Facebook tells me that it has been ten years since I began working on Vision for Life, at that time with new friends Marie Vaina and Jeff Steigerwalt. We became a 501(c)(3) in early 2010, and began fundraising. Just after Christmas in 2010, we launched a six-week television ad campaign, not knowing what the results in Allegheny County would be. We put up ads on buses and bus shelters. Were they having any effect? We wanted to see State abortion statistics, to know if more pregnant women had chosen life, but we had to wait until early 2013 to find out. The PA Abortion Report was released in January that year, and, sure enough, the ratio of abortions to live births for Allegheny County residents – indicating that more women actually chose life – dropped a little (from 31.6 per 100 live births to 30.4 in 2011). But then, these abortion ratio numbers were dropping across the State. In fact, that first year, they dropped even farther elsewhere than in Allegheny County. Was our advertising for Choices Pregnancy Services, Women’s Choice Network, and Pregnancy Resource Center of the South Hills actually having any effect?
Since then, we have seen some exciting developments. We shifted our advertising to the Internet, paying Google for our centers to appear in the search results for women looking online for “abortion” and related terms. We expanded to advertising to young women on Facebook in September 2014. (In 2015 we generated on average 15 calls a month to the centers from our Facebook ads.) The numbers for Allegheny County residents continued to drop, but sharply: from 30.4 per hundred live births in 2011, to 25.3 in 2013. There they hovered for a few years, before dropping again in 2017 to 24.1. That’s the lowest level since 1995 (when the State started recording county numbers), and probably lower even than 1973, the year that Roe v. Wade made abortion-on-demand the law of the land.
Statistically significant drop in abortions
For most of that time, I had thought that our advertising was behind the drop in abortion ratios, but I was never sure. We now have confirmation that this is not a statistical aberration. Statistician Dr. Albena Ivanova, Associate Professor of Management at Robert Morris University, examined our data earlier this year and concluded as follows: “The results from the regression analysis show that [the work of] Vision for life has a strong negative effect on the abortion ratios in Allegheny County; in particular, the average abortion ratio drops by 40 after Vision for Life started (b = - 40.90, p < 0.001).”
Another question I have had in the back of my mind for some time is this: how many moms and babies have been saved from abortion in Allegheny County because of those dropping ratios? I knew that the answer would be very approximate. Pregnancy rates vary. Abortion ratios are volatile: some years they’re up quite a bit, other years they’re down similarly. Still, if we were having an effect, could we measure it in lives?
How many lives have been saved?
To answer that, I looked at the abortion ratios for the rest of the State and for Allegheny County from 2010 to 2017. Both went down, but Allegheny County’s ratios went down faster (after 2011). Using the numbers of abortions and births for each year from 2010 on, and the difference between the County’s ratios and the ratios of all the other counties, both applied to the previous year’s ratios and the current year’s birth numbers – yes, it’s complicated – I found that something like 2,100 lives were saved over the seven years, or 300 lives a year. (Again, considering the volatility of abortion ratios, this is very approximate.) Here’s a chart of the estimated results and actuals.
Reducing Demand is winning
on As most people who know me have heard, I am convinced that the best way to reduce demand for abortion everywhere is to advertise centers. Until recently, the general public has understood “pro-life” to mean reducing the supply of abortion, that is, restricting abortion with laws. There are few arguments more ideologically sterile for us, however, than the one over the rights of the child versus the rights of the woman. (It is so much more fruitful, more personal, not to ask, “Do you have the right to do this?” but to ask, “Do you think it’s right?”) While there is no question that, eventually, we will need laws that protect unborn children from abortion, we are having our greatest success right now by helping women in the real world. As demand for abortion falls (and abortion ratios continue to decline nationally from their high point in 1984), there is a snowball effect: more women go to the centers and more women speak highly of those centers; more women choose life rather than abortion, and more of their friends see that, and do likewise; and the defense of abortion (up to birth, for any reason, and so forth) seems ever more extreme, rigid, and inhuman.
Here's our most recent ad on Facebook for Women's Choice Network, one of our partners.
Our fellow pro-lifers are seeing the light: pregnancy help beats changing the laws, for now
David French, a writer for National Review Online, wrote a great article on our prospects after the fall of Roe v. Wade (“In a Post-Roe World, Pro-Lifers Would Still Have a Lot of Work Left to Do”).
French mentions a New York Times report on a “study by researchers from Middlebury College, the Guttmacher Institute, and the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health” which “found that in ‘more than half of states, including the entire West Coast and Northeast,' overturning Roe would have no real effect on abortion access" [emphasis added].
French goes on to note something that we at Vision for Life have been saying for a while: abortion ratios have been falling for years, whether the political winds have been favorable or adverse. He asks, “So, what should pro-lifers do with all this information? Mainly it helps us balance our efforts appropriately. We should all be able to agree that keeping the abortion-rate line on the Guttmacher graph moving downward is our fundamental, shared goal. The law can assist in that goal, but the law is not the principal means of achieving it." Bingo!
With abortion pills online, we are going to need more advertising
ePregnancy help is the key to reaching that goal, and advertising amplifies the effect of that help. More and more, pro-life people and organizations are realizing this. Now we have to up our game. We are seeing a shift from surgical abortions to chemical (or “medical”) ones: out of PA’s 30,011 abortions in 2017, 11,496, or 38%, were chemical. While most chemical abortions are still begun at an abortion center, the abortion pills are becoming available online – no need to go to the abortionist – so more and more we are going to have to use online advertising to reach abortion-vulnerable women. Heartbeat International’s “Abortion Pill Rescue Network” is a step in the right direction: women can call a national number and be referred to a local physician. (I am on the Board of Heartbeat.) If a woman has taken the first pill but not the second, she can reverse her abortion with progesterone, which that local doctor can prescribe. The abortion reversal is successful about 65% of the time, and so far over 750 women have borne their children. Advertising the Network widely will save many more lives across America. It will show, too, that women have second thoughts. It will make uncertain women realize that other women are uncertain, too. And that's OK. They can choose what's best for both them and their babies.
It has been a good ten years. As we look ahead, we anticipate reaching even more women, and to seeing those abortion ratios continue downwards. More lives saved, more women grateful. May God, in His mercy, hear our prayer!
Chris Humphrey has been involved in pro-life activity of one kind or another since the late 1970s, when he first looked at the subject of abortion in seminary in Canada. He has an undergraduate degree in English (University of Toronto), and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in religious studies (McGill). He has had a varied career as a pastor, chaplain in a psychiatric hospital, editor of academic and instructional publications, semi-professional photographer, and home renovator. He is a husband of over 45 years to Edith (a Professor of New Testament), father to three girls, and grandfather to seventeen grandchildren. He lives and works in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh.