Last week, a friend sent me an episode of “The Roys Report” podcast, featuring an interview between blogger Julie Roys and Tim Alberta of The Atlantic about his new book The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism. During the discussion, Alberta noted that the pro-life movement should have spent the past five decades focusing on changing the culture and emphasizing compassion rather than on cutthroat political deals; if that had been the case, he observed, the broader American consensus about abortion might be very different right now.
I want to respond to this comment because it is rapidly becoming the consensus opinion among a certain type of Christian, and Alberta is a smart writer. The pro-life movement is a movement of millions, only a small fraction of whom are directly engaged in political action. There are specifically political groups – Susan B. Anthony List being the most prominent of them, with organizations like Students for Life of America attempting to muscle in on this territory as well – but most pro-lifers aren’t canvassing or stumping for GOP politicians. Most of them are doing the pastoral or prophetic work: sidewalk counselling, staffing crisis pregnancy centres, manning educational displays, standing outside the clinics.
In fact, this month the Charlotte Lozier Institute, Care Net, Heartbeat International, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates published a report titled “Hope for a New Generation,” which reviewed the scope of that work. The report detailed the work of 2,750 pregnancy help centers in all 50 states and found, Dr. Michael New noted at National Review, “impressive increases in the impact of pro-life pregnancy help centers.”
In 2022, for example, these centers “saw over 970,000 clients and provided over $358 million worth of goods and services to women, youth, and family,” including “everything from strollers and cribs to ultrasounds and pregnancy tests.” Ninety-seven percent of those who sought assistance at a pro-life center reported a positive experience.
Much of the $358 million, I would point out, is private money coming from the pockets of pro-life people to assist vulnerable Americans. When it comes to compassion and putting their money where their mouth is, American pro-lifers are second to none in the world in their willingness to step up and sacrifice.
Contrary to Alberta’s point, these pro-life pregnancy care centers are constantly targeted by progressive politicians and the abortion industry because they don’t offer abortion. Democratic state legislatures attempt to regulate them; the mainstream press accuses them of “lying” and “manipulating women”; these talking points are taken straight from Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry, which sees them as competitors and wants them to be suppressed or shut down. That’s why when the first draft of the Dobbs decision leaked, domestic terrorists calling themselves “Jane’s Revenge” targeted… pro-life pregnancy care centers. Pro-lifers do focus on compassionate alternatives; we get demonized for that, too.
So why do journalists like Tim Alberta assert that the pro-life movement is predominantly a political animal? The frustrating answer to this is that few journalists or researchers are interested in presenting a holistic picture of the movement. The only recent significant attempt would be The Story of Abortion in America by Marvin Olasky and Leah Savas; Joshua Prager’s The Family Roe: An American Story skirts the edges but focuses primarily on a handful of figures. When journalists pay attention to the pro-life movement, it is to analyze their political impact on judicial appointments; individual races; and above all, Donald Trump.
Your average media consumer can be forgiven for thinking that the only significant thing the pro-life movement has done in the last couple of decades is back Donald Trump’s candidacy – because they’re certainly not going to read any human-interest stories about the on-the-ground work that pro-lifers are doing in their communities.
The pro-life movement does have a political arm, and there are plenty of reasonable critiques to level at it. But that is merely one small faction of a massive movement that has been working in all 50 states for over a half-century. It isn’t that the pro-life movement has focused on politics to the exclusion of community work; it is because the press is only interested in covering that aspect of the movement.
Tens of thousands of Americans are alive today because of the work of hundreds of thousands of unsung heroes who have tirelessly volunteered at crisis pregnancy centers, stood outside abortion clinics offering alternatives, manned pro-life displays on campuses and the streets. It’s a great story. I wish there were journalists interested it covering that story, too.