A presentation to those attending the fundraising banquet for Vision for Life – Pittsburgh, May 2, 2019
When we were young, my wife and I used to take our kids to a cottage on the French River, in Northern Ontario. The river was about a mile wide where we were, and very deep, and it looked more like a lake. The wind would blow up whitecaps on the river; sometimes from the west or the southwest, and sometimes from the southeast. We would go sailing, and try to bring the sail as close as we could to the water without tipping over. We had no sense that the river had a current. The waves came from every direction. That’s what was happening on the surface.
Let’s look at what’s been happening on the surface with public views of abortion.
This slide shows poll results for what’s called the General Social Survey. It has asked the same seven questions on abortion since 1977. One of those questions is, “Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion for any reason whatever.” See the line? It goes up, it goes down, but there’s no trend. The wind changes, and people change their minds. Around 40% say that a woman should be able to have an abortion for any reason.
Are these people pro-abortion? No, most of them aren’t. They just think that we, or society, doesn’t have a right to stop a woman from aborting for any reason.
We’ve had 46 years since Roe v. Wade to change the public mind on abortion, and, generally speaking, our education and protests simply haven’t changed minds. Why? Because generally people don’t want to think about abortion, don’t want to talk about it. It is as distasteful for them as talking about going to the bathroom. And they generally prefer just to be troubled about it, but ignorant about it, too.
They don’t know, for example, that our hearts start beating 16 days after conception, about the time a woman is discovering that she’s pregnant. Or that the unique little whorls and ridges on our fingertips appear about 8 1/2 weeks after conception. They’ll sometimes say that abortion is murder, but that it’s up to the woman.
Polls, even on serious subjects, are inherently superficial and trivial, too. Any decision they make answering a pollster is going to be superficial, because there are no consequences for a wrong answer. And they don’t have to decide. They can say, “I don’t know.” Or they can just hang up. We know that the vast majority of voters don’t consider a candidate’s views on abortion to be determinative when they vote. That’s the surface.
You wouldn’t know that the French River had a current, until you went to the narrows, east of our cottage. There, thousands of gallons of water pour every minute between banks about 40 feet across. In the deeps, the whole river is steadily moving, from east to west.
Now let’s look at what’s happening under the surface with abortion. These are the ratios of abortions to live births, from 1973 to 2015.
Since 1985, those ratios have been going down. That’s the trend. That’s the current. That’s what’s happening down deep. This isn’t just fewer abortions: this is more and more women each year, who know they are pregnant, choosing not to abort. These are the decisions that matter. These women can’t just hang up. Their decision isn’t trivial. They may say, “I don’t know,” but if they’re thinking about abortion, they have to reject it, or they have to pass on it, at some point. And more and more, they are. So we’re winning where it counts.
Why? Here’s a slide that shows the increase in the number of pregnancy help centers.
That green line actually understates the number of all pregnancy help centers. There are over 2,750, and they are found everywhere. You can see: as that number went up, abortion ratios went down. Each new center helped many women each year.
More important, perhaps, each center has made rejecting abortion possible for many more women. The fact that the center is there, says loud and clear, “You still have a choice. Other women like you are having their babies. Your doubts about abortion aren’t crazy. Your friend had her baby. You’re not a fool if you have your baby, too.” Down deep, they know it. And more and more women are doing the right thing, for which we thank God.
I have analyzed all of the possible reasons that abortion ratios have gone down, and none of them except pregnancy help accounts for the long, gradual decline: certainly not contraception; not a decrease in the number of abortion centers; not even restrictive state laws, though they have had a one-time impact in those states where they have been passed; and not changes in public opinion. I don’t think that all of these together are responsible, either. There is one main driver.
American women like pregnancy help. 92% – including “pro-choice” women – say it’s “necessary.” But 54% of women don’t know that there are pregnancy help centers in their communities (2014). When more of them know about them, more of them will pass on abortion.
You’re here because you’re pro-life. You may feel called to make a statement, to tell the world about prenatal development and abortion. There is a place for that, for protest, for education, for some of us. It seems, however, that part of your prophetic message should be, “Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive,” because few seem to be understanding or perceiving. Of course, God looks for fidelity, not success.
We know that people who are really convinced of the sanctity of life, and act on it, tend to be those who attend church regularly, so try inviting friends from church, who know little about abortion, to a movie like Unplanned. And then, when you have made others aware of the realities of abortion – with them, support pregnancy medical centers here in Pittsburgh.
If you are not compelled to prophetic protest or education, then I recommend that you approach our common task with straightforward realism, and pragmatically. We find out what works, and then we do more of it! If you want to have the biggest, immediate impact on abortion, support advertising for those centers. Why? Here’s a slide that shows what happened in Pittsburgh after we began advertising. The Pittsburgh pregnancy medical centers have been around since the mid-1980s. PA started publishing abortion numbers by county in 1995.
As you can see, the ratio of abortions to live births for Allegheny County residents dropped sharply, even compared to the gradual decline everywhere in PA. A statistician from our parish took a look at the data, and told me that this drop is statistically significant; it’s not a fluke.
I submit that, if we could triple or quadruple the advertising most centers in America do, especially in big cities, in one year we would see the biggest drop in abortion ratios since the CDC began counting. And then it would become even easier, politically, to overturn Roe v. Wade, and start making states protectors of the unborn from conception on.
When we began, 3 out of 4 babies were born; 1was aborted; after a couple of years of advertising, it was 4 out of 5 babies who were born. To reach 5 babies born, out of 6, we need to save 250 more babies in a year. To maintain our current level of advertising, and to reach those 250 more babies, we estimate that we need $40,000. Can you help us?
We don’t need a majority to change their minds on abortion. A small, principled, determined minority, can have profound effects. States with pro-life legislators have passed more than 350 laws restricting abortion since 2010, though the general public remains blasé about the subject. You know the war mini-series, Band of Brothers. The title comes from Shakespeare’s Henry V. King Henry’s roughly 8,500 troops had just won a battle against the French, and were hungry and exhausted. About half of his army had died of disease already, and many of the remainder were sick. The French forces numbered somewhere between 12,000 and 50,000. Henry rallied his troops by reminding them of previous English victories over the French. In Shakespeare’s play, Henry’s cousin wishes that they had more troops. Henry responds with the St. Crispin’s Day speech, one of the most rousing speeches in historical drama, which includes the line, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” (If you haven’t seen the Kenneth Branaugh version of Henry V, you must!) The English won the battle, against seemingly impossible odds. About 6,000 Frenchmen died, but only 400 Englishmen. They won, partly because of technology: their 7 thousands archers used the longbow, which could throw armor-piercing arrows 250 yards, 6 arrows every minute.
Advertising pregnancy help centers, I submit, can be the longbow in the long war against abortion. The ads are like arrows, raining down electronically – our ads showed up over 800,000 times in search results last year, for example, here in Allegheny County. Of course, they do not deal death, but point to life.
. . . Our fundraising banquet was a great success, but we are still in need of funds to keep those abortion ratios down, and to drive them even lower. Please go to our donation page and give sacrificially to help us save even more moms and babies from abortion!
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 40 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.