For more than a decade now, Kristan Hawkins has served as the enthusiastic and relentlessly energetic president of Students for Life of America (SFLA). On any given day, you might find her addressing campus groups or standing in front of an abortion facility – passionately sharing the real impact of abortion on both women and preborn infants.
Yes, Kristan brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the pro-life movement, but for her the pro-life debate is more than just a profession. As a mother raising children with special needs, the value and dignity of every human life is a deeply personal ethic that she lives with every day.
That’s because two of Kristan’s four children – oldest son, Gunner, and daughter, Gracie – have been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), a deadly genetic disease. For Kristan and her husband, Jonathan, the reality of raising children with a difficult disease like CF has changed dramatically the rhythm of everyday life.
“From time to time, those with CF have to be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics to improve lung function and fight dangerous infections,” she says. “And given the risks of infections, CF requires hours of daily diligence in maintaining a mostly germ-free environment, administering breathing treatments, and carrying for the physical needs of stressed bodies in need of calories and medications almost constantly.”
Like countless other families whose children have faced an adverse prenatal diagnosis – including CF, Down syndrome or heart defects – the Hawkins have heard doctors offer, suggest, or even encourage them to have an abortion.
“As a mother with children who others would argue should never have been born,” Kristan says, “I know that life has a value even if someone else does not view it as ‘perfect enough’ to survive.”
Life can be exhausting when kids struggle with or are unable to do typical, everyday tasks. Sometimes it feels like an endless string of difficult decisions about their child’s care and future.
Kristan recognizes that not everyone believes in the inherent worth and value of every child. She has experienced the vitriol of people who don’t have the same pro-life ethic. She’s heard others say that “my children should never have been born – that because of their genetic code their lives have less value than others.”
Instead of letting these comments embitter or depress her, they have motivated Kristan to action. She is relentlessly positive in her desire to end abortion. In fact, she has said on many occasions that Americans will see an end to abortion in our lifetime.
“This is the most pro-life generation in decades, even more pro-life than their parents,” she says. “This pro-life generation is motivated by human rights concerns and sees the needs of both mothers and preborn infants as equally important.”
Kristan is the first to admit that her pro-life work is a team effort – one she couldn’t take on without Jonathan.
“I have an incredible husband who has made more sacrifices than I can count for our family. That’s how it’s all possible.”
Together, Kristan and Jonathan have made significant sacrifices to ensure that their children receive the care they need. One involved relocating halfway across the country –farther away from their extended families and the SFLA headquarters.
“Because of Gracie’s and Gunner’s disease, we moved from Virginia to Minnesota to be closer to their care team,” Kristan says. “We also knew that we didn’t want to enroll them in schools where they would be more exposed to germs, illnesses, etc. So, Jonathan now home-schools our children, ensuring that they get the two to four breathing treatments they need each day. We’ve been able to schedule our family around medicines and treatments.”
The positive news, she adds, is that cystic fibrosis is now seeing many of its victims survive to 30 and beyond.
Sometimes valuing the dignity and worth of every human life comes through leading of an organization like SFLA. Sometimes it comes through the simple, everyday faithfulness of a family committed to caring for their children, whether that involves regular breathing treatments, hospital stays – or simply saying yes to a Gunner and a Gracie.
Dawn Vargo is a freelance writer, wife and mother of two young children.