Pregnancies That ThriVe: Fast-Growing Outreach Assists Expectant Mothers in Need
A single mom and her friends in Missouri are showing America how to save more unborn babies utilizing consumer-oriented techniques in conjunction with state-of-the-art medical technology.
ST. LOUIS — Post-Roe, the abortion battle turns to two fronts — states that are expanding access and increasing public funding; and telehealth, through which abortion providers are guiding abortion seekers in both pro-life and pro-abortion states on how to use abortion pills.
The question for pro-lifers is: How do you reach pregnant women planning to have an abortion that live in abortion-friendly states or have access to telehealth?
ThriVe Nation, a pro-life organization based in St. Louis, says it has come up with a winning approach and now wants to take it nationwide.
ThriVe uses modern branding techniques, including catchy colors, bright signs, attractive sounds, an upbeat name and ungrammatical capitalization. Frequent advertising with a heavy emphasis on social media helps connect ThriVe with young women long before they even get pregnant.
“We are targeting the 19-to-29-year-old-abortion-determined girl who has grown up drinking Starbucks and shopping at lululemon and Target,” Bridget VanMeans, ThriVe’s president, said in a telephone interview with the Register. “They are absolutely addicted to their iPhone. So there’s a need to engage them on their iPhone. If you aren’t relevant on that phone, then you’re not relevant. That’s just how it is.”
It’s a new way of connecting with women thinking about having an abortion. The approach is different, too. Instead of emphasizing a philosophical, spiritual or religious theory of a right to life, ThriVe emphasizes facts and practical solutions from the get-go. Abortion is treated not so much as a grave evil as a poor solution to a problem.
“Women in that situation are not thinking about it as a moral issue. They’ve been trained by Planned Parenthood to think of it as a medical issue. That’s just where they’re at,” said Brett Attebery, president and chief executive officer of Heroic Media, which creates and places pro-life ads and is a partner in ThriVe+, a new telehealth feature that began July 4.
Attebery, a 2004 convert to Catholicism, is the author of Your Pro-Life Bottom Line: How You Can Help End Abortion by Investing in Groundbreaking Consumer Marketing Strategies That Encourage Women to Choose Life, published in April 2022. The book describes, among other things, how the author believes pro-life pregnancy centers can better compete with abortion providers by using the principles of marketing.
When Questions Arise
Women with unexpected pregnancies have questions about how they can possibly provide for a child and whether they can go to college and have a career. To succeed, a pro-life approach needs to answer those questions — quickly.
“Women don’t want to hear a moral message,” said Attebery, emphasizing that the women’s thoughts are on the trouble they are in. “What they really want to hear is, ‘How are you going to help me achieve what I want out of life?’”
“And, historically, pregnancy-help centers have not focused on that message,” he said.
ThriVe doesn’t avoid spiritual counsel — it’s one of a package of services that ThriVe provides free of charge, including diapers, formula, parenting advice, career coaching and psychological counseling. But ThriVe personnel never lead with a spiritual pitch. Instead, the first things a pregnant woman hears are medical facts, all her options (including abortion, adoption, raising the child), and how to make pro-life options happen.
“We perceive her as a consumer. She’s buying a product, and that product is her future. She’s in a fight-or-flight mode, and so she’s willing to make pretty severe decisions,” VanMeans explained.
Vision Brings the Dollars
VanMeans, a single mom, understands the non-religious approach because that’s where she comes from. Born to an unmarried mother who was pressured to abort her, VanMeans grew up without religion. As a young woman, she became a professional model. In her 20s, she was a successful and hard-nosed regional manager in the fitness and fashion industry, for Nutrisystem.
When she was about 30, her mother reverted to her childhood Catholic faith and invited her to do the same. VanMeans had a spiritual awakening. (Not to Catholicism; she calls herself an “all-denominational Christian.”) Eventually, she decided to leave the secular business world and devote her time to a debt-ridden pro-life pregnancy center with bleak prospects.
That was 2009. Today, the St. Louis-area operation has an annual budget of about $5 million, while the national entity’s budget is close to $10 million, she said.
How did that happen?
Branding is a big part of it. ThriVe locations are purposefully called “women’s health centers,” not “pregnancy-resource centers” — a marketing touch aimed at young women thinking not about continuing their pregnancies but ending them. VanMeans added medical staff (including licensed nurses, overseen by medical doctors) and medical services to justify the description — each center offers not just pregnancy tests but also ultrasounds and tests for sexually transmitted diseases. The centers do not offer contraception.
VanMeans said sympathetic business owners and other donors have reacted to her modern and big-thinking approach by writing big checks. ThriVe has gotten more than 25 six-figure donations and hundreds of donations topping $25,000, she said.
“I call it ‘business-try’ — because we’re doing ministry, but we’re doing it with a very, very sharp business edge and a very, very strong business acumen,” VanMeans told Pro-Life America Radio in April.
