Who can resist a trusting little baby’s helpless gaze? Who can miss the message with it: “Did you know? Your baby’s heart starts beating at 21 days. Is abortion really an option? Get the facts; get help.”

The picture and message appear on some of the latest outdoor ads from 40 Million and Counting. Like the babies it’s trying to save, this grassroots campaign is itself young and small, but it is already making some impact in parts of Los Angeles and San Diego.

“We’re trying to educate the public to show them going through an abortion is more than what the people you’re paying $300 for it are telling you,” explained one of 40 Million and Counting’s staff members. “This is a living being, a life. You may call it a fetus, but if it’s got a heartbeat, it’s a human being.”

One latest campaign started on Jan. 2 at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) with 10 outdoor advertisements — basically small billboards about the size of a door, placed strategically in prominent campus areas like the bookstore, cafeteria, dorms and student center.

“We’re standing up as David vs. Goliath and hoping God will bless this,” said the staff member who wishes to remain anonymous because, as gentle as the ads are, along with some good emails, lots of controversy and hate mail has arrived, too.

The small billboards don’t stop with the cute baby’s picture or the little baby in the womb sucking its thumb. “This is key: We partner with pro-life crisis-pregnancy centers,” explained the staff member. “We provide leads for these centers.”

The ad carries the phone number of one of the local centers ready to provide counseling, medical services, ultrasounds, baby food and diapers, as well as help getting insurance, doing paperwork, and so on.

“Our ads are not judgmental in nature,” said the staff member. “We’re not putting up pictures of murdered babies. We want to take a different approach and make people think before they make these decisions.”

The ads point to the truth through love.

The faith-based Turning Point Pregnancy Resource Center is one of the referral places that has gotten calls from those who view the billboards.

“One of the greatest challenges for me, as an executive director of a pregnancy-resource center near a major university,” notes Camille Cassin, “is the ability to reach abortion-minded women on college campuses. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, has a well-entrenched presence on college campuses nationwide, as well as a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. Local pregnancy-resource centers face the ‘David vs. Goliath’ issue, but 40 Million and Counting is making inroads with their innovative approach to combat the ‘Goliath.’

“40 Million and Counting truly is an answer to my prayers,” she added. “For over four years I’ve prayed for a way to reach the abortion-minded women on the UCSD campus, and the Lord sent 40 Million and Counting to lead the way. I’m excited to partner with this organization and look forward to saving many unborn lives in 2012.”

Relatively new on the pro-life scene, 40 Million and Counting launched its first campaign with 10 billboards in the South Bay areas of Los Angeles in 2010 after the staff member-founder, a nondenominational Christian, read in a business magazine how a multimillionaire in Montana named Tom Siebel used marketing and advertising as a way to fight the state’s massive crystal-meth problem.

As a result of the Montana Meth Project, at the end of two years of thousands of TV and radio spots and print ads and 1,000 billboards, teen meth use declined 45% and adult meth use declined by 72%.

“I thought that was divine inspiration from God saying: You can do this for the cause of the unborn,” related the staff member, who then researched and started a 501c3 nonprofit.

Soon the countless people driving two major freeways, the 405 and 110, saw 40 Million’s billboards. Some referred women to the Torrance Pregnancy Help Center in Torrance, whose director, Adrienne Gross, believed the billboards were sure to make an impact on viewers.

“We have received calls at our pregnancy center because of them (clients and a prospective volunteer),” she said. “However, we believe the true impact may not be known, as there will certainly be many who see the billboards, and it causes them to stop and think about abortion and what is involved, and (they will) hopefully carry their babies.”

That’s the hope for five more billboards of this campaign that launched on March 5 at the University of Southern California (USC). The ads are located at University Village, a USC-owned shopping center connected to the campus where students do a lot of shopping.

“USC does not allow any outside advertisers to actually be on their campus, so this is the closest we could get,” said the 40 Million staff member.

Previously a number of prominent campuses had turned down the ads.

Because the donor base is currently very small, 40 Million and Counting can’t saturate the state with the ads. But the $6,000 billboards are estimated to be getting over a million views per month. That’s important for this organization, as every dollar goes into costs. There is no overhead and no salaries for the fewer than 10 volunteers running it.

But with increased donations, the group hopes to one day inundate the airwaves, newspapers and Internet, along with the billboards, with its “choose life” message.