A former adman is spearheading a television campaign to air pro-life ads on MTV and Black Entertainment Television in the weeks after Christmas and into January in a national campaign to reduce abortion.
The Virtue Media advertising campaign is based on successful efforts in parts of Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio that saw abortion rates drop as much as 20 percent in what the organization said appears to correlate directly to when and where the ads aired.
"With the average American watching five hours a day, television is still king," said Virtue Media president Tom Peterson, who founded the organization in 1998 after a 25-year advertising career. The MTV and BET ads list a toll-free line and website, pregnancyline.com, which has a ZIP code locater for nearby pregnancy centers. VirtueMedia.org notes that "educational advertising was the key to reducing prejudice, littering, drunk driving and smoking ... and educational advertising can help lead the way back to a culture of life in America."
Transforming the culture and changing hearts and minds are buzzwords of the pro-life movement that can be likened to the foreign policy approach of "soft power," a term coined in the 1990s by Harvard professor Joseph Nye, and most recently endorsed by the Bush administration's secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, in the war on terrorism. As promulgated by Nye, a liberal foreign-policy thinker, "soft power" is the ability to attract others by the legitimacy of policies and the values that underlie them. The concept of persuasion has always been at the heart of the pro-life movement, but with the legislative and judicial fronts focused on defending incremental legislation such as state informed consent and parental notification laws, many Catholic and pro-life activists and pundits have renewed emphasis on outreach.
"Our work can go on no matter who is in the Oval Office," said Care Net spokeswoman Kristin Hansen. There are approximately 2,300 crisis pregnancy centers in North America, including the 1,100 pregnancy centers in the Care Net network. Heartbeat International and Care Net jointly own and operate Optionline.org, which has 800,000 contact per year, Hansen said. Optionline.org has a ZIP code locater for pregnancy centers. The Virtue Media website also directs women to the Optionline.org directory.
"While legislative efforts to protect the unborn and women from abortion may be limited in future years, the work of pregnancy centers is advancing stronger than ever before, and in places where our help is needed most -- our nation's inner cities," Care Net president Melinda Delahoyde said in a statement. She cited the work of former Philadelphia Eagles tailback, the Rev. Herbert H. Lusk II. On Nov. 7, Rev. Lusk and his People for People community organization opened a new pregnancy center, The Hope Center, in inner-city Philadelphia.
Students for Life of America focuses on establishing college student groups and counts 450 chapters in more than 40 states, said Kristan Hawkins, executive director. Students for Life hires recent college graduates to visit campuses for stints of about three months and occasionally also hires students on leave. Each "field agent" is assigned a region of two or three states, Hawkins said. Social networking sites like Facebook are another way the group reaches students.
In a harder-nosed tactic directed to a wider audience, the organization recently began a series of undercover sting operations to highlight Planned Parenthood tactics and showcases the videos on its website, studentsforlife.org. The videos include abortion clinic personnel making comments that indicate acceptance of racism and statutory rape, and even include a video with Hawkins this fall. In that video Hawkins was 22 weeks pregnant, and the clinic employee told Hawkins the baby might be alive when she had the abortion but would die soon after.
A number of bishops have endorsed 40 Days For Life, a prayer and fasting campaign that combines prayer in the community with a 24-hour, 40-day prayer vigil outside a specific abortion clinic or hospital. The group reports abortion clinics closing and clinic workers quitting as well as mothers walking out of the clinics refusing their abortions.
Fargo, N.D., Bishop Samuel Aquila led 1,000 participants in a Eucharistic procession to his state's only abortion facility on Oct. 1, to fulfill his hour in the 24-hour vigil. "For any society to be just, it must reflect the order of God," Bishop Aquila said at a Mass a month later to conclude the 40 days. "There are fundamental rights that no one can violate, and those are the inalienable rights that our forefathers recognized so clearly -- and note the order -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," he said, according to a report by Zenit.
The third national prayer campaign included 179 cities in 47 states, the District of Columbia, two Canadian provinces and American Samoa, said the campaign's director, David Bereit. That followed campaigns in fall 2007 and spring 2008 in 139 cities across 43 states.
Citing success in the fall 2008 effort, he said: "We had an abortion facility that on Day 38 was put up for sale, and [during the 40 Days] 614 women chose not to have abortions. Eight abortion clinic workers walked away from their jobs during this campaign." Statistics are drawn from eyewitness accounts and government data, he said.
During the first two national campaigns, "514 people did not get abortions; people who literally walked out and said, 'I'm not going to do it,'" Bereit said. "They then went to pregnancy centers. People are now sending in pictures of these children as they are being born, and it is just amazing."
Youthful pro-life warrior
If Planned Parenthood officials were paying attention, they would have a photo of college student Lila Rose in the break room of every abortion clinic in the country.
In mid-December, Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter launched an investigation of Planned Parenthood in response to the undercover footage shot by Rose and her student guerrilla-journalism group, Live Action Films, at a Bloomington abortion clinic.
"We have found Planned Parenthood is covering up the sexual abuse of young girls, and they are blatantly violating state statutes," Rose, a junior at University of California-Los Angeles, told OSV. The first two videos, shot at Indianapolis and Bloomington clinics, were released last month. Rose won't say how many more will be released in the coming weeks and months but says the investigation is "multistate." In each, she posed as a 13-year-old with a 31-year-old boyfriend. At the Bloomington clinic, a nurse advised her to travel across state lines to Illinois and say her boyfriend was 14.
For the past two years, the history major has been conducting stings of Planned Parenthood and other clinics -- beginning with the undercover taping of a UCLA health clinic counselor who advised Rose to get an abortion in 2007. She also spearheaded a racism project that entailed calling clinics and offering to donate because of a desire for African-Americans to get abortions.
Rose, 20, says UCLA students are "open-minded" about abortion when they hear the facts. She says it is sometimes a struggle to do pro-life work and maintain her studies. But the San Jose, Calif., resident said she is succeeding. A substantial monetary award will help both fund her education and pay for Live Action projects, she said.
The Gerard Health Foundation will present a $50,000 Life Prizes award to Rose after the March for Life in Washington, D.C., this year. The inaugural Life Prizes were granted to six individuals or groups "that have made unsurpassed strides in preserving and upholding the sanctity of human life," according a press statement from the Natick, Mass., organization. "Lila is the perfect example of why veterans in the pro-life movement should have great hope in the future," said Cathy Ruse, executive director of Life Prizes. "She has brought a boldness, creativity and passion to the pro-life cause that is causing the country to take notice."
Valerie Schmalz is an OSV contributing editor.