Every day, two thousand women wake up with an unplanned pregnancy, according to Care Net, a pro-life Christian ministry that seeks to educate and inform pregnant women about their legal options. Many of these women are young, vulnerable, confused, afraid, and often ashamed.
Meeting women at this point of need is where Christians have the opportunity to live out the grace they have been given and help shepherd these women toward good choices, good parenting, and ultimately, peace with God through Christ.
Sunday, January 19, is three days before the forty-first anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of the US Supreme Court that made abortion the law of the land. It is a day to mourn the deaths of more than fifty-one million innocent children, killed before they ever had a chance to experience life outside their mothers' wombs. It is the day set aside by thousands of churches as Sanctity of Life Sunday.
Fifty-one million is a big number. It is forty times the number of all American war deaths from the Revolutionary War until the present. It would be roughly equivalent to wiping out the populations of New York, Florida, and Illinois. That gives you an idea of the innocents killed. So we mourn.
We're pro-life, not because of political persuasion, but by theological commitment. God is the author and creator of life. To be pro-life is an acknowledgement of God's sovereignty over all things. To fight for the unborn is to do our duty as Christ-followers in fighting against injustice. So we mourn and we fight.
The church, more than any other social institution, is uniquely poised to engage in this spiritual battle. The church alone works from the grace side of life, where the blood of Calvary's cross empowers us to provide hope to unwed mothers who face difficult choices. In fact, abortion is one issue where Christians can make a lasting and real difference and actually save lives.
I'm amazed at the effectiveness of pregnancy centers and other pro-life resource centers. There are thousands across the United States, scattered in small towns and cosmopolitan cities alike. Many offer ultrasounds. All offer compassionate counseling by presenting the mother with options beyond abortion.
Amazingly, this is done on shoestring budgets and with mostly volunteer labor. In 2010, seventy-one thousand volunteers worked an estimated 5.7 million uncompensated, volunteer hours, serving more than 2.3 million people with pregnancy assistance, abstinence counseling and education, community outreach programs, and referrals, according to the Family Research Council.
Almost two thousand pregnancy centers are funded through contributions and staffed by volunteers from local churches. It is estimated that these clinics have saved more than ninety thousand lives around the country. I believe we are making a difference. A 2012 report from the Gallup organization suggests that a majority of Americans are now pro-life, with the number of pro-choice Americans hitting an all-time low of 41 percent. The younger generation is more pro-life than its parents. Plus, more women are pro-life than ever before.
Through public advocacy for the unborn, compassionate counseling on the local level, and emerging technologies, we may be turning a tide. I look at the pro-life movement as a steady march in the culture, not unlike the campaign of William Wilberforce against the slave trade in Britain. Perhaps our descendants will look back one day and, like slavery, wonder how our nation ever affirmed the morality of abortion.
We're making a difference because of the grace and love shown by volunteers and crisis pregnancy clinics. Because of the resolute faithfulness of pastors and leaders who stand up for life. Because of technology that clearly shows the viability of babies in the womb. Because of creative strategies that are getting the word out.
One movement, Heroic Media, is a pro-life media group that runs thirty-second commercials over a course of ten weeks in selected markets, educating about life and offering a crisis helpline. They have found a 42 percent reduction in the abortion rate in those markets after their commercials have run.
More Than Elections
To be pro-life is more than just checking a box every two or four years in an election cycle. It means caring for orphans, caring for mothers, and caring for the children that are born. It means fighting human trafficking and sex slavery. It means working harder to mentor young, at-risk children, helping men become better fathers, helping moms become better moms. It means standing up for the elderly, the disabled, the less fortunate. That's what it means to be pro-life.
The anger we feel over the vast numbers of children being killed every day due to abortion should move us to concrete action.
We ought to be horrified and physically sickened at the thought of babies being mercilessly murdered; but if that anger only moves us to listen to more talk radio, to speak disparagingly of liberals, or to put a bumper sticker on the car, it does no good.
That anger must move us to save lives in our communities, to save babies from the precipice of death by reaching out to vulnerable women and sharing the love of Christ, helping them make wise decisions, and encouraging them to embrace that life within them.
I think of the example of the midwives in Exodus. Pharaoh was slaughtering newborn boys. The midwives couldn't save them all, but they could save some, right there, in their midst. And so can we.
Elections come and go, and we should let our voices be heard and our votes be counted. In the meantime, there are vulnerable women who need guidance and direction. We can make a dent in that abortion rate, one life at a time. The church cannot, by itself, reverse Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. But, as grace-filled communities, churches across the land can offer support to the thousands of women who wake up every day with a choice of what to do about an unplanned pregnancy.
Daniel Darling, vice president of communications at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is a member of First Baptist Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee.
Five Reflections for the Pro-Life Movement
by Daniel Darling
Polls seem to indicate that the pro-life position has gained ground; younger people may be even more pro-life than their parents. Yet abortion is still the law of the land, and millions of babies are sent to their deaths every year. So where do we go from here? Here are five steps the pro-life movement should take.
1) Model Wilberforce's endurance and courage
William Wilberforce, who devoted his life to ending the slave trade in Britain, is a model for the pro-life movement. His work to win over the English public and shepherd legislation through Parliament was a decades-long slog filled with disappointment and defeat, yet God gave him courage to persevere. The pro-life movement has much work to do to convince the public that abortion should be wrong and to move legislation forward and get it signed into law, but we too must persevere.
2) Invest in pregnancy centers
I can only imagine what could be accomplished if just half the money conservatives send to political candidates were given to pregnancy centers, where lives are being saved each day. They run on small budgets and are largely staffed by volunteers. Many perform sonograms*, offer counseling, and provide supplies like diapers and car seats. It's easy to be pro-life during an election cycle. It takes work to save the life in front of you.
3) Reframe the life issue as a justice issue
The call of young activists is for justice. And this is good, because God calls His children to be on the side of justice. The pro-life movement needs to rebrand itself to capture young evangelical hearts and minds. It should break free from the political right, enabling it to make common cause with people of all political stripes. It should adopt a holistic vision–not only championing the unborn, but working to alleviate poverty, fight human trafficking, etc.
4) Do not make women the enemy
The "war on women" is mostly a media creation, but there are some pro-lifers who, frankly, hurt the cause. Not one baby is saved by using the issue as a sledgehammer against vulnerable women or against those who disagree. Perhaps this generation will engage rather than demonize, find common ground, and reduce the number of abortions. And let's offer forgiveness and hope to those who have made the tragic choice to end a life, pointing them to the grace found in Christ.
5) Continue to shape the culture
We need politicians to craft pro-life legislation and a populace willing to accept it. Thankfully, sophisticated sonogram technology, creative attempts to shape the media culture, and a generation focused on justice are slowly tilting the issue in our favor. And since abortion is downstream from family breakdown, let's recommit to strengthening the family, building up local churches, and preaching the lifesaving message of the Gospel.
* The ERLC's Psalm 139 Project has been placing sonogram machines in pregnancy centers since 2004. For information, visit psalm139project.org.