DALLAS — What makes a father of two leave his perch in corporate America and put into the deep?
For Brian Fisher, it was a phone call. Seven years ago, Fisher was the tech-savvy chief operating officer of a marketing research firm who felt a powerful, gravitational pull to work full time in the pro-life movement.
Fisher’s dream was simple, but audacious: He wanted to employ his marketing expertise to find and “intercept” every woman planning an abortion, with the goal of helping these women connect with pro-life pregnancy-resource centers.
In 2010, Fisher was still in his corporate job, but he had begun to test his web-based strategy in the Pittsburgh area.
In collaboration with a Pittsburgh pregnancy-resource center, he experimented with a variety of internet search terms used by women contemplating abortion. As women typed words like “free abortion” or searched for the closest abortion business, the pro-life clinic ad would pop up.
Fisher feared the strategy wouldn’t work. But June 22, 2010, the Pittsburgh center confirmed that a young pregnant woman who had clicked on its ad actually met with the center staff, and then decided with her fiancé to carry their child to term.
“I broke down and wept, which is hard for a German-pragmatic businessman like me,” Fisher told the Register.
The tears expressed his sorrow for having delayed his leap of faith into a full-time, pro-life apostolate, but also conveyed a sense of joy.
“I saw that God had called on me to rescue someone. I was converted in that instant from being a very reluctant participant to believing we can end abortion and we should,” he said.
Today, the Dallas-based Fisher, a committed Christian, is the president and co-founder of Human Coalition, one of the largest pro-life organizations in the nation, with seven clinics in four U.S. cities — Atlanta, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Raleigh, North Carolina — and a network of 35 additional centers that collaborate in the mission, a full-time staff of 110, and an annual budget approaching $10 million.
“Our mission is to make abortion unthinkable and unavailable,” he said. “We do that by reaching the 1.2 million ‘abortion-determined’ women who seek to end their pregnancies on an annual basis.”
It’s a tall order. According to Human Coalition’s research, “abortion-determined” women are already in the planning stages of ending their pregnancies and are driven by daunting challenges, from pregnancies that were the result of rape and abusive relationships to real financial hardship.
Meanwhile, just 3% of women struggling with crisis pregnancies will visit one of the nation’s estimated 2,500 pregnancy-resource centers, which have helped tens of thousands of clients choose life.
Fisher became involved with the pro-life movement as a pregnancy-resource center volunteer in Pittsburgh. In 2009, he and his business partner, Tim Kachuriak, launched a pilot project, Online for Life, as they saw the enormous potential to use web search ads to boost contact between “abortion-determined” women and pro-life centers.
Once the web strategy proved effective, they opened call centers that promptly scheduled appointments for women at pro-life centers, sometimes on the same day as contact was established.
Last year, Online for Life was rebranded as Human Coalition. And Fisher’s team has fine-tuned the entire effort to intercept, contact, engage and convince women to save the lives of their unborn children. In fact, their relentless campaign to save more lives has led them to address seemingly inconsequential details, like altering the clinics’ “atmosphere” to create a calmer, more secure environment — one single change that improved the outcome of clinic engagement by 35%, according to clinic numbers.
Counseling rooms are now painted in softer tones, couches have throw pillows, and there is a table placed between client and counselor — changes that foster a sense of security and help de-escalate an often tense encounter.
Lori Szala, Human Coalition’s national director of client services, has witnessed the remarkable impact of these reforms firsthand, tracking a threefold increase in the number of “abortion-determined” women who connect with counselors at the organization’s clinics and a nearly sevenfold increase in the number of women who choose to save the lives of their children.
Szala began volunteering at a Pittsburgh pregnancy-resource center 17 years ago and then served as its executive director. Now, that center is run by Human Coalition and adheres to all of its policies.
“It has been an incredible journey,” Szala told the Register.
“Our clientele has changed drastically. We are now seeing women who are planning an abortion, and we can make an impact on that client. It is amazing to see God work on that client’s heart.”
Continuum of Care
The previous day, Szala met with a young woman “who is putting herself through college, had a one-night fling and ended up pregnant. She is very determined to continue her education, doesn’t want a future with the young man, and doesn’t want to disappoint her family,” said Szala.
While the young woman explained that she wanted to “get rid of the problem,” Szala and her team tried to establish a dialogue designed to help “her stop and think about the ramifications” of having an abortion.
While they presented their case, a friend of the young woman who had come with her insisted she should go through with the procedure.
“Combating that voice was difficult. We did some strategic follow-ups and tried to connect with her alone through text messaging,” Szala said, noting one of many digital tools that help staff “accompany” clients.
Years ago, Szala faced her own crisis pregnancy. Thus she understands what the young woman in her office was going through and what message could make a difference. “I was 17,” Szala said, as she recalled a friend sharing her own cautionary story to deter her from having an abortion.
“I was able to see how an abortion would affect my life.”
That sense of gratitude continues to inspire Szala’s ongoing pro-life engagement. And even if the college student she counseled decides on an abortion, Szala emphasized that the Women’s Care Clinic will stay in contact and provide post-abortion counseling. She acknowledged, though, that it can “take years before a woman realizes she is suffering and needs help.”
As she continues to meet with clients, Szala applauds Human Coalition’s decision to adopt a continuum-of-care model, a decision that involves adding staff to help with job searches, as well as government-funded housing and welfare assistance.
“We try our best to eliminate any factors that lead a woman to choose an abortion, like financial stress, domestic violence, abusive relationships, interference with college plans, no medical insurance and lack of affordable housing,” Justin DeMoss, Human Coalition’s national director of development, told the Register.
DeMoss, who previously worked for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), the Register’s parent company, and Fellowship of Catholic University Students, highlights the organization’s effort to bring clients into local faith communities.
“If they are Catholic, they can connect with a parish that can give them additional support,” said DeMoss. “That can help break the cycle of abortion.”
Now, said Fisher, the team is looking into whether government funds will be available to help cover the costs of the expanding program.
Either way, Human Coalition will stay the course and keep looking for new ways to help women choose life.
“The key lesson I have learned is the power of hope: It really is the catalyst for a woman changing her mind” about having an abortion, Fisher concluded.
“A woman who is going to abort most often does not feel there are other choices. But when someone links arms with her and gives her hope, that is enough to help her make another choice.”
That’s the message Human Coalition offers every client who clicks on a web ad.
“We are saturated by negative news and events,” he added.
“But when someone says, ‘This is a good thing: You are bringing another life into the world. We will walk with you; we will give you hope,’ death is countered with hope and love.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is a Register senior editor.