WASHINGTON — The abortion wars have begun.

Pro-lifers see the Bush presidency as an opportunity. Pro-abortion forces see it as a threat. In either case, the war to frame the public debate is underway.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, which goes by NARAL, has launched a $40 million campaign to mobilize people who favor abortion.

A new pro-life effort is modest by comparison.

Starting this spring, the Staten-Island-based organization Priests for Life will reach out to those suffering the moral and psychological effects of abortion with a massive billboard campaign of its own.

By July, 5,000 signs bearing the message: “Hurting from Abortion: The Doors of the Church are Open,” will appear along highways in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

According to Priests for Life Founder Father Frank Pavone, the two-year, $12 million campaign is an effort to contrast what he called the widespread belief among American women that even though abortion is murder, it is still occasionally “the best course of action in a bad situation.”

The Priests for Life campaign responds to this “conflicted position,” Father Pavone said, “by demonstrating, on a practical level, that abortion is neither necessary nor helpful.”

“There are alternatives to abortion and there is healing and forgiveness for those who are hurting from abortion,” Father Pavone said. “The Church is committed to providing both the alternatives and the healing.”

Father Pavone made his comments at a March 29 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

In addition to the billboards, he said that further media outreach will include television commercials, bus and trains signs, radio clips and: l An aggressive paid advertising campaign on secular television . l 26-part television series on pro-life issues to be aired toward the end of 2001. l A continuation of the organization's existing programming on the Eternal Word Television Network, the Odyssey Network, Vatican Radio and Catholic Family Radio.

“We intend to use all the means at our disposal to take this important message directly to the people in an unparalleled way, utilizing every form of mass media,” Father Pavone said.

Though NARAL representatives wouldn't talk to the Register for this story, the Associated Press quoted NARAL president Kate Michelman saying of the Bush administration, “We are facing an unprecedented historic threat from an administration that is deeply hostile to a woman's right to choose, and women's rights in general, and they are determined to take away that right.”

The Associated Press marshaled evidence that the Bush administration was aiding pro-abortion groups: l NARAL claims it has attracted more new members in the last three months than it had in the past two years. l Planned Parenthood raised $500,000 by scaring supporters of the Bush administration's ban on using U.S. taxpayer money for overseas abortions, said the report.

Priests for Life could look small compared to these efforts. It was founded by Father Frank Pavone in 1995 at the urging of former New York Archbishop John Cardinal O'Connor. Supported by a staff of five full-time diocesan priests, the organization works to assist priests across the country in addressing the abortion issue.

A statement issued by Priests for Life said that money for the post-abortion healing campaign comes from private donors from across the country.

“We realize that we will come under tremendous criticism from pro-abortion groups and others who believe we should remain silent behind the walls of the church sanctuary,” Father Pavone said.

“But we have never been intimidated by such rhetoric. While pro-abortion groups are interested in spreading rhetoric, we will be busy meeting the real needs of women exploited by abortion.”

Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life, called the billboard campaign “a step in the right direction,” but wondered if it would make non-Catholic women who need help coping with an abortion feel left out.

“It's important for women to know that there is hope and healing for women Catholic and non-Catholic alike,” Foster said. “Abortion has touched the lives of probably 30 million women in America and it's important that they know they have a place to turn, no matter what their faith background.”

Still, Foster praised the Church's efforts to reach out to those who suffer after abortion, saying its message of free help should send a signal to women about who has their best interests in mind.

“Even if those who profit from a woman's misery deny that abortion is a loss, women who have experienced it know the truth,” Foster said. “If you want to know where the truth lies, you have to answer yourself this question: ‘Who is it that offers their services for free and who is it that takes Mastercard and Visa?’ This is an industry.”