Pro-Life 2.0: With or Without ‘Roe,’ Movement’s Future Is Now
While fight to limit access to abortion may face uncertain way forward, advocates strive to make abortion ‘unthinkable.’
Pro-lifers have been on something of a roller coaster ride over the past several months, as the exuberance of successfully confirming Roe v. Wade critic Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court has been muted by the post-election reality of abortion-rights-backing politicians in control of both the White House and Congress. A conservative Supreme Court may begin chipping away at the protections Roe provides for abortion access, but the Biden administration and Democratic Senate and House seem geared to meet any threats to abortion with moves of their own, such as codifying a right to abortion into federal law.
But even with the way forward still unclear for the pro-life movement’s legal arm, others in the cause to protect life are pressing on. The goal of these advocates isn’t only to limit access to abortion, but to create a world in which a woman facing an unexpected or difficult pregnancy has no need to even consider abortion as an option.
“We have to support Mom and walk with her on this journey, so she doesn’t feel like she needs to choose abortion. That’s really what it is, to me, to be pro-life,” said Abby Johnson, a national pro-life leader and founder of ProLove Ministries.
Prioritizing the well-being of mother and child has always been at the heart of the pro-life movement. But advocates acknowledge that recent successes in the legal realm have allowed them to focus more fully on the factors that contribute to crisis pregnancies in the first place, so that, whether or not Roe and federal protections for abortion fall, the pro-life movement is better prepared to help those in need.
PLAN for Her, a pregnancy and life-assistance program of the Susan B. Anthony List operating in Northern Virginia and Georgia, is one such initiative. Program manager Chaney Mullins says PLAN has identified seven categories of care as critically important to pregnant and parenting women in need. These categories include standard pro-life services, like pregnancy mentorship and health and medical services, but also several that might not immediately come to mind, such as work and school opportunities and food and nutrition assistance.
But rather than providing any one of these categories of service, PLAN offers something else that is often missing within the pro-life movement: coordination.
Mullins says that different pro-life organizations are often so focused and dedicated to their particular ministry, “as they should be,” that they might not have the time or vantage point to keep their referral lists fresh and comprehensive. Thus, PLAN aims to integrate service providers in a designated state or region, so that women seeking assistance in one category can easily be connected to all the rest. They offer a print directory to network providers, an online “quiz” that helps clients identify their categories of need, and also plan on offering a “directory map” of services in places where they operate.
“Nobody has ever done a full-scale regional or state audit, so to speak, of all of the pro-life resources and where there are gaps,” said Mullins. “So it really requires a different organization with a different mission to look at the overall social system as a whole, in terms of addressing medical, social and material needs.”
The effort is also intentional about helping services that might not think of themselves as explicitly pro-life, like a church food pantry, see how they’re “a vital part of life-affirming culture in America.”
PLAN also aims to connect community organizations, like churches and advocacy groups, to the wider network of service in their area, so they can support them as needed. And finally, by developing a comprehensive list of services, the initiative aims to identify gaps in service more readily, so they can be filled.
PLAN began as an initiative in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, three years ago and was picked up by the Susan B. Anthony List in 2019, when the advocacy group was looking for a model for coordinating pro-life services. Seeking to make the biggest impact in a potential post-Roe environment, PLAN has identified 30 states where abortion would either be banned or significantly restricted if federal protections were off the books and where, theoretically, there would be more women and babies in need. The organization selected Georgia, which passed a six-week abortion ban in 2019 that would go into effect if Roe fell, for its first state “pilot program,” and Mullins moved there in February 2020 to start building the network.
Mullins takes encouragement from the fact that PLAN for Her isn’t alone in its efforts to improve coordination between pro-life missions. Similar efforts exist at regional levels, such as Life Options Network (Washington and Oregon), Pregnancy Central Texas and Her Michiana (serving southwest Michigan and northern Indiana). Together, these and other related entities have formed a “comprehensive care coalition” to support each other and share best practices.
“I think there’s this overwhelming notion of ‘Wow, this isn’t that complicated,’” she said. “It’s just new because it hasn’t really been done, and now we have this hope of victory that’s propelling us towards this vision of a post-Roe America.”
Walking With Women
While groups like PLAN for Her aim to make life-affirming services more available and accessible to women in need, other innovative approaches are focusing on accompanying these same women in an ongoing and personal way.
ProLove Ministries launched LoveLine, a national hotline that connects women in need with a dedicated case manager, in October 2019. The emphasis of this approach isn’t to merely intervene in a crisis, but to “live life with these women,” Abby Johnson told the Register.
