Is the pro-life movement ready to win?
Care Net president Roland Warren on the big picture of creating a pro-life society
Roland Warren leads Care Net, a network of more than 1,100 pregnancy care centers scattered throughout North America. Many people who study the life issue believe this quiet but active army of compassion has played the key role in reducing the number of abortions in America and in changing attitudes about abortion. Warren became president of Care Net in 2012. Before that, he led the National Fatherhood Initiative for more than a decade. He began his career in private industry, holding key positions at IBM, Pepsi, and Goldman Sachs. He’s an alumnus of Princeton University and holds an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. I talked to him at the World Congress of Families last month.
If a young woman who’s pregnant walks into a Care Net center, what’s the first thing that happens? The objective is to help that person. When you face an unplanned pregnancy, you’re in this swirl. It’s like being in a tornado. What you really want to try to help that person do is step out of the tornado into the eye of the storm where it’s calm. The tornado is still there, stuff is swirling around, but when you’re in the eye of the storm, it gives you the ability to look up, to hear what God is saying in terms of your situation, and also to gain perspective about what’s going on around you.
There’s a disproportionate number of abortions that take place in the African-American community. Do you get a lot of support from the black community for the work that you do? It depends on the community. In the public square, the issue has really been viewed by a lot of people as a political issue rather than a moral issue, rather than a compassion issue. Given the politics of it, that moves people in a certain direction. … One of the initiatives we’re launching is planning pregnancy-care ministries within churches. Not pregnancy centers, but the ministry aspect of what we do in churches. One of the challenges has been putting pregnancy centers in urban communities. I had my staff map out all the abortion clinics in L.A. and found they were all clustered in the urban community. They have a consumer marketing approach, and they’re going where they think the customers are. I mapped our pregnancy centers, and we tend to be still in urban [areas], but mostly in suburban around there.
Then I said, “Map out for me just one denomination of churches.” What I found was when you overlaid that, all around the abortion clinics were churches. The idea came that maybe instead of just trying to put pregnancy centers in urban communities, maybe we start doing a different thing in terms of how we’re engaging the church around meeting folks who are facing a pregnancy decision. We think that that’s an important thing to do, and it also anchors this work where I think it needs to be anchored, which is in the church, in the gospel, because that’s the transformation that really is needed for someone to make a life decision and not just save a baby but also raise a child.
How responsive have you found the church to that approach? It’s an issue that’s already in the church. We just did some research that talked to women who had had abortions while they were Christians. What we found was that 40 percent of the women who were in this survey, a nationally representative sample, were in the church, going to church at least monthly and most more than monthly, more than twice a month, when they had their abortion. They’re in the church … so the church needs to have a compassionate on-ramp. Look, if you go in a church and you’ve got an issue with pornography, you’ve got an issue with your finances, your marriage is falling apart, there’s a ministry on-ramp to connect you into the life support of the church. But if you find out Sunday morning that you’re pregnant, exactly which ministry do you talk to? That’s how, unfortunately, Planned Parenthood or another abortion provider can seem like a compassionate alternative. From our perspective, this isn’t work that’s outside the church. This is actually the work of the church, and we think that when we talk to pastors in that context, it takes the politics out of it, puts the compassion in it, and really anchors it in the ministry of the church.
If a pastor or a church leader listening to this conversation right now says, “We need to be doing this in our church,” give me the first steps he should take. The first thing I think pastors do is what I call a Joshua proclamation. Joshua 24:15 says, “As for me and my house, we’ll serve the Lord.” This is, as for me and my church, there’ll be no more abortions in my church. Not because we’re going to stone you with condemnation, try to do to you what the Pharisees wanted to do with the woman caught in adultery, but because we’re going to love you. We’re going to say, “Neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more,” as Christ did, and we’re going to create that on-ramp.
The pastor setting the tone that this church is a life-affirming church is huge. I’ve had so many situations where I’ve talked to women who had abortions, who were Christians, and they said, “One of the reasons that I didn’t go to the church is because I saw that someone else had gone to the church and the person was brought up to the front. The whole church was kind of looking at them and the whole deal.” The reality was when that happens, it actually makes the baby the sin, not the sex outside of wedlock the sin. If you’re going to bring someone up because they’re pregnant, then basically you need to bring up anybody else who’s had sex outside of wedlock and bring all those folks up, too, and while you’re at it, the gossips, the gluttons, and all the other sins that are laid out in scripture. Really, from our perspective, that’s the first thing. The pastor sets the tone in terms of that, modeling that for the church.
