LOS ANGELES — Pro-life action is about to undergo a 21st-century revolution: A new app for Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices has the potential to open up a whole new digital frontier of prayer and support for thousands of women and girls over the United States in crisis pregnancies.
On any given day in the United States, approximately 4,000 mothers make a choice to abort their unborn children, despite the heroic efforts and prayers of crisis-pregnancy counselors and pro-life advocates praying for them at abortion centers or at home.
“Archbishop Gomez sees this as another product of the New Evangelization,” said Kathleen Domingo, life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who hopes this app will massively expand the number of people doing concrete action for life, especially young people.
“This gives us one more opportunity to be doing something very positive and very active for life,” Domingo said.
The Options United app puts pro-life action on the forefront of the digital age: The app sends out alerts to users from crisis-pregnancy counselors for prayer requests when a mother in crisis is making a decision about keeping her baby. Users who commit to pray can then receive “save alerts” (accompanied by a picture of an ultrasound with the mother’s consent) to let them know when their prayers helped save a mother and her baby from abortion; the feature allows the prayer supporters to keep up with their progress.
Southern California is an area where an estimated 220 abortions happen per day. The new pro-life app will get its first real test through 76 crisis-pregnancy centers in the Los Angeles Archdiocese and three neighboring dioceses.
“It’s going to have such a positive effect,” said Astrid Bennett Gutierrez, executive director of Los Angeles Pregnancy Services. Gutierrez runs two pregnancy centers in an area surrounded by abortion facilities. “I’m excited, and my colleagues are excited, because we want to save more babies. We need more funds to do so, but I think it’s going to be a blessing overall.”
Pro-Life Social Network
Options United wants the app, which is free to download, to unite pro-life people, efforts and resources and make pro-life action more “social, local and mobile.”
“We want this to put fresh vigor in the pro-life movement,” said Thomas Rudkins, executive director of Options United.
Rudkins has two goals in mind for the app: multiply exponentially the numbers of prayers for mothers in crisis pregnancies and increase the visibility and funding for local crisis-pregnancy centers.
The app encourages pro-life users to action by earning “life points” in five concrete ways: “pray,” “donate,” “volunteer,” “sacrifice” and “refer.” The “life points” help users track their level of positive, pro-life action. They can also see the points level of other app users on the map of their area, who are also actively engaged in concrete pro-life prayer and action.
“I think prayer is the ultimate tool” in saving women and their unborn children, Rudkins said. “If I can get that accomplished in this app, then it’s a winner.”
The app will allow local crisis-pregnancy centers to enter their information, so they can send out alerts, prayer requests, news and requests for supplies and donations to support and expand their ministries to serve pregnant women in need. Users will also be able to use the app to search for different pro-life organizations and services, such as maternity homes, STD testing, natural family planning, ultrasounds and more.
Rudkins said that Options United has built privacy settings into the app and has also consulted with legal experts to make sure the app comports with privacy laws, including HIPAA.
Domingo explained that a user will be prompted to register, enter in basic contact information, and then be prompted to register with a local pregnancy center. At this point, users can register with a pregnancy center of choice or they can enter their own zip code to register with local pregnancy centers in a 30-mile radius.
Domingo said they want people to register with crisis-pregnancy centers, but also to register their churches on the app as well.
“You just enter your information, and it will drop a little pin on the map for your church,” she said. “It will register you as a pro-life advocate at your church, and anyone else from your church who wants to register can do that.”
The idea is to grow support in a parish, church or synagogue for the pro-life movement and help pastors and religious leaders to see the strength of pro-life activism within their flocks.
“A pastor can see that [app] and realize, ‘Wow … I have 500 parishioners praying daily for women making the choice for life,’” she said.
Local pro-life groups can enter their information, and the app allows local businesses to show their support with ads. The app’s map will allow people to see how many active pro-life individuals, organizations, educational and legal resources, etc. are active in a certain area.
“A lot of our work is to unite pro-life organizations. This app is our ability to do that,” Rudkins said.
Rudkins added that Options United will also vet groups entering information into the app. This way, Options United can make sure that users will have access to genuine pro-life organizations and ministries.
Rudkins said apps generally run between $15,000 - $100,000 to create, and developing the program for Apple and Android platforms has cost Options United close to that "high end of six figures." Users of the app will have the option to donate both to local crisis-pregnancy centers of their choice and to support the work of Options United.
Available by Christmas and March for Life
The app will be available for free download from the Apple and Google Play stores, perhaps as early as Christmas.
“We designed it to go national as soon as it gets in the stores,” Rudkins said.
However, Domingo said the official launch will take place in Los Angeles, concurrent with the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Jan. 22.
The app will be getting updates and improvements as time goes on, according to Rudkins.
Gutierrez said she hopes a future version will be available in Spanish to maximize access and use among the Hispanic community.
“I think it’s going to foster pro-life values in the churches, families and in the youth,” she said. “It’s also going to show the true nature of the pro-life movement: that we are actively defending life.”
Peter Smith is a Register staff writer.