For several years, Care Net has transformed our mission and vision to reflect what we call a Pro Abundant Life perspective. This perspective is based on John 10:10 where Jesus said he came not just to give us life, but rather abundant life—both physical (temporal) and spiritual (eternal) life. In short, we believe that in order to make abortion unthinkable, we have to not only prevent abortions from happening but also holistically serve women and men by addressing the societal issues and spiritual issues that contribute to them considering abortion in the first place.
Of course, there could be some confusion about this approach. Is pro-life “mission drift”? Are we taking our eyes off the goal of the pro-life movement (stopping abortions)? Have we fallen into a trap of trying to solve every societal problem? So, let me clarify a few things.
First, Care Net’s focus on “other societal issues” is not a distraction from ending abortions. It is a key and necessary strategy for ending abortions. For example, Care Net educates and equips our more than 1,200 affiliated pregnancy centers on how to effectively serve women and men, build strong families, and discuss the importance of forming healthy marriages. We do this because 86% of women who have abortions are unmarried. We do this because in the two national surveys we conducted, we found that both women who have had abortions and men who have participated in them stated that the father of the child was the most influential in a woman’s abortion decision. We do this because there is a father-absence crisis in our nation in which a quarter of children live in father-absent homes, and these children are more at risk to have an abortion. So, not focusing on engaging the father of the unborn baby would be an enormous strategic misstep in trying to prevent abortions in our nation.
Another issue we focus on in our Pro Abundant Life approach is the importance of sharing the Gospel with those we serve. To the extent that we can help women and men experience spiritual transformation at one of our pregnancy centers or over the phone with one of our Pregnancy Decision Line coaches, then we will be much more successful in helping them choose life for their unborn children. We are not trying to fix the nation’s spiritual crisis. We are rightly addressing a primary obstacle in why women and men choose abortion – they have become disconnected from God, the creator of life. As Christians, we know that our battle is not against “flesh and blood.” Indeed, abortion is primarily a spiritual issue and requires a life-transforming spiritual response that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can provide.
Accordingly, Care Net and our Pro Abundant Life approach is not about fixing every societal problem across all of American society. It is about wisely and strategically identifying the major factors that lead directly to women and men choosing abortion, and then proactively addressing those issues.
The most helpful analogy we have found to illustrate this strategy is to picture yourself standing on a river’s edge. Suddenly you see helpless babies swiftly floating down the river, in imminent danger of going over a waterfall. You of course would dive into the river and start saving as many babies as you can. But they just keep coming. You call more people to jump into the river with you to save as many babies as you can. But they keep coming and unfortunately, you miss a lot of these precious lives. What would be the wisest thing to do at this point? Of course, it would be to send someone up the river to see why the babies are ending up in the river in the first place.
This is the key to the Pro Abundant Life approach that Care Net promotes. If all we do is stand in the river saving babies, as wonderful and God-honoring as that work is, but we do not strengthen fatherhood, encourage marriage when possible, and transform people’s lives with the Gospel, the babies will just keep coming, and two undesirable outcomes will inevitably result.
First, our ability to continue “pulling babies out of the river” could hit a limit. Logistically and emotionally, we can’t do this work without an end in sight. There simply will not be enough people to stand in the river with us to save every baby, and the ones that do may become spiritually and emotionally drained – it’s called compassion fatigue. We combat compassion fatigue by addressing the direct causes of abortion so that we can see the hope of a future without abortion. This keeps us moving forward because it addresses the root causes.
Moreover, the Pro Abundant Life approach is transformational, not transactional, because it strengthens the God-ordained institutions—God’s design for marriage, motherhood, fatherhood, and family—that truly protect children inside and outside the womb. Moreover, our goal should not just be intervention when a woman is at risk for abortion but also prevention of the abortion risk as well. Indeed, pregnancy center staff and volunteers are energized, not demoralized, when they see transformed lives.
Second, if all we do is focus on “pulling the babies from the river” and don’t address why these little ones are at risk, the pro-life movement would be about the work of creating a sea of single-mother homes. I grew up in a single-mother home. I know how hard it can be for both the single mom and her children, and that is not God’s best for them. Would it really be considered a pro-life victory to increase the proportion of children growing up in single-mother homes in our nation, a disproportionate number of whom will be a risk for abortion as well?
Moreover, the Pro Abundant Life approach is more attuned to the real-life experiences of people actively considering abortion. All we have to do is give a woman or man a persuasive argument about the wrongness of abortion and the reality of life inside the womb, and they will choose life, right? From more than 40 years of pregnancy center experience and from the research we and others have conducted about why women choose abortion, the more likely culprit is their perception of the lack of emotional, material, economic, and spiritual support they will have if they bring their child into the world. Life decisions need life support. The Pro Abundant Life approach addresses this “lack of support” issue head-on by mobilizing the Body of Christ to come alongside those facing pregnancy decisions with long-term support. Indeed, Care Net designed an initiative called Making Life Disciples to equip the church for this critical work.
Pro-life apologetics holds a very important and God-honoring place in helping pro-life people articulate their beliefs. But when sitting face-to-face with a woman considering abortion who is being abandoned by the father of her unborn child and her family and believes she has been abandoned by God, the best apologetic will have limited power of persuasion. She may know her unborn baby is a life, but she believes that her baby is a life worth sacrificing. What she needs at that moment, as Christ modeled in his ministry, is loving compassion, hope, and help.
Finally, Care Net is a Christian ministry focused on what every Christian ministry should be focused on: making disciples for Jesus Christ. This is transformational work. If we just stop women from having abortions but don’t help the fathers of their children get involved, or help them have healthy relationships, or share the Gospel with them and connect them to local churches, then we have ceased to be a Christian ministry and are instead a social services organization.
Providing for the