by Jor-El Godsey, Vice-President
Throughout all those years, our “compassion” has included relationship mixed with practical help, including material assistance, pregnancy tests, ultrasound, and more. At times, however, our “compassion” to meet practical needs has overshadowed our efficiency in intervention outreach.
This commonly experienced challenge among compassionate individuals often saddles organizations with the malady of mission drift. Our response to this problem is often to clarify and sharpen our mission, so that we more intentionally reach “abortion-minded” women.
But, what if over-clarifying our mission actually limits the fulfilling of our mission?
Let’s consider four myths about the “abortion minded,” and consider how these myths affect our overall strategic and tactical mission planning.
Myth #1 — She’s the only one who is “abortion-minded”
Years ago, Focus on the Family (then through their Pregnancy Help Ministry department) published definitions for assessing clients in light of three categories – “abortion-minded,” abortion-vulnerable” and “likely to carry*.” These definitions, presented by their Physicians Advisory group, have proven valuable in helping standardize our movement’s language. But, debate has ensued about which elements ought to be included in defining someone as “abortion-minded.”
Standard definitions are helpful, but we must understand that women have abortion on their mind even before getting pregnant. Research by Hanon-McKendry and Wirthlin Worldwide in 2002 uncovered the fact that even prior to becoming sexual active, a woman has likely already made an abortion plan.
This potentially contradicts or mitigates some risk indicators that would seem to suggest she is NOT abortion-minded. Though the indicators might lead to an assessment that she is only “abortion-vulnerable” or even “likely to carry,” she could very much be abortion-minded based on the earlier secret development of an abortion plan.
This means that virtually anyone entering our centers must be considered “abortion-minded,” allowing only the strongest evidence to classify her otherwise. Even what she says about her own unwillingness to have an abortion should be suspect to the reality of her potential “secret abortion plan.”
In fact, our own eyes, ears, intuition, and assessments are far from foolproof in determining what she is actually considering.
Myth #2 — She’s our primary client
As a ministry borne out of an intervention effort, we may believe strongly that the abortion-minded woman is our primary client. This can be a clarifying concept for decisions on marketing, location and core services.
However, we must be mindful that someone’s own perception of abortion is only part of an assessment spectrum. Depending on when, where and how someone received the news about being pregnant, they may be anywhere on the spectrum, from exuberance to utter denial. So, a client with few risk factors who says her “initial intention” is to carry would be assigned a somewhat static assessment of “intending to carry.”
Such a static assessment fails to account for the dynamics of her pregnancy and relationship environment, where she may yet move to actively consider abortion, making her “abortion-minded.” Do we hope she’ll find us then? Has our approach to her included following up? If not, then we may have already missed our chance.
The belief that the “abortion-minded is our primary client” has rightly encouraged pregnancy help ministries to adjust strategically and tactically, focusing marketing and locations, to be “where the abortion-minded woman is.” But focusing on solely this group may be akin to a doctor sending away “marginally sick” people until they are “sick enough” to qualify for help.
Myth #3 — A single pronouncement is enough to guarantee the life of her baby
Some “Babies Saved” reports include statistics gathered from a single visit, and perhaps a single service, such as a pregnancy test or ultrasound. True, we sometimes only see a woman one time, so reporting what we she told us about her “decision” can be the best information we can hope to gather.
But can a single pronouncement reveal the whole story?
The single-pronouncement myth often fails on either side of the equation. For example, some “abortion-minded” clients leave us with the impression they are still on the path leading to an abortion. But, we all know a myriad of stories where a woman experienced a change of heart after the visit, leading her to ultimately carry her child to term.
It’s especially exciting to hear the good news—usually with her visiting the center cradling her new little bundle—that our client records were wrong and a baby was born!
But the reverse happens as well. She sees her baby via ultrasound, grips the fetal model or brochure with the pictures of what her baby looks like, and is certain she will give this child life. We are excited for this “turnaround,” and are sure to include it in this month’s report, in our donor letter, and our Christmas card.
Unfortunately, that is not always the rest of the story. We simply can’t get outside of our own statistics to fully understand what happens outside our client files.
Myth #4 — Her decision to save this baby is pro-life
It is a pro-life decision in the sense that a life is preserved. But her reasons for carrying to term may range from truly valuing the life of this baby (and every baby she may yet become pregnant with), to avoiding the pain of an abortion, to selfishly wanting someone (a baby) to love her. While the decision itself is life-affirming, it is not necessarily made with fully pro-life motivation.
So if our focus is strictly on helping the “abortion-minded” woman choose life for her baby, we might miss the opportunity to give her a broader concept of the Gift of Life and, of course, the Giver of Life. If we focus on a particular type of service to produce a change of mind, we must also be sure to introduce what will help produce a change of heart.
In 2008, The Guttmacher Institute reported that 60% of abortions were performed on those who’d already had children. Clearly childbirth—whether it happens through our center or not—is not a standalone indication of a pro-life worldview.
Future fertility of our clients should encourage us to rethink our relationships, services and extended care components. There is much more to the pro-life ethic than choosing life in a single pregnancy.
It is said that “the same culture that breeds firefighters also breeds arsonists.” It is all too common for pregnancy help leaders to compare themselves with other life-minded organizations based on their targeting of the “abortion-minded.” But, like the work of Jesus, we must recognize that the value of our mission is not, and cannot be, based on an assessment term.
We should be guided by the transformational call to a true “culture of life” for our clients.
Intentionally focusing on those most at-risk of abortion does help direct limited resources to the strongest outcome. Yet the strongest outcomes, those that fulfill our mission, are not solely found through an ultrasound scan or in a “last-known intention.” They are found in the championing of life.
Lives preserved and transformed.
* Likely to carry started out as “Intending to carry” which was determined to be less an “assessment” and more of a stated intention which can/should be captured as “Last known intention.”