The year 2013 was a banner year for pro-life legislative victories. Twenty-two states enacted 70 abortion restrictions, including three fetal pain laws and eight bans on medication abortion via telemedicine. They also mandated hospital admission privileges for abortion providers in Texas, legislation that resulted in the closure of 87 surgical abortion clinics.
In a previous article, however, I made the case that legislative victory takes pro-life advocates only so far. We must also be concerned with individual, one-on-one ministry: with frightened women in unplanned pregnancies, with women who would risk anything to terminate, with doctors aiding them in their desperation. And we must be concerned with the unborn children whose lives are at stake despite the legislative strictures in place. We must work toward creating a culture of life, based on relationships, to support the legal progress we have made.
But what might such work look like? Recently, several noteworthy examples have made headlines. Each one models a key aspect of what Christ-like activism on the level of person-to-person engagement might look like.
1. Know your audience, and go where they are: Online for Life
Run by a team of business, marketing, and technology experts, this ministry uses search engine optimization and online advertising to seek out abortion-minded women online and connect them with counseling, both by phone and in person, at local crisis pregnancy centers.
According to Brian Fisher, president of Online for Life, abortion continues in America ”because we’re not talking to the people who are aborting their children.” Having learned that more than 10,000 online searches are made each day for ”abortion” and abortion-related terms, Online for Life has found a way to reach out virtually to women — even those who seek help anonymously via the Internet.
And it’s working: since 2009, Online for Life has established relationships with over three million women in crisis pregnancies, and, as of this month, more than 1,600 children have been spared. The privacy of a digital environment allows Online for Life to connect with pregnant mothers in their most vulnerable moments and offer them hope through personal outreach.
2. Make it easy to do the right thing: The Baby Box
South Korean pastor Lee Jong-Rak saw a simple and creative solution to the hundreds being abandoned on the streets of Seoul: He created a drop box on the side of his church and hung up a sign reading, ”Place to leave babies.” Mothers now come at all times of day and night, usually anonymously, assured that each child will receive the care they are unable to provide. Since 2009, 383 babies have been left in the box, lives spared because one man made it just a little easier for mothers to make a choice for life.
The effects of the RU-486 “abortion pill” are considered permanent. So when Dr. Matt Harrison found a 20-year old pregnant woman in his office begging for a reversal, he turned to God. The untested idea of flooding her with progesterone came to him, and, miraculously, it worked: the first RU-486 reversal in the history of medicine. Seven months later, baby Kaylie was born. Her mother, inspired to help other children, now works as a respiratory therapist at a children’s hospital.
Abby Johnson founded a charity called ”And Then There Were None” to help abortion clinic workers who want out of the industry, finding ways to make the transition possible for them emotionally, spiritually, legally, and financially. Between June 2012 and December 2013, according to Johnson, 92 abortion clinic workers were able to ”leave the industry to start a journey of healing and a new life with Christ.”
The work being done by these ministries and individuals is in line with that of heroes and heroines of the faith who have been at the center of historic civil rights movements. They are the pro-life equivalents of Corrie Ten Boom Sojourner Truth and William Wilberforce. More importantly, though, they are working in the tradition of Jesus, who was always centered on changing individual lives, confronting people in their weakness, and helping them — even the most rejected of them — with love and grace.
In fact, while legislative action is certainly important in a case like abortion, it is not the primary model of social activism that we see in the Bible. When we look at how Jesus approached social change, we see him going directly to the victims of injustice, not legislative bodies. He shows compassion toward social outsiders by healing lepers (Matthew 8:1-3). He rejects racism by speaking to a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42).
Jesus risks his reputation by showing compassion to the most rejected sinners (Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 7:36-50). And he welcomes the poor to his table and reminding his disciples that whatever they do to others, they are effectively doing to him (Luke 14:12-14, Matthew 25:31-46).
Jesus’ approach to justice is based on direct contact with the individuals whose lives are at stake. It’s based also on living a life exemplified by selfless love. He sent out his disciples with a commission, in part, to “heal the sick, raise up the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8). This is a challenge because, while the paths to legislative change are clear, we must additionally be involved in the perhaps more challenging task of creating a greater culture that supports and promotes life, a culture based on relationships. The ministries profiled here show what this might look like.
While acknowledging and appreciating advocates for legislative reform, we should uplift as well the Christ-like value of working in the trenches of change and effecting it first hand, on a daily basis. Wherever we are, we can touch the unique lives of the individuals at the center of the storm that is abortion.