“I mean, are we actually walking with them on this journey?” asked Johnson, who said she knew from her time working in the abortion industry just how solvable many of the problems that compelled women to seek abortions were. However, when women in crisis feel alone, these problems “feel unsolvable.”
Furthermore, the network of services provided by the pro-life movement can often be cumbersome to navigate, the information outdated, or unable to meet specific needs. With each “No” she encounters, Johnson said, a woman in a crisis pregnancy is moved one step closer to the abortion business.
“So the only thing a woman hears when she calls us is ‘Yes.’ Yes, we can help you with that.”
As of late 2020, LoveLine has eight dedicated caseworkers serving 350 clients across the country. Caseworkers work with local volunteers to help connect the women they serve with local providers and to provide an on-the-ground, personal presence. When a client’s request can’t be met by the existing pro-life resources in the area, Johnson said LoveLine will often provide for the need out of pocket, be it a Walmart food run or covering next month’s rent. Case managers are also able to help clients with other challenges, such as immigration complications or escaping domestic-violence situations.
Johnson said the case-management approach might be more robust and involved than standard pro-life practices, but it’s what’s needed, especially if Roe were overturned and there were more women carrying difficult pregnancies to term. Fortunately, she says the response from donors in the pro-life movement has been outstanding.
“They’ve been waiting for it, honestly,” she said, noting that donors get a lot out of joy out of knowing how their contribution tangibly changes someone’s life.
The emphasis on accompaniment also characterizes a recent initiative from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called “Walking With Moms in Need.” Launched last year on March 25, the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), the initiative aims to equip parishes to become more engaged and equipped partners in the pro-life cause by “walking in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women in need.
Participating parishes go through a yearlong effort to become more familiar with services for pregnant women in their area, improve their parish responses, and pray and learn more deeply about the Church’s teaching on life. Katherine Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communications at the USCCB, told the Register that Walking With Moms in Need can help parishes become a great complement to existing pregnancy-resource centers.
“One hope is that individual Catholics will know what to say or offer when they encounter someone in their life who is going through a difficult pregnancy and might not know what to do,” she said.
Originally intended to take place over a strict one-year window, complications from COVID-19 have prompted the USCCB to offer the program to any parish when it’s able. A dedicated website includes free parish resources, tools and templates for parish leaders, as well as related prayer materials.
Talalas noted that because Walking With Moms in Need is primarily about accompanying and supporting women in need and not political advocacy, the program has been able to gain traction even with parishes and Catholic organizations that might not think of themselves as part of the “pro-life movement.”
Mullins of PLAN for Her has noticed something similar in her work. She said churches that have hesitancies about engaging in partisan politics are more eager to contribute to the pro-life cause by supporting direct services and assistance to women in need. Additionally, she has found that PLAN can channel support to life-affirming services even from people who might not necessarily support the elimination of legal access to abortion but nonetheless want to help women in need.
“I think there’s great power for PLAN for Her to be a unifying force that a lot of people can get behind,” she said, noting how its comprehensive approach can help cut across the false divide between a culture of life and social justice.
PLAN for Her is a nonpolitical entity and doesn’t engage in issue advocacy or lobbying. However, this doesn’t mean that Mullins doesn’t recognize the continued importance of the pro-life movement’s efforts on the political and legal front, especially as struggles over abortion law continue to shift to the state level.
This includes legal efforts to limit access to abortion, but also measures that help women choose alternatives. In fact, she suggests that PLAN’s ability to identify gaps in services at the state level can be an asset to advocacy groups and pro-life lawmakers. In Georgia, for instance, PLAN collaborated with the Georgia Life Alliance to help address needs and pass legislation providing more prenatal resources and making it easier to open maternity homes.
Some of these efforts might go beyond “traditional” pro-life legislation, but perhaps that’s the point. Johnson noted that — whether or not the right to abortion is ended at the federal level — the pro-life movement should get creative about its political strategy, working not only to limit legal access to abortion, but also to promote policies that benefit women and children. Expanded parental leave and a robust WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), for instance, are two measures she supports.
Johnson said there are limits to what should be considered “pro-life” and that including things unrelated to pregnancy, motherhood and childcare “weakens our position.” But she also said she feels strongly that empowering women to not only choose life, but thrive as mothers, is at the heart of the pro-life movement.
“There’s a reason the women who come to us are in crisis,” said Abby Johnson, a national pro-life leader and founder of ProLove Ministries. “And it’s not because they’re pregnant. So we’ve got to get to the root of that crisis.”
Meaning whether or not gains are made in the effort to limit access to abortion, the pro-life movement has opportunities to advance its cause.
This story was updated after posting to reflect the correct number of LoveLine clients. The Register regrets the error.