Kristan Hawkins almost became a NASA space engineer, but she has found her niche as president of Students for Life of America.
A summer internship at a pregnancy resource center in Steubenville, Ohio, helped Hawkins, when she was a high school sophomore, to realize her life’s calling was not in aeronautical engineering, but in advocating for the unborn.
In addition to founding student pro-life groups in high school and college, Hawkins went on to work for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000. She also served as a political appointee at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
In 2006, Hawkins was hired to lead Students for Life of America. Since launching the organization’s full-time operation, Hawkins has helped increase the number of campus pro-life groups from 181 to more than 1,100 active groups in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Renowned nationally in pro-life circles, Hawkins, 31, lives in Minnesota with her husband Jonathan and their four children, two of whom undergo treatment for cystic fibrosis. A Catholic convert and a member of Legatus’ Twin Cities Chapter, Hawkins spoke with Legatus magazine about her career in pro-life ministry, her recent experiences at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and her thoughts about the pro-life movement’s future.
What was it about that high school internship that affected you?
It was just life-changing. They were so excited to have me there at the pregnancy center because I was the same age that a lot of the girls were who came in to get pregnancy tests. They really invested in me, and it was a great opportunity for me. One day, they played a video showing aborted babies. I just remember walking out that day like, “Oh my gosh, what’s going on? Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about this?” That kind of lit the fire in me to be an advocate for the preborn and their moms.
How did your pro-life convictions affect your college decisions?
I decided not to go to college for aeronautical engineering. I accepted a scholarship to Bethany College, near where I grew up in West Virginia. I went into political science because I thought, “I’m going have to become a lawyer to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
What was it like working for the Bush-Cheney campaign?
I interned for the campaign, and about a month into that, they offered me a full-time position to stay on. I worked from July through November doing independent studies, then I went back to my college to finish up my last semester. I wanted to hurry up and graduate early because I was like, “Holy heck, we won.” I knew there were job opportunities waiting for me in Washington, and I wanted to be a part of that. After going to Washington, I worked for the Republican National Committee for four months, and then I got the job at HHS.
How did you come to work for Students for Life of America?
They were trying to find someone to hire, and my friend with whom I had worked at the RNC told them, “‘You need to call Kristan. She’s down the street at HHS, and this is right up her alley.” So they called me and I interviewed. Obviously, the Holy Spirit was involved in the decision because I left a pretty good, well-paying job with nice benefits and no stress.
You’ve written about how Millennials are becoming a pro-life generation. Why is that?
There has been a natural pendulum shift of generations, of young people wanting to be reactionary, but a big part of the reason is just science. It’s very clear that an unborn child is created at the moment where egg and sperm unite. There is a unique, new human being that never existed before and never will exist again, and the ultrasound shows us that that is true. This generation has seen their brothers and sisters via ultrasound.
Why did you participate in the Women’s March in Washington in January?
Organizers told pro-life groups that we weren’t welcome there. We decided to go because we wanted to make the conversation about the fact that the majority of American women are actually pro-life, the majority of Millennials are pro-life, and we weren’t welcome at the so-called Women’s March.
We made signs and we modified the chants. It got pretty testy. Once people found out that we weren’t with them on abortion, they wanted to tear the signs out of our hands. I’ve never thanked Planned Parenthood for anything, but I thank them for their parade marshals, because they protected us from people trying to get in our faces and assault us.
When did you become Catholic? Why did you convert from Protestantism?
I didn’t enter the Church until we moved here to Minnesota. I started RCIA about a month after, and I was received into church at the Easter Vigil in 2015.
When I grew up, when we talked about Catholics in my family, it was always negative. We talked about how Catholics worshipped Mary, that they didn’t know much about their faith. I didn’t really know Catholics until I started working at the pregnancy center. The executive director was a faithful Catholic. We would talk about faith. Also, the only people who would work for me when we first started hiring at Students for Life were Franciscan University graduates and a bunch of orthodox Catholics. That’s where I really got to meet Catholics who knew their faith.
How does your family support your mission?
It’s not just my mission. It’s my family’s mission. My husband Jonathan, who was a public school teacher for 10 years, is now a stay-at-home dad. He homeschools our son Gunner, 8, and our daughter Gracie who is 20 months old. Both have cystic fibrosis. We moved from D.C. to Minnesota about two-and-a-half years ago to get closer to the care team here. We have two other sons: Bear, who is seven, and Maverick, who is three.
We’ve changed the whole dynamic of our family to fulfill this mission. I travel a lot. I talk to the kids about what I do. I started bringing them to events because I want them to be involved and feel that they are a part of this.
How do you keep yourself going?
I think for me what helps is that we’re on the ground. We’re the only pro-life organization that has full-time people in every state. Every day, we’re going on campuses, doing mobilizations, lobbying days and rallies. I get to meet young people whose lives were changed, like my life was changed. I get to meet babies that our students have helped save. I get to see the real results of what we’re doing. The activism, getting out in the street, really helps.
What do you think the future holds for the pro-life movement?
People need to be praying, and they need to be supportive. They need to be joining organizations because the other side is mobilized like they’ve never been before. Planned Parenthood is a billion-dollar industry. They are not going to go quietly into the night.
How has your experience been in Legatus?
I joined Legatus last November, and I really enjoy it. I had gotten to know Legatus over the years with Students for Life. And because I travel all the time, I’ve been to so many different chapters. In fact, I think I’m at other people’s chapters more than my own most of the time.
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.