Then there’s more that’s needed. You also need to have a programmatic on-ramp. Who’s going to walk alongside this person to deal with the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of that person because life decisions need life support? Pastors can set that tone. You pick a person within the church who has a heart for this particular ministry. [It] gives you an on-ramp for folks who are facing this, but also gives you a way to connect with pregnancy centers and be a liaison with them as well. That’s really kind of the idea that we’re talking about.
Here at the World Congress of Families, you challenged the group with an interesting question. I said, “You know, let’s say you wake up tomorrow and the newspaper says that the Supreme Court decided that Roe v. Wade is wrong, abortion is illegal all over the country. Happy, right? Everybody’s happy.” The question is, sex outside of wedlock won’t be [illegal]. Unplanned pregnancies will still happen, a million a year. Are we really prepared to win? That’s the first question.
The second question is, what is winning? I think that’s a central thing, because the reality is the pro-life movement in many ways is modeled similar to the abolitionist movement. The reality is that even though the legislative battle was won, the moral battle was not won because neither the North nor the South was willing to bring those folks out of slavery into their community, into their churches. I think we have a similar kind of issue going on.
We need to be prepared to win, which means that we’re going to have to be not just talking about saving babies, but also about raising children. We’re going to have to link all these different issues together, fatherhood, motherhood, marriage. … Otherwise, we just put ourselves in a situation where we’re creating a sea of single-mother households, and we know the challenges related to that.
Since the undercover Planned Parenthood videos came out, have you seen a difference in either the conversations that you are having personally or the conversations that your Care Net affiliates are having? I think there’s no question about it: These videos have damaged Planned Parenthood’s brand in terms of the way that they’ve responded, what they’ve tried to do. They brought all the forces that they have together to protect their brand. As a result, it puts pregnancy centers in the spotlight in terms of the services we provide. … We’re seeing more aggressive attacks on pregnancy centers as a result of the challenge that came from the videos because the contrast is clear.
One of the things I tell people all the time is, “Look, if you only view children in the womb as products of conception, it’s very easy to view them as products after conception,” which is actually what you see with the Planned Parenthood videos. They’re looking at these children in the womb from a consumer perspective, not from a covenant perspective, which God designed. I think as people see that, they understand the distinction between the two and that makes the compassionate alternative, which a pregnancy center provides, a very, very, very important one. And from their perspective, maybe one that needs to be attacked and one that needs to be stopped.
What do those attacks look like? The attacks are legislative. In California, the governor there passed a law basically … forcing pregnancy centers to promote abortion, which is antithetical to what we stand for. You see the same kind of thing, social media attacks, from that perspective. It’s definitely stepped up as a result of these videos coming out into the public square. We believe that our battle is not against flesh and blood, so we don’t want to demonize the other folks, but the work that they’re doing is not work that’s God-honored, and we need to share the truth related to that.
Before you came to Care Net, you were part of the National Fatherhood Initiative. Fatherhood is inextricably linked to the life question, isn’t it? We did some survey work that we’re going to release soon. … We asked women, “Whom did you talk to in terms of your decision to terminate?” We gave them a list of people: the father of the child, their father, their mother, girlfriend, abortion providers, medical professionals. Sixty-one percent of the women said they talked to the father of the child. No. 2 was a medical professional, not an abortion provider. …
Then we asked the question, “Who was the most influential in your decision to abort?” Guess who it was? No. 1 was the father of the child. Now, I’m a business guy by training. If you told me, “Listen, I’ll do business with you, but 61 percent of the time I talk to Joe over there, and, oh, by the way, Joe was the most influential in my decision to do business with you,” you don’t need an MBA from anywhere to know that I’m going to spend my time trying to get you to help connect me with Joe.
Frankly, that, in my view, has been a miss that we’ve had—how we framed the issue—that goes all the way back. We framed it based on the response to the other side as opposed to framing it from the perspective that you see in Scripture, in terms of even the most celebrated unplanned pregnancy, which was the birth of Christ. From Mary and Joseph’s perspective, that pregnancy was unplanned. What was God’s response? He asked Joseph to be a husband to her and a father to the child growing inside of her. That’s the high idea that we should be striving for. From a pro-life perspective, I think that’s what we need to talk about a lot more than we actually do.
Listen to Warren Smith’s complete conversation with Roland Warren on Listening In.
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