Since January 1974, pro-life activists, religious leaders, and other conservative organizations have urged Americans of all ages, religious affiliations, and political persuasions to gather for a “March for Life,” both in the nation’s capital and on statehouse steps across the country. As impressive as this outpouring of pro-life sentiment continues to be, many organizations, wisely demonstrate a far more effective use for these considerable resources.
On the first anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states, 20,000 people gathered on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol. In the years since, that number has grown to 200,000, and state-level gatherings have witnessed similar growth. The sheer volume of pro-life activists who convene every year on January 22 is remarkable — and doubtless, these public occasions serve to energize their cause — but what does a Capitol march or a statehouse rally do to promote life?
True, when large crowds gather, the media will afford them a few moments in the public eye. And such gatherings are visually arresting — both for second-hand observers and for the participants themselves. As a young girl, I rallied beside my parents on the frozen steps of the state capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was amazed at the number of people I saw gathering in sub-zero temperatures to illustrate their opposition to Roe v. Wade. As a means to help educate the young and as a public-relations tool, then, rallies do have value. But if pro-life Americans are serious about wanting to persuade people to “choose life” — as the controversial Colorado license plate has it — they can do far more with their time and money than attending an annual march.
Needless to say, most of the folks who march for life also do other things to protect the unborn. As executive director of the Metro Women’s Center — a crisis-pregnancy center in Minneapolis, Minn. — Colleen Tronson has participated in her share of rallies and marches. And many of her fellow attendees do more for the cause than to march one day per year, just as she does: “Some of the people I meet at rallies work in post-abortive ministries or crisis-pregnancy centers. Others don’t feel that that kind of activism is their gift, so they write checks. There are many ways to save lives.”
Still: What if every person who wanted to attend a rally this year spent those hours instead volunteering at a local crisis-pregnancy center? Or, what if they took the money that they would have spent traveling to a rally — and the money that they could have earned had they worked for those hours instead — and purchased baby diapers, formula, and clothes to donate to mothers who have chosen life in spite of being in difficult circumstances? Many community groups already sponsor such efforts — often coinciding with “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday” that many churches observe at the end of January — volunteering at or providing material support for local crisis-pregnancy centers. But it’s still hard not to see the wasted opportunity cost of 200,000 people getting themselves to Washington to be seen marching on the Mall — when those resources could be used to reach out in far more personal and effective ways.
Focus on the Family, (an organization that has organized and led its share of rallies) has developed an extraordinarily effective way to protect the unborn. With the help of its generous donors, Focus on the Family provides up to 80 percent of the cost of an ultrasound machine and sonography training for employees of qualifying pregnancy clinics who want to help women make informed decisions on their pregnancy. Through this Option Ultrasound Program, FoF has not only provided 363 ultrasound machines to pregnancy clinics in 48 states, they’ve taken the mantra “a picture is worth a thousand words” to heart.
The fetal heartbeat is visible via ultrasound imaging as early as four weeks after conception. For many young women — who have been told time and again that a fetus is “just a blob” — the flickering image of a tiny heartbeat, independent of their own, is all the insight they need to understand what is growing in their wombs. Some women decide to terminate their pregnancy anyway; many, many more do not: According to Focus on the Family, 89 percent of the women who are at-risk for abortion, and who receive their combination of counseling and ultrasound services, leave their pregnancy centers stating their intention to carry their baby to term. As of January 15, 2008, the lives of 77,000 babies have been saved — and their mothers have been spared the agony of abortion — all thanks to Option Ultrasound.
Wouldn’t it be a better for the 200,000 people who marched in D.C. last year (and the thousands more in state capitals across the country) to donate their time and money toward efforts that achieve demonstrable results — that actually save lives?
— Nicole Russell is a freelance writer in Minneapolis, Minn. She blogs about the upcoming Republican convention at www.gopconventionreport.com.