Communications Department

The National Right to Life Academy: The Summer of a (Pro-)Lifetime

Aug 15, 2007 | 08-August 2007 NRL News

By Megan McCrum

Summer 2007 marks the inaugural session of the National Right to Life Academy, a new summer program designed to educate and equip college students with the knowledge and skills to effectively work for the pro-life cause.

At the core of the program is the practicum. Students and staff alike agree that that these daily sessions that simulate experiences form the cohesive structure that ties the course together and helps the students to become more effective activists.

As Academy director, Burke Balch’s vision is to offer an in-depth curriculum of courses that survey virtually all conceivable subjects related to the pro-life movement. That list includes history, ethics, parliamentary procedure, lessons learned from other social movements, specific legislation, and of course an in-depth look at the various arguments for pro-death proposals, such as assisted suicide, health care rationing, and embryonic stem cell research, and the contrasting evidence supporting pro-life alternatives.

Mr. Balch, the director of NRLC’s Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, models the Academy on the former National Youth Pro-Life Coalition, a training program designed for teens, that flourished in the 1970s and 80s.

Supplementing the course work are lectures by NRLC staff. Veterans of many years in the trenches, they share their expertise on topics including media strategy, outreach to churches, fundraising, and public speaking tips.

Mr. Balch asserts that a comprehensive knowledge of the movement’s history is essential to any pro-life activist, so that their energy and enthusiasm are not wasted by going down roads that have already proven to be dead ends or off-course trails.

Daily lessons on the ins-and-outs of parliamentary procedure may be a surprising find in a pro-life course. But NRLC State Legislative Director Mary Spaulding Balch insists on the value of understanding the intricate system of procedural rules.

“Our opponents know how to use it, we should too,” she says. In other words, one must know the rules if one is to have any hope of prevailing.

Synthesizing and Articulating

In practicum the students are challenged to break down and then synthesize the information they have been absorbing, so that they can then articulate for themselves the arguments in defense of life. The practicum session is a sort of like a daily exam, but it is also a lively time that interjects some levity and fun into the classroom.

It may be more intimidating when Burke Balch assumes the role of the pro-abortion lobbyist, but the students all agree that they can be just as challenging when they practice lobbying each other.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the intense brain workout they are getting this summer, the students still maintain a high level of energy and enthusiasm for youthful fun. The students take full advantage of NRLC’s close proximity to the National Mall.

Frisbee, football, and volleyball are frequent evening activities that have been known to draw not only interns and Academy students but also members of the NRLC staff. Outings to D.C.’s summer attractions, such as Washington Nationals baseball, outdoor films through Screen on the Green, or free Navy Band concerts, are regularly organized.

In mid-July Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, met with the Academy students and NRLC interns. His office graciously provided a tour of the Capitol.

The students in this summer’s Academy come from a wide array of states, colleges, and academic backgrounds. From Wyoming to Massachusetts, Cornell University to the University of Steubenville, and philosophy to nursing, the student make-up of the Academy tags all the bases.

Through the National Right to Life Academy these students from disparate backgrounds have been brought together not only to develop their minds but to enjoy the added experience of developing friendships with peers who share their passion to defend life in all stages.

All in all, it’s the summer of a (pro-)lifetime.