so in a compassionate way.”

She provided her insights on the complexities of post-Roe v. Wade America: “I think if we woke up tomorrow and abortion was all the sudden illegal, I think that wouldn’t just fix all of the problems. I think there’s an underlying problem of the culture, and that’s what we try to fight against in a constructive way, when we saying we’re building a culture of life, because we’re trying to spread that positive pro-life ideology, and trying to spread that culture of valuing every human life at all stages. That has to happen before the law changes…It’s not a separate thing.”

To this, Sarnowski said, “That’s one of the sources of disagreement in the pro-life movement right there, whether we should attempt to legislate this out of existence or change the culture.

I think education is really important…I think one of the reasons more people consider themselves pro-life now is because of science and scientific evidence of the life of a human fetus.”