Ga. Tech senior resurrects Students for Life; takes on abortion

Students for Life President Brian Cochran discusses landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade with a fellow Georgia Tech student during a campus information event on Tech Walkway. CONTRIBUTED

Students for Life President Brian Cochran discusses landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade with a fellow Georgia Tech student during a campus information event on Tech Walkway. CONTRIBUTED

For most of this year as state after state passed strict laws targeting Roe v. Wade with severe bans, news across the country seemed bleak for abortion-rights advocates, but what a difference a few weeks have made.

On Oct. 1, a federal judge temporarily blocked Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” that Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law in May. It would have gone into effect in January 2020. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood and other reproductive-rights organizations filed the lawsuit in June, and the lawsuit is still waiting to be argued in court.

On Oct. 29, a federal judge blocked a similar bill in Alabama, which would charge doctors who perform abortions with a felony and carry up to 99 years in prison.

The ban — which made abortion illegal from conception except when the mother’s health is in serious danger or the fetus is not viable, but with no exceptions for rape or incest — was set to go into effect on Nov. 15.

Bans have also been blocked in Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri and Kentucky.

As Ed Setzler, the Georgia legislator who sponsored the “heartbeat bill,” put it recently, the football was kicked down the field with House Bill 481, which outlaws most abortions after a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity. The abortion-rights lobby received it, knelt in the end zone and began celebrating. But supporters of the “heartbeat bill” are at the 20-yard line and ready to go.

The analogy brought a smile to Brian Cochran’s face.

RELATED | Federal judge blocks Georgia anti-abortion law

Cochran is a Georgia Tech senior and president of Students for Life, the nonprofit organization he literally resurrected soon after arriving on campus.

For most of his life, Cochran had believed in the sanctity of life but never believed it was something he needed to protect.

That changed, he said, in summer of 2017, when he got an internship with Google X in Mountain View, California, near where his brother was active in the state’s anti-abortion movement.

When his brother couldn’t attend a planned event one day, he asked Brian to go in his place. All he had to do was hand out pamphlets announcing a town hall meeting to make area residents aware of plans by Planned Parenthood to store biohazardous material in a San Francisco neighborhood.

People on both sides of the issue turned out, but what struck Cochran most was a brief encounter he had with a 15-year-old who let him know he favored abortion rights.

Just as he asked the teen how he came to that decision, another protester pulled him away.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“I came back to Georgia thinking I probably need to be doing something,” Cochran said.

Just as he resumed classes, Cochran was invited to lunch with Terrisa Bukovinac, the executive director of Pro-Life San Francisco. Besides their obvious affinity for life, Cochran and Bukovinac could not have been more different. She identified as a Democrat, vegan, feminist. He is a conservative who eats just about anything.

By the end of lunch that day, she had convinced him to get involved with Students for Life, but he soon found the organization existed in name only on Tech’s campus.

“Everyone who was part of it had graduated,” he said. “I’d have to start from the ground up.”

And so he did.

RELATED | Why debate over Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ law isn’t just about abortion

Early this year, Cochran began an email campaign reaching out to College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty, College Democrats, the Young Democratic Socialists, and Christian organizations on campus.

He wanted to start an anti-abortion organization.

“Contact me if you’d like to join,” he told them.

Two responded. They didn’t want anything to do with Cochran or his plans.

Cochran filled out the necessary forms to restart Students for Life and submitted them to Student Engagement, the department in charge of student organizations. He posted an announcement with an invitation to a welcome meeting. Three people showed up.

Cochran didn’t quit. Membership quickly swelled to more than 40 strong.

Over the summer, more than 100 signed up expressing an interest in joining the group. Even more said they were interested but had either too many other commitments or didn’t want to be a member of a group associated with an anti-abortion stigma.

I asked him why he’d want to take up such a seemingly unpopular cause.

RELATED | Why ‘heartbeat bill’ in Georgia has stirred up passions on both sides

That was simple. Politics aside, Cochran wanted to help promote a culture of life at Georgia Tech.

The main goal of Students for Life is to help students who become unexpectedly pregnant connect with Federally Qualified Healthcare Providers and the Birthright Resource Center in Chamblee, where its members volunteer.

They have packed layettes with supplies for expectant mothers and cleaned the center’s lawn and driveways. Members also work to educate fellow students about equal rights for all humans, human development and current civil rights and discriminatory practices. When we talked recently, they planned to paint the entrance steps and ramps in coming weeks.

Alveda King was the guest speaker recently at an event hosted by Students for Life President Brian Cochran. CONTRIBUTED

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By the fall semester, Cochran said he’d realized there were a lot of people on Tech’s campus with views similar to his on this issue but too many were silent. They didn’t realize the need to educate people about abortion or the vast amount of resources available to pregnant students who might be choosing to end their pregnancies because they felt alone.

He stepped up his efforts, holding Student for Life-sponsored awareness events across campus, educating people about where their tax dollars go, and volunteering at pregnancy resource centers that help expectant mothers find jobs and other resources and, among other things, offer classes on how to be a mom.

Their methods are vastly different from the national anti-abortion group Created Equal, whose members visited several Georgia colleges earlier this month displaying graphic images and videos of aborted fetuses.

Indeed, displaying graphic images of “real aborted baby parts,” Cochran said, runs counter to the message Students for Life tries to convey.

“If students are concerned about what they saw in those images, then they should be concerned about the legality of abortion, and we would be happy to talk with them about that,” he said.

In September, Students for Life hosted Alveda King, niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and well-known anti-abortion crusader, who has publicly acknowledged having two abortions and believes science has proved that the babies in the wombs are human beings.

As she has on other occasions, she told the crowd that night after two abortions and a miscarriage, she understands why women often feel their only option is to terminate a pregnancy. But, she said, a fetus deserves to be protected even if it means the mother loses some autonomy.

“There has to be a better way to protect women’s rights than killing another innocent person,” King said.

Despite a federal judge’s recent decision to block Georgia’s new state law, scheduled to take effect in January, the debate over access to abortion will likely remain a hot-button issue into 2020.

Stay tuned.

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