A Woman Who Has It All: Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America

By Jason Scott Jones Published on March 28, 2023

The Stream’s Jason Jones decided to interview his good friend Kristan Hawkins about her work leading Students for Life of America (SFLA), for insights about how to evangelize the culture, while leading a good life of one’s own.

Jason Jones: What got you involved with the pro-life movement? Were you converted to it or did you just grow into it organically?

Kristan Hawkins: At age 15, I wanted to work for NASA. I had just won a statewide scholarship to attend U.S. Space Camp at the Marshall Rocket Center in Alabama for a week, and committed to graduating a year early in high school so I could get going on my aspirations.

Growing up, my family was very active in our church: Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and sometimes throughout the week. But abortion wasn’t a topic that ever came up. I know my mom was a little involved in pro-life activities. I have some brief memory flashes of that … but if you’d asked at that age if I was pro-life or pro-choice … sadly, I think I would have said pro-choice. I was one of the “mushies” whom I now try to convert every day. A mushie is the person who says, “I don’t like abortion. I don’t think I would have one, but … .”

Then a woman at my church asked if I would like to be her intern. She served as a part-time accountant at a local pregnancy resource center in Steubenville, OH. I was looking for a volunteer opportunity. I had decided to skip a year of high school and needed to get in 100 volunteer hours, so I could graduate with honors as well as being valedictorian.

That first day at the pregnancy center changed the entire trajectory of my life.

“Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About This?”

So is that when you first heard about the reality of abortion? When you began your commitment to protecting women and children from violence?

I can honestly say it was. the first day volunteering at the pregnancy center where I learned about the real violence of abortion. I remember leaving thinking: “Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?”

Now I knew the truth about abortion and had to tell others about it. I began watching the news with my dad. (Fox News was just launching.) I started a pro-life group in my high school, joined the local Republican Club in my county (at the time our state, West Virginia, was still very Democratic and I was the youngest one there by like four decades) and the local right-to-life club.

Soon, I was telling folks I was going to go to college to become a lawyer because I wanted to end Roe v. Wade. (Then I met actual pre-law students in college, and realized I needed to find another route.)

“Keep Doing It”

Was there any point along the way when you were tempted to quit? What compelled you to carry on?

I don’t think I’ve ever thought I wanted to quit. There were times early on where I thought Students for Life of America would go belly up, for sure. I think that’s what’s a little weird about me. I get asked by the students I mentor every year how I “deal” with burnout. I hate that word. I think there have been times where I’ve been at peak performance or low performance, depending on things happening with my kids or things that have happened to me at work. (Former employees trying to threaten me … nasty attacks from those in the movement I’d considered allies, etc.)

But my dedication to ending abortion doesn’t change. I’ve looked at that closely in recent years to figure out why that is. Because I feel like I don’t have good advice to give our students besides: “Keep doing it.” Honestly, I think that’s just the way I was created. I make a decision and stick with it. The cute boy who sat in front of me of French class the first day of high school, whom I decided I had to get to know … is now my husband. I make a decision and commit to it.


Tell us about the roots of Students for life of America.

I feel like the best moments in my life are Holy Spirit ones, where I really didn’t have much to do with it. At 20, I found myself working at the Republican National Committee. I would leave soon to join the Dept. of Health and Human Services. In my mind, I needed a presidential appointee position to help boost my grad school resume. My thought was that I was never going to be able to serve full-time in the pro-life movement until I had the funds to start my own pregnancy center or maternity home. So I needed to become a college professor to teach students American government and persuade them that way. (I would still love to earn my PhD but I fear no school would take me now.)

Just months after starting at HHS, a friend from the RNC called to say he just met with some college students who wanted to launch a full-time student organization. I was the first person he’d thought of. I was in the right spot, at the right moment. We had just gotten married, and my husband had a full-time teaching job. Jonathan said “do it,” since if it all went south we wouldn’t be on the streets.

“Don’t Let Attacks Get You Down”

What have your biggest challenges?

They have always been internal. I would love to say it was Planned Parenthood or something … I would relish that. But no. Usually it’s another pro-life organization working behind the scenes to kill or gut our bill or whisper in the ear of a major supporter that we aren’t effective enough. It’s a former employee who wants to complain to current employees that I’m not “Christian” enough to run a pro-life organization. (Spoiler, I’m a big sinner and I can be tough.) I think learning to overcome the hurt from that has been the biggest challenge … not letting those attacks slow me down.

And beyond that, learning to balance being a mother and wife with leadership … it’s a work in progress.


What ran through your mind when Roe v. Wade was overturned?

It was a high point of my life, but also an unreal feeling, to be at the Court the day Roe was thrown onto the ash heap of history. It’s kind of weird. We had been outside for every decision day since the end of March. We didn’t know when the decision was coming and weren’t going to let it come down without the Pro-Life Generation being the face of a young, vibrant, excited movement.

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We heard the night before that the decision was likely going to come down … so I had a sleepless night of multiple flights booked to get there in time. I had to pivot from my original plan to be in Louisiana, where I was supposed to get an award.

We got everything planned for the day … the students to sleep out overnight to reserve space, how we were going to hold the space, et cetera. But we had no actual plan for who was going to announce the decision or what that would look like, etc. It turned out that I was picked to make the press announcement on behalf of the pro-lifers present — which included many veterans of the movement who’d been working for decades before us. It was a huge honor.

“A Post-Roe America”

What does the future hold for you and your organization, Students for Life of America?

We need to be everywhere at once. We knew this was coming … I was building for a post-Roe America. It was my rallying cry for years for our staff and student leaders that we needed trained leaders in every state. But now, we need to keep the momentum and energy growing … while being outspent in state referenda, facing flat-out lies on social media, and more discrimination and vandalism than ever.

Our team is leading the most innovative approach to defeating chemical abortion pills in our movement. I can’t speak about it much. (We’re using environmental regulations to attack the manufacturers and distributors for polluting our water and harming animals and humans.) But it will be massive.

We want to have a Students for Life of America presence on every U.S. college campus in the next five years. Our work with Standing With You and Abortion Free Cities must grow in our communities. Our work in the past year has shown that 75 percent of neighbors who live near abortion clinics don’t know where the pro-life, non-violent resources are in their city.

Personally, I must continue to grow the leaders on campuses and within SFLA, since I’m not getting any younger. While I won’t be leaving Students for Life, my role will continue to change.


Jason Jones is a senior contributor to The Stream. He is a film producer, author, activist and human rights worker.

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