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Vitae Caring Foundation meets women with crisis pregnancies right where they’re at: in front of a TV set. By Joseph Pronechen.
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
The point of most TV commercials is to get people to buy
stuff they don’t need. But broadcast “spots” — not to mention campaigns put
forth in print, online and in other media — can also get people to do the right
thing. Such as, for example, spare a baby’s life.
That, in a nutshell, is the operating vision of the
Missouri-based Vitae Caring Foundation.
In Georgia, Jill Hardin was channel surfing when she
happened upon a Vitae commercial. Instead of a pitch for beer or shampoo, she
saw a touching message about the sanctity of life followed by the words “Think
About It.” This was followed by the toll-free phone number of a local
She called and now thinks back with gratitude on how the
center “brought me through my deepest depression I have ever been in my life.”
“They made me feel loved and accepted,” Hardin says. “I
don’t even know what my life would be without my daughter. She’s everything to
me. If I would have made the wrong decision, I would not be the same person I
am today. … And I thank everybody that got that ad campaign out that I saw. I
thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
Hardin’s is just one of many happy “turnaround” stories
Vitae has inspired. In April 2006, abortions fell by 10.6% in Minneapolis the
month after Vitae’s ads aired. Calls to pregnancy-resource centers increased
181% after a 2006 Kansas City ad campaign. In Dallas, calls increased 169%.
Catholic ethicist and moral theologian Pia de Solenni, a
consultant for Vitae, points out that, since 1992, when Vitae began airing
commercials in Missouri, the state’s abortions have declined 27%.
Recently a campaign in New York City used what Vitae calls
integrated media — a combination of multiple messages on cable TV, in subways,
on buses and in print publications — to reach women in “America’s abortion
capital.” Since the beginning of this year, the campaign has generated upwards
of 40 calls to Expectant Mother Care/EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers. De
Solenni says the outreach helped convince well over 100 women not to abort
The Vitae Caring Foundation has developed and implemented “a
bold, pro-life, mass media educational initiative that has had a tremendous
impact,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., says. “Vitae’s
commitment to produce well-researched pro-life media messages, aimed at
audiences who are not already pro-life, has proven effective not only in
shifting public opinion but also in saving lives.”
Creative and Persuasive
Vitae’s 30 or so TV commercials in English and Spanish have
run in more than 30 states and 13 major cities, reaching into more than 65
“prime media markets.” They’re so creative and persuasive that Vitae won
“Platinum Best of Show” at the 2007 Aurora Awards, a competition for
independent filmmakers, for its spot on the dangers of embryonic stem-cell
Carl Landwehr, Vitae’s president and co-founder, explains
one major reason for the work’s success: “We try first and foremost to use good
research to get more effective with the commercials.”
He says the organization follows the principles of smart
advertising, applying sophisticated market research and measuring tools to see
which commercials work — and to make sure the message gets through to their
target audience of women between 18 and 34.
Landwehr, who has been involved in pro-life work since 1974,
explains that Vitae’s role is not to provide counseling directly but rather to
connect women in need with rock-solid, pro-life resources near where they live.
Surveying women to find out “where they’re at,” to put it in
the lingo of the street, helps Vitae figure out how to connect with them.
“The research shows that the conversation has to be about
the woman,” de Solenni points out. And it shows the ads work.
Father John Jay Hughes of Christ the King Parish in
University City, a suburb of St. Louis, recognizes the effectiveness of this
market research. A strong Vitae supporter, he notes that the ads are “low-key,
not preachy, and designed to make women make a choice they are happy with — not
a choice to bring them years of regret and shame.”
“What I see important in their work is they are changing
hearts and minds,” adds the priest. “That is the bottom line in the pro-life
fight against abortion.”
“Mass media drives the American culture whether we like it
or not,” says Landwehr. “We see where this target audience is getting their
Indeed, Americans spend an average of 28 hours per week
watching television. “John Paul really realized the media were the highways and
byways and the marketplace where the people were,” says de Solenni. “You have
to use it, not retreat or run from it, but encounter people where they are at.
The place you definitely meet them is in various forms of the media.”
Through donations, non-profit Vitae buys airtime on the most
popular television and cable stations, which draw large audiences with a
cross-section of viewers and listeners.
“The message of life is very inviting and reassuring,”
Landwehr concludes, “and we spread it in a way that’s believable and credible.
You don’t have to threaten. We invite people to a value system that’s very
exciting and uplifting.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.