Counting new centers and existing centers that have become affiliates, ThriVe is now in seven states: Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Georgia and Florida. A new center is scheduled to open Aug. 1 in Philadelphia. VanMeans wants to be in all 50 states within a year and a half.
On July 4, ThriVe opened a telehealth center in Oklahoma City, which offers live video conferencing through the internet.
The goal of many traditional pregnancy-resource centers is to see a pregnant woman who calls within 24 hours. The goal of the new ThriVe+ telehealth feature is to respond in 30 seconds. A woman who calls is immediately routed to a live online video session with a registered nurse.
The immediacy is necessary, VanMeans said. Some abortion supporters call abortion pills (often guided by telehealth) “Plan C,” after Plan A (regular contraception) and Plan B (emergency contraception) fail. A woman with a problem pregnancy, a cellphone and a credit card is likely looking for an immediate solution — and abortion pills might seem like that solution to her.
“Right now, with the imminent rollout of Plan C, if we can’t provide an immediate alternative on her cellphone, then there is no alternative,” VanMeans said.
Attebery sees telehealth as a potential “force multiplier” for local pro-life pregnancy centers, sending them far more clients than they get now.
Ultrasound Is Key
Ultrasound is another key part of the ThriVe approach. Medically, ultrasound is used to determine how far along a pregnancy is and to examine an embryo (before eight weeks) or a fetus (after eight weeks). From a pro-life angle, it’s also a powerful means of persuasion, because of what a pregnant woman sees on the screen. At walk-in centers, ultrasounds are typically offered almost immediately, if the woman is amenable.
“And that’s already going to probably move the needle and push her from abortion-determined to the abortion-conflicted category,” VanMeans said.
“She thought she was going to have a medical procedure to remove a lump of tissue. Now she knows it’s a baby. And that moves her into a much more conflicted state, because she can see it’s a person.”
At that point, about 10% to 20% of women still go through with an abortion, she said.
Having concluded they have a baby inside of them, they justify their decision by determining they’re in a kill-or-be-killed situation.
But about eight in 10, she said, don’t want to go through with an abortion at that point — leaving them open to a pitch that includes providing practical items and services they’ll need to bear a child and still pursue what they want to do. College and careers are not out of their grasp if they have the baby, she said.
“We have to show them a very tangible pathway to that success,” VanMeans said.
By providing formula, diapers, help with housing, and college counseling, ThriVe helps level the playing field for a pregnant woman wavering between aborting and giving birth.
“Usually, she’s feeling like she has to make a choice between the expenses of the baby and the expenses of college, and we can mitigate those expenses, readily keeping her college goals within reach,” VanMeans said.
Working in Tandem
VanMeans has worked on joint projects with other pro-life organizations, including 40 Days for Life, which organizes intense round-the-clock prayer vigils outside of abortion businesses and claims to have helped close 117 of them since 2007.
During past prayer vigils, volunteers for 40 Days for Life have sometimes steered women about to go into an abortion facility to one of ThriVe’s four mobile ultrasound units parked nearby, where the women could get an immediate medical-grade pregnancy test and ultrasound free of charge. Many of them never kept their abortion appointments.
“It’s a perfect team that I think will end abortion in a post-Roe America,” said Shawn Carney, president and chief executive officer of 40 Days for Life, in a telephone interview with the Register.
He called ThriVe “one of the best medical pregnancy centers in the country” and credited VanMeans with ThriVe’s success.
“She represents why abortion is going to end, because we have local leaders that are competent regional leaders, that are competent national leaders,” Carney said. “Planned Parenthood doesn’t have that right now. It’s one of the few times in Planned Parenthood’s history that they have been very weak at the top in their leadership.”
A spokesman for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri could not be reached for comment about ThriVe for this story.
Law, Charity, Outreach
Pro-lifers in Missouri have been working for about 45 years to make abortions less attractive and harder to get, said Steve Rupp, president of Missouri Right to Life.
The legal side includes finding pro-life candidates for the Show-Me State Legislature, helping them get elected, and lobbying for passage of 52 pro-life laws, including requiring health inspections of abortion businesses and requiring a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.
Rupp is also active on the post-birth side, through his work as manager of member support for the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which helps single mothers with rent payments and utility bills.
Rupp has worked with ThriVe in both capacities. He notes that once a pregnant woman contacts a pro-life center, there’s a good chance she’ll have the baby, since she’s generally looking for help to do that.
“But how do you reach these moms?” Rupp said, crediting ThriVe’s approach.
“They’ve been very creative and inventive in finding them, reaching out to them, with their very caring and loving message, and getting them involved with ThriVe,” he said.
Michael Kenney, president of the Pro-Life Partners Foundation, which builds alliances, raises money and promotes effective practices in the pro-life movement, said the ThriVe model provides hope for the future.
“What strikes me right away about ThriVe is their willingness to innovate in this space,” Kenney said in an interview. “It’s one of those breakthrough innovations we need to do in the pro-life world. It’s very smart.”