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BY Joseph Pronechen
“I read it religiously,” says Cathleen Cleaver, secretariat for pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It is an extremely important source of information for anyone working in the pro-life movement.”
“I've used it since its inception,” says Catholic University of America law professor Helen Alvare.
“It's absolutely terrific,” says Joe Kral, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, based in Houston.
What is “it”? The Pro-Life Infonet — or, rather, what used to be the Pro-Life Infonet. This spring, founder and editor Steven Ertelt transformed his operation into the new and improved Life News.com.
For 10 years Ertelt ran Pro-Life Infonet essentially as an Internet news-clipping service. But the times prompted this major new endeavor, he says, because Pro-Life Infonet had to maneuver over roads filled with pothole-sized gaps in accuracy and deceptive detours from the truth.
“Many of the mainstream media outlets weren't picking up seven or eight out of 10 stories with a pro-life angle, or they were reporting it with biased coverage,” Ertelt explains from his home base in Helena, Mont. They ignored developments that could hurt the abortion lobby, for example, like reports of women who died during abortions and the well-established link between breast cancer and abortion.
Even the editor of the staunchly liberal L.A. Times, Ertelt points out, had to take his reporters to task for their bias in this regard. (See the Register editorial “L.A. Timesin the Mirror,” June 15-21.)
Also: When the secular media reported on the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, they often referred to a live baby outside the womb as a “fetus.” “[That] doesn't make any sense at all,” Ertelt says, clearly aghast at the irresponsible journalism.
“All of this is the culmination behind creating LifeNews.com,” explains Ertelt. “Our goal is to report the news in an accurate way without all the biases and inaccuracies found in the mainstream media. We're going to get the facts and report those issues in a faithful manner. The pro-life community can look to us to provide accurate and timely pro-life news.”
Indeed, pro-life leaders already know Ertelt for these qualities from LifeNews.com's predecessor.
“To me its standout quality is its relentless keeping up,” says Alvare. “It's got a wide variety of things I need. I never miss it. You wouldn't know the trends, how many states are considering bills in the pro-life direction” if not for Ertelt, she continues. The only time mainstream media reports these developments “is when the anti-lifers are whining about something going on against Roe v. Wade.”
From Houston, Kral recalls the time Idaho was trying to pass an unborn victims’ violence law establishing mother and unborn child as distinct victims — “instead of recognizing only the mother and treating the child as chattel, property.” “Legislators were getting confused,” says Kral, adding that he believes Pro-Life Infonet clarified the situation.
“I remember that very well,” he says. The two-victim approach ultimately prevailed and “we were able to fend off an anti-life challenge.”
On LifeNews.com, Ertelt presents originally written news and features that his reporters, all with extensive journalistic experience, glean from national, state and local venues “to get it done right the first time,” he says. That includes the gamut of pro-life issues — abortion, euthanasia, bioethics issues, assisted suicide, human cloning, stem-cell research, legal and legislative issues.
At age 29, Ertelt is no Johnny-come-lately to the pro-life cause. At Hendrix College in Arkansas, he was president of the American Collegians for Life, then left to help the National Right to Life Committee found National College Students for Life. Going back even further, as a pre-college teen, Ertelt read about pro-life work.
When he learned about the numbers of babies being aborted, “I was completely dismayed that so many people were dying,” he says. “Look at all the potential doctors, teachers, nurses — people who could have made a wonderful contribution to the community and who could be making such a beautiful impact on society today” if only they'd been allowed to be born.
After graduating college in 1996, he became full-time public-affairs director for Indiana Citizens for Life. “One of the things I was most proud of,” he says, “is that we were one of the first states in the country to pass a partial-birth abortion ban.”
In 1996, at a meeting of pro-life groups in Indiana, he met his wife , Sally Winn, now vice president of Feminists for Life. She was the chair of the Marian County right-to-life organization in Indianapolis. They have two daughters, Emily, 9, and Hannah, 7.
Ertelt next became executive director of Montana Right to Life; from there all roads led to LifeNews.com. “I felt this is where God wanted me to be,” he says, “and the best place where I could use my talents.”
And how. LifeNews currently has a subscriber list 45,000 strong. “It's a blessing and joy to see the impact the site has had on public policy,” says Ertelt. Whether it's spurring pro-life people into action, informing them which companies donate to Planned Parenthood or inspiring them with the details of the latest victory on the pro-life front, LifeNews clearly is making a difference.
“We can take these things, learn from them and apply them,” says Kral. “I use the stories in our talks to legislators,” explaining how they “can learn from the bad and the good things that are going on in other states.”
The far-reaching effects even mean running more efficient pro-life meetings. Cleaver explains that, as pro-life staffers from various locations meet together, time and again someone will reference a story from LifeNews.com. Inevitably, it becomes a rallying point.
“We all got it from Steven,” says Cleaver. “It always helps us come together around an incident, and it saves us several steps because everyone has read it.” His service “gets us up to speed much more rapidly.”
Web of Support
One of Ertelt's goals is to license the news from Life-News.com to pro-life-friendly newspapers, radio, television, magazines and Web sites.
There's plenty of opportunity to make that happen. His worldwide subscribers include fledgling pro-life groups in South Africa and another in Israel, which join better-established groups from America, England, Australia and New Zealand.
“One of the things we haven't seen,” Ertelt says, “is a big growth in subscribers in Asian countries.” China, with its forced-abortion policy, is an example. But, since this information isn't going out via letter, phone or mail, he hopes to see subscribers increasing. “That's one of the great things about the Internet,” he says.
Because of all the information out there, “it's impossible to read everything — to distinguish the wheat from the chaff,” notes Cleaver. “Steven Ertelt has done that for everyone.”