The NRL Academy: A five-week adventure in learning how to make the case for life

By Rai Rojas, Program Director, NRL Academy

Editor’s note. This appears in the August digital edition of National Right to Life News. Please read the entire 42-page issue and pass it along using your social media contacts.

The end of our 11th annual National Right to Life Academy on August 4th was, as always, bittersweet. The Academy first began when college students from across the country met at the NRL Convention in Milwaukee this year on June 28 and continued with a rigorous 5-week adventure that took them from Milwaukee to our National offices in Washington, D.C.

And an adventure it was. The students studied every aspect of the pro-life movement. Seriously – all the subjects were covered. Topics included, but were most certainly not limited to; Legal Developments on Abortion and Religious Freedom; the complicated nuances of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decision; Grassroots lobbying; Bioethics; Public Speaking; Social Media; how to deal with the press; Fetal Pain, Ad Campaigns, Fundraising; US Government Funding of Overseas Abortion; Electioneering, and much, much more.

The students then had to apply what they learned during the incredibly difficult but entertaining practicums (sessions when students demonstrated what they had just learned) where they would demonstrate what they had learned. This year’s students had to create (working as a group) an ad campaign with a $5,000 budget to promote a life affirming message.

On another occasion, they had to create a Social Media meme with a strong, catchy, and timely message. Here is their meme:

Lectures were given and presented by some of the most august leaders of the pro-life movement. They learned about the Supreme Court rulings from James Bopp, Jr. Dr. David Prentice Lectured on Cloning and Reproductive Research, and Wesley J. Smith gave lectures on Euthanasia, Infanticide, and Assisted Suicide.

They heard from some of our experts such as Dr. David N. O’Steen, NRLC Executive Director, Scott Fischbach of MCCL, pro-life author Brian P. Johnston, and Jennifer Popik, J.D., NRLC’s Federal Legislative Director, with an emphasis on issues regarding healthcare and involuntary denial of treatment.

But they also had to prove their mettle by defending their positions during debates, or by lobbying a tough legislator (a make-believe legislator) as the lawmaker walked from an elevator to the bathroom. The practicums were so necessarily intense that during his closing remark at the closing banquet for the students, Academic Director, Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon, joked that practicum was the Latin word for torture.

It was during the practicums, however, when we saw how each student’s personality helped to shape their argument. The students brought a much-varied skill-set with them – all of which were interesting and appreciated. When on the first day, during that first practicum they were asked to explain why they were pro-life, their backstories proved to be touching, funny, and sad.

The most simply stated of those stories happens to be the most memorable.

Conor Michael Clement from Reno, Nevada, when asked why he was pro-life, plainly said, “Because I have a little brother.”

As a ten-year-old boy, Conor overheard enough of his pro-life activist’s parents’ conversations to ask what abortion was finally. He told us about the pained look on his mother’s face and the reassuring glance she got from his dad that maybe it was time to explain in ten-year-old terms what abortion was.

They were driving home from church when this conversation took place, and he happened to be sharing the backseat with his little brother – an infant at the time. He projected what his mother had explained on how that could happen to his brother and instinctively knew how wrong it was.

During his presentation to the Academy he spoke eloquently and beautifully about how he felt that day looking at his sibling, staring down into his brother’s blue eyes, and soft wisps of hair – he couldn’t fathom anyone willingly destroying this human being.

It was beautiful to hear, and it helped set the course for Conor’s Academy experience.

As always, it was remarkable to see how the vast majority of Academy students grow from the intensity of the experience. Those of us who bring the Academy to fruition each year are appreciative for the breath we can take now that it’s over – but we do miss the challenge and the opportunity to watch these future pro-life warriors grow.