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Hidden Persuaders

The unheralded gains of the pro-life movement

Nov 7, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 08 • By FRED BARNES
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The second trend is the explosive growth of refuges for pregnant but unmarried women. These safe houses go by a multitude of names: Crisis Pregnancy Center, Pregnancy Resource Center, Pregnancy Health Center, Pregnancy Care Center, or simply Pregnancy Center. In Northern Virginia, Jim Wright, formerly in the commercial real estate business, calls the center he started Birthmothers.

They all do the same thing, nurturing single women during their pregnancy and recommending against abortion. The results are one-sided: 80 to 90 percent of the women who have sonograms at pregnancy centers choose to have their baby.

Today there are nearly three times as many of these centers (2,300) as abortion facilities (800 to 850). One reason for the disparity is that women stay for months in pro-life centers, but only briefly in abortion clinics. The Care Net network reflects the growth: 550 centers in 1999, 1,130 today.

Trend number three: the rejuvenation of old pro-life groups and the sprouting of new ones. Kristan Hawkins was a political appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services in 2006 when she responded to an ad for the newly created job of executive director of Students for Life. The group had been around for two decades, operating with a minimal staff and fewer than 300 chapters. Now Students for Life has 637 chapters, a full-time staff of 10, and a dozen regional coordinators. “We’re almost everywhere,” assistant director Tina Whittington says.

Students for Life has branched out. There are Black Students for Life, Medical Students for Life, Business Students for Life, and so on. The goal for its field coordinators is to start 10 new pro-life groups per semester and 20 a year. Students for Life has been revitalized.

David Bereit was a pharmaceutical sales rep when Planned Parenthood built a clinic in his hometown of Bryan/College Station, Texas. He organized a protest. That was just the beginning. In 2004, he created 40 Days for Life, which promotes prayer vigils outside abortion -clinics. He began with a single vigil in downtown College Station. Bereit says the number of abortions in his county fell 28 percent that year. By his count, his group has recruited 400,000 people who participate in hundreds of vigils in nearly 400 cities.

When he started 40 Days, “a lot of wind had left the sails of the pro-life groups,” he told me. “Now I see enthusiasm and hope I haven’t seen in years. The tide is turning against Planned Parenthood and abortion providers.”

In the case of Planned Parenthood (PP), that’s true. Killing the federal government’s subsidy of PP has long been a top priority for pro-life groups. In 2009, there were 1.2 million abortions in the United States. PP was responsible for 332,278 of them. About one-third of PP’s $1 billion budget comes from government grants and contracts.

But until Lila Rose came along, PP had proved to be an elusive target. The group said that none of the federal money subsidized abortions, an implausible claim. No one in the pro-life movement believes it. Money, after all, is fungible.

Rose, 23, is the newest pro-life star, the exception to the rule that the abortion issue attracts no media attention. (Since Faye Wattleton left PP in 1992, the abortion side has had no stars.) One of eight children of a Catholic family in San Jose, California, Rose became an antiabortion activist at age 14 and continued as a student at UCLA. At 15, she formed Live Action, which produces hidden camera videos exposing PP’s willingness to offer abortions to underage girls while avoiding their obligation to report cases where the pregnancies came from statutory rape.

“Lila created the moment,” Dannenfelser says. Rose did so by posing as a teenage prostitute impregnated by her much older pimp at a PP clinic in New Jersey. The clinic’s manager explained how she could get an abortion by lying about her age. The video became a sensation on the Internet. More important, it was viewed by Republican representative Cliff Stearns of Florida, chairman of a House subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

Stearns was appalled at PP’s “manipulating this young 15-year-old girl to get an abortion.” He was also impressed by a report on PP by Americans United for Life (AUL). It cited eight areas of “scandal and abuse,” including misuse of federal funds, “failure to report criminal child sexual abuse,” and aiding people involved in prostitution and sexual trafficking.

On September 15, Stearns launched the first-ever congressional probe of Planned Parenthood. In a letter to Cecile Richards, the embattled PP president, he said his panel has “questions about the policies in place and actions undertaken” by PP and its affiliates, the handling of federal funds, and compliance with “restrictions on the funding of abortion.” He asked for an extensive collection of audits and documents.

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