I’m Going In!
One day when I was about 14 my dad came into my room and said, "Colin, mom and I want to talk to you." I followed him into my parents' room, wondering what I was in trouble for, as adrenaline and cortisol surged through me. My mom was sitting up in bed. Dad gestured to the foot of the bed. I sat there, facing away from mom. Dad stood, silent, against the wall to my left. Mom spoke behind me: "Colin, I need to tell you something. When I was a teenager, before my first marriage, I had an abortion."
On Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day, February 14, 2018, at 2:21 EST, Nikolas Cruz entered the east stairway of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School's Building 12 with an AR-15 in a black case. Freshman Chris McKenna saw him loading his gun, fled, and told the first adult she saw - assistant coach Aaron Feis. Feis went in. By the time he reached the scene, Cruz had started shooting. Feis used his body to shield students. He was killed. The students lived.
Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson, the armed school resources officer, heard the first shots fired. His time had come. This was his job - the primary reason he was stationed there - to prevent or respond to school violence. He was on campus, but not in Building 12 where the shooting was taking place. He jumped on his golf cart and called for backup as he drove towards Building 12.
Cruz progressed down the hallway as his massacre unfolded. At one point, geography teacher, cross country coach, and camp counselor Scott Beigel was with a group of students running for cover. Beigel went in. He guided the students to a locked classroom, opened it for them, and was shot and killed by Cruz as he tried to lock the door behind them. Cruz did not enter the room, so none of the students protected by Beigel was harmed.
At 2:23 PM, Peterson arrived near the entrance to Building 12, got off the golf cart, drew his sidearm, took up a tactical position 100 feet from the entrance...and waited. The shooting continued for four more minutes. Peterson waited. The shooting stopped. Peterson waited. The first wave of backup arrived: three other Broward County sheriff's deputies. Like Peterson, they all drew their weapons, took up tactical positions behind their cars, and waited. Peterson remained in the area for over 20 minutes. By this time, Cruz was long gone from the school, on his way to a nearby Walmart to get a drink. A second round of backup arrived - Coral Springs police - and were the first law enforcement to enter Building 12.
Peterson and three other deputies did not go in.
An abortion. Not what I expected. I was so afraid of getting in trouble, and then...an abortion? There was a drop of relief that I wasn't in trouble, and then a flood of hatred for that drop of relief, because this was so much worse. From that moment, I've imagined the sibling I lost as the older brother I never got to meet. I don't remember exactly how old I was, what I did for the rest of that day, what other details mom told me, or what questions I might have asked - but that moment, that image, is engraved in my memory for all time. I had always despised and been bewildered by abortion, but from that day I have hated it all the more. So what did I do about it?
Nothing, really. I voted pro-life, but I would have voted for those same candidates for other reasons anyway. I had never donated a dime to any crisis pregnancy center, Rachel's Vineyard, pro-life advocacy group, pro-life media, or any other explicitly pro-life charity, despite the fact that for the past six years as a working adult I've always tithed, giving at least 10 percent of my after-tax income to a combination of my church, my diocese, and other Catholic charities. I would tell people that I was pro-life if asked, but I never went out of my way to push the issue in social situations. I had never prayed or protested in front of an abortion clinic or otherwise pushed the issue in public.
Wisconsin's four abortion clinics (now three) performed 5,612 abortions in 2016. We can safely assume that the one nearest to my home, Planned Parenthood in Madison, conducted at least 1,000 of those. There are roughly 260 business days in a year. Therefore, at a known location a convenient drive away from me, there are roughly four abortions happening every weekday.
I, like Deputy Scot Peterson, did not go in.
I am not alone in this failure: there are millions of people in this country who firmly believe that every abortion ends a human life, and who believe in their hearts and express in their words that all human life is sacred and worth defending, and yet they do not go in and engage in this war through most of the means easily available to them.
In the last two months I've spent a great deal of time reflecting on why, until now, I have done so very little to oppose or fight against abortion, despite my own story and long-lived hatred of it. In the end, I can think of really only two core reasons:
These two reasons are simple, but powerful. I suspect that nearly all of my peers, the inactive believers, would share the same reasons. For me, at least, as I write this, they are no longer true. I've been asked: my parish priest, Fr. Rick Heilman, challenged me to unite all the pro-life groups across the country behind the "I'm Going In!" rallying cry to form a cohesive national movement. And it no longer seems hopeless to me: in part because the context is different (we're this close to a conservative SCOTUS) and in part because I'm looking at it differently: the end-game isn't just a Right-to-Life Amendment or a reversal of Roe v. Wade; rather, the end-game is to save one life or one soul today. That was always, that has only ever been, the one thing that matters. Many pro-lifers know this; 40 Days for Life and other remarkably successful campaigns are built on this truth. And that is not hopeless - it is completely achievable for me, the generic me, to pray and act in such a way that through my efforts, by the grace of God, one soul or one life is saved today.
The failure of the pro-life movement, then, is represented in the fact that I - a faithful church-goer for many years, a consumer of Catholic media, an alumnus of an orthodox Catholic college - still believed that our fight was primarily political and that I personally could contribute nothing meaningful to it, and that until Fr. Rick, no one I know had ever asked me personally to engage or shown me how. Again, I'm just one person, but I am not alone in this experience.
Recently I've begun talking to other pro-life activists, reading the various websites of pro-life groups, and signing up for their emails. My universal experience in finding and reading these new pro-life websites is discouraging. Let's start with Google, as most internet users do. When I google "how to join pro life", the top result (and the only good one) is a 2011 web page from the Susan B. Anthony list, listing ten ways to engage. At the end of reading through that list, I feel overwhelmed and discouraged. The other results on Google are much worse - they're various pro-life groups, asking me to either donate to them or sign up for their emails, without connecting me to any of the other important pro-life groups or giving me online resources that would help me engage in more meaningful ways. For instance, I'm not being directed to resources on how to run for office, how to protest effectively at an abortion clinic, etc.
I've learned lately in talking to more seasoned pro-life activists that the movement rightly identifies part of its failure as only preaching to the choir; its message is not reaching the broader public. Most of the activists think the solution is to try harder to get the message out to the broader public. I disagree. I say that while the pro-life movement has only been preaching to the choir, they have been preaching to the choir poorly, because they are preaching to the choir with a message intended for the broader public. I say, let's preach to the choir well. That means changing the message (which is easy) instead of changing the audience (which is hard) in order to solve the two problems I listed above, that have kept me and many others from engaging meaningfully.