Starting discussions about abortion and pro-life alternatives with fellow college students may seem a daunting task, but a Students for Life leader urges his generation to have those conversations because “we’re not alone.”
Dominick Tolentino, who will be completing a five-year program at Penn State next year and is in his second year as president of the SFL chapter on his campus, is reflecting on his upcoming address at the 51st annual March for Life on Friday.
In an interview with The Lion, Tolentino, who is earning his degree in architectural engineering, talked about his hopes for his remarks to the hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists who will gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Speaking at the March for Life came about unexpectedly for Tolentino. While originally his SFL chapter was being considered to hold the banner at the start of the March, he said he believes the invitation to speak was a sign from God.
“It’s funny because, as a Catholic, it really felt like God was really working in this,” he says, “because when we went to the March for Life as a club last year, and I saw the Liberty [University] Students for Life president speak, all I could think in my head is, ‘It would be really cool to be able to speak up at the March for Life. If it really was something that God wanted me to do, then it’ll happen in God’s time. And, if it’s meant to be, God will let it happen.’ And so, that was what I was thinking in June.
“I kind of completely forgot about it for a while. But then we were told that they wanted us to speak, so that like just completely blew my mind!”
Tolentino says despite the reality that Penn State is a secular school that appears to espouse the “my body, my choice” abortion rights view, SFL routinely sets up tables at which it provides information to start conversations with students about abortion, pro-life pregnancy centers and alternatives to abortion for young women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.
“We pretty much just get the conversation going,” he explained. “And the biggest issue that I’ve seen being a part of Students for Life is that, with Penn State, people aren’t really wanting to talk. We have had some really good conversations with people, but the majority of the time that we’re tabling, most of the people just walk by us – they just don’t look at us, or they look at us and they’ll give us a glare or chuckle and walk away.”
Tolentino says he often thinks students are afraid to talk about abortion.
“When you see how active and how riled up campus gets when it’s something more politically charged – people are causing riots, speakers are canceled, and then it’s like, ‘OK, so why don’t they feel so strongly about their stance on abortion?’ So, that’s something that makes me kind of sad.”
While Tolentino says he understands pro-life students may feel uncomfortable talking about their views on a public campus, he still hopes for more conversations with people on both sides of the issue of abortion.
“The goal of it is not to say who’s right or wrong,” he said. “It’s to try and get into a better understanding of what the viewpoint is of the people that are on the pro-abortion side, and then try to bridge that gap. But if we can’t even get a conversation going, it makes that goal almost impossible to achieve.”
Ultimately, he says the best conversations are when both sides are treated with respect. If students are able to show respect for each other’s views on abortion, he says, pro-life students can show how an unborn baby needs to be respected as well.
Among the larger issues Tolentino’s SFL club struggles with is providing more information on pro-life pregnancy centers, a focus of this year’s March for Life.
“We celebrate the heroic work of Pregnancy Care Centers and Maternity Homes, while offering a roadmap to how we will truly achieve a life-affirming culture that respects the inherent dignity of all human life,” Jeanne Mancini, president of MFL, said in a statement.
This year’s march is described by organizers as “the second in a post-Roe America,” referring to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022 that declared 1973’s Roe v. Wade unconstitutional.
The March for Life Education and Defense Fund says its theme this year of “with every woman, for every child” speaks to “the need to care for both mother and child during the nine months of pregnancy and in the years after.”
- In addition to Tolentino, speakers at the March for Life rally include: Benjamin Watson, former NFL tight end; Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family;
- Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship, with his wife Cathe;
- Antonio de Mello, Community of Jesus, Brazil;
- Jean Marie Davis, executive director of Branches Pregnancy Resource Center;
- Aishia Taylor, author of Navigating the “Impossible”: A Survival Guide for Single Moms From Pregnancy Through the First Year of Motherhood.
Tolentino says he hopes his address helps March for Life participants realize “we can’t be lukewarm about this topic.”
“Overturning Roe v. Wade is good, but that didn’t mean that abortion was done, clearly,” he notes, pointing to Ohio voters’ November approval of an amendment that enshrines a right to abortion in the state’s constitution.
“And so, even now more than ever, now that it’s up to the states, we need to be doing even more to try to get legislation passed that can, hopefully, one day, end abortion,” Tolentino argues.
At the very least, he said he hopes to get people to “just think twice about their viewpoint on abortion and know that, especially for pro-life people, we as a culture, and my generation in particular, can’t stay silent about this issue.”
“Yes, we can’t be silent, and you need to know that there’s people who will be there to back you up, and we’re not alone,” says his message to his fellow students. “There are people at your college campus, right now, who are willing to stand right behind you when the rest of the world is ridiculing you.”