Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
There have been a lot of fascinating discussions about how the digital revolution will impact everything from prayer to marriages to the Church as a whole, but one of the areas that I find most interesting is how it has impacted the fight for the dignity of human life. Based on my own conversion to the pro-life position and what I’ve observed in society at large, I think that new media will play a key role in turning the tide against the culture of death, specifically on the issue of abortion. Here’s why:
1. Pregnant women feel less alone
When I was in high school, an acquaintance of mine found out she was pregnant. She felt like she was the only 17-year-old girl on the face of the planet to be in this condition and, I had to admit, it seemed that way to the rest of us, as well. We lived in an upper-middle-class area where teen pregnancies simply did not happen (not that anyone knew about, anyway). This feeling of utter alienation was a big part of her reluctant decision to sneak off to an abortion clinic and “have it taken care of.”
I thought of this the other day when I came across an online forum for teen moms. Though many of the girls were in unfortunate situations, it was heartwarming to see them come together in mutual support to discuss everything from how to tell your parents you’re pregnant to the best ways to organize your bedroom to share it with a baby. You see this same thing happening in online forums for women of all ages and backgrounds: expectant mothers who would otherwise be without any kind of support network finding community and support on the internet. I often wonder if my friend from high school would have felt empowered to make a different decision if she had had something like that available. There’s little doubt that the existence of online communities has saved many babies’ lives.
2. Widespread knowledge about fetal development
I remember one of the moments when I first attempted to form an opinion about abortion. The subject had come up in my ninth grade health class, and it made me wonder about life within the womb. Obviously an “abortion” the day before a woman’s due date was wrong, but what about earlier stages of pregnancy? I had almost no familiarity with the subject and no ideas about what newly conceived life was like. I was curious, but the only way for me to get more information would be to do research at a library, and I wasn’t that curious to put that much time and effort into the subject. When I later heard the explanation that first-trimester abortions are nothing more than the removal of a “blob of tissue,” I had no reason to question it. If a ninth grader were in that same situation today, thanks to the internet it would take her almost no effort to satisfy her curiosity about unborn babies. In a matter of seconds she could have pictures of the hands and feet and fingers and toes of newly conceived babies up on her computer monitor—and when she encountered the “blob of tissue” argument, she’d immediately recognize it as false.
3. More information about the abortion industry
I don’t recall ever hearing about disturbing abortion clinic practices before I had an internet connection. Back when our only sources of information about the world were the local newspaper and the big networks’ nightly news programs, it was easy to buy into the idea that all abortion clinics are nice places where women are completely respected, because you never heard anything different. Now that we can get our news from a variety of sources outside of the mainstream media, we hear stories that never would have made it onto the CBS Evening News—and it’s changed the way many people view abortion clinics. Hearing stories of babies surviving termination attempts, women being pressured to get abortions, clinics disregarding standard safety procedures, etc. has undoubtedly given the public mind a more balanced view of the abortion industry.
4. More information about each side of the debate
Anyone searching on the topic of abortion is bound to come across both pro-life and pro-choice websites, and I think that any truth-seeking person would have to admit that there is far more openness on one side than the other. One side openly displays detailed pictures of unborn life within the womb; the other almost never does. One side is willing for people to see what these procedures really involve by watching videos or viewing pictures of actual abortions; the other side seems to go out of its way to cover up this information. One side uses normal terms when describing abortions and their impact on unborn life, referring to “arms,” “legs,” “hands,” etc.; the other side does linguistic acrobatics to disguise reality with vague terms like “products of conception” or “fetal parts.”
5. It’s easier to find alternatives to abortion
At least where I grew up, pregnancy resource centers were not widely known in the 80’s and 90’s. This may have been different for people in conservative Christian circles, but the average person in the places I lived was probably not even aware that maternity homes and pro-life crisis pregnancy centers existed, whereas everyone knew that abortion clinics were around. If a woman in a crisis pregnancy 15 years ago had had the whim to seek assistance to keep her baby, she may not have known where to begin to find that kind of help, if it existed at all. These days it would only take a woman a few seconds of searching online to find an abundance of pro-life aid programs to assist her both in her pregnancy and in the months beyond the birth.
The internet may have its downsides, but I think there’s little question that the way it facilitates information and communities can only help the pro-life cause in the long run.