By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — It’s been 40 years since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court landmark case, Roe v. Wade, was decided, legalizing abortion. Since then, more than 52,000,000 abortions have been performed in the U.S.
Even before Roe v. Wade, pro-life groups, churches and individuals worked to change hearts and minds and save babies.
The National Right to Life Committee was formed in 1968. Today, through print media, TV, radio, the Internet and word of mouth, churches and faith-based prolife groups, including the Missouri-based Vitae Foundation, continue spreading the message of life.
A Vitae sponsored billboard campaign in the Kansas City area began Nov. 26, offering alternatives to abortion and a telephone number to a nearby pregnancy resource center. The campaign is already showing positive results.
The phone number of The Women’s Clinic of Kansas City appears on 21 billboards in and around Independence, one of the clinic’s two locations.
The clinics’ executive director, Deborah Neel, said the clinic received more than 50 calls generated by the billboards in December.
Since the campaign began, Neel said, “We have 3 babies confirmed saved, and some undecided, hanging in the balance.” She also said that the number of clients served daily at both clinics increased almost 50 percent in Dec. 2012 vs. Dec. 2011, crediting the billboard campaign.
In Missouri, efforts to reduce abortion began almost at the same time as abortion was legalized. In 1974, the year following Roe v. Wade, Carl Landwehr and other pro-life leaders in the state formed the Missouri Citizens for Life Education Fund to assist prolife individuals and groups continue traditional educational programs in their communities. The term, “pro-life,” had been adopted in 1973 to highlight the belief that abortion takes a life rather than merely being a “reproductive right.”
Missouri Citizens for Life aired their first positive, non-threatening pro-life commercial in Kansas City in 1992. The organization’s name was changed to Vitae (Life) Society in 1993.
Published research helped pro-life leaders understand that there were many issues a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy dealt with, and the message changed from anti-abortion to pro-woman, pro-life. Vitae Society and the Caring Foundation of Michigan merged into the Vitae Caring Foundation, a registered public charity, in 2002.
VCF embraced the Internet and launched three websites in the ensuing decade: its corporate site, www.vitaecaringfoundation.org; www.gravityteen.com, which communicates with teens about life issues; and www.youroptions.com, for women 18-24 years old who may be pregnant and scared.
In 2008, VCF changed its name to Vitae Foundation and now has a presence in 77 major media markets in 29 states and 16 countries through TV, radio, the Internet, mobile, print and home-based marketing.
Vitae used only TV advertising until 2007, when it experimented with print ads placed in New York City subway trains and found them effective.
In Oct. 2009, Vitae’s first billboard ads went up in Kansas City, giving telephone numbers for The Women’s Clinic of Kansas City and Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic in Kansas City, Kan.
Anne Carmichael, Vice President of Vitae Foundation said that in the first week, five babies were saved; including two scheduled, but cancelled abortions. The campaign lasted three months, she said, and a total of 83 babies were saved because their mothers called one of the two numbers advertised.
The Greater Kansas City area billboard campaign in 2009-2010 and a second in 2011, resulted in nearly 200 babies saved, Carmichael said.
The results of the current campaign won’t be in for several months, but as of Jan. 7, at least three babies have been saved.
The concept behind the campaign is that if a woman considering abortion is given the opportunity to obtain free counseling, support and education, and a chance to meet her baby face-to-face via ultrasound technology, she will be more likely to choose life.
When Vitae Foundation’s current billboard campaign ends, the billboards will then be taken up by the Knights of Columbus, Neel said. The billboard ads are vinyl rather than paper and can be reused. The Knights expect to restart the billboards sometime in the spring of 2013.
Bill Francis, Respect Life director for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and a Knight of Columbus, said Kansas City has a unique landscape that the Knights of Columbus, parish Respect Life committees and coordinators must take into account when launching programs and campaigns to reduce abortion. Jackson County, encompassing much of Kansas City, currently has the second largest number of resident abortions in the state (behind St. Louis County), despite the fact that there are no abortion clinics in Jackson County. However, Kansas City, Kan., and Overland Park, Kan., both have abortion clinics, so most Jackson County residents seeking abortions travel across the state line.
In Northwestern Missouri, there are no pregnancy resource centers open yet, although one is planned to open in February.
The Knights of Columbus Meet Life campaign began in 2011 with the goal of reducing the number of abortions in Missouri by 50 percent by the end of 2016. The program has helped pregnancy resource centers across the country obtain ultrasound machines. The first ultrasound machine in the Greater Kansas City area was placed in the Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic in Kansas City, Kan.
In quick order, The Women’s Clinic in Independence, Rachel House in Lee’s Summit and The Women’s Clinic in Grandview obtained ultrasound machines with the aid of area Knights of Columbus councils. Less than two years into the five-year Meet Life campaign, 75 percent of the 15 pregnancy resource centers in the diocese have ultrasound machines with trained sonographers introducing women to their babies.
Francis sees many opportunities for the Meet Life Campaign in the Diocese, rather “like the goose that laid the golden egg. I truly believe that with this one program, we have an opportunity to produce golden eggs beyond anyone’s imagination,” he said, in other words, expanding and developing pro-life programs and activities that will continue to reduce the number of abortions in Missouri.
According to Gallup polls going back to 1995, there has been a shift in attitudes toward abortion. In 1995, 56 percent said they were pro-choice, while 33 percent said they were pro-life. In May 2012, 50 percent said they were pro-life while 41 percent said they were pro-choice. Much of the change is among the millennials, the late teens and twenty-somethings, thanks to the work of young people like Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America who is credited with increasing the number of campus pro-life groups from 181 in 2007 to almost 700 at colleges in 49 states.
Time Magazine’s cover story Jan. 3 makes the case that American attitudes toward abortion have shifted. More and more, people are changing their minds and hearts and embracing pro-life tenets. Many states have passed laws regulating abortion and women now have greater access to alternatives to abortion. Time staff writer Kate Pickert said that pro-choice activists “haven’t done a very good job of adapting to the changes in both laws and attitudes.”
The pregnancy resource centers located in this Diocese, founded under different faith traditions — Rachel House (3 locations); The Women’s Clinic of Kansas City (2 locations); Life Choice-Harrisonville; Liberty Women’s Clinic; Hands of Hope-Platte City/Parkville; New Beginnings-Warrensburg; Golden Door of Hope-Clinton, and a new resource center in St. Joseph expected to open in February — as well as the Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic across the state line, all offer non-judgmental care and caring for pregnant women and girls in crisis.
“We treat everyone who comes in with love,” said Carla Johnson, client advocate at the Women’s Clinic in Independence. “There’s no condemnation or criticism. We connect with them; show we have something in common. We point out their strengths and encourage them. They start to change their minds and hearts when they realize that the staff is there for them.”
Deborah Neel added, “It’s true mama-drama. These girls and women come in confused, scared, unsure what they will do. We try to help them settle their spirit long enough to receive information. Life is so dark for them, but the Body of Christ, His people, come together to help. The love of Christ comes to others through people.”
Johnson said, “We want clients to consider us family. Yes, their lives are changing, but we want to help make it better, for them and for their babies.”
Neel said, “It’s not just about helping clients want their babies. This is an opportunity for the Body of Christ, the people of Christ, to come together and support young women making the most important decision of their lives, new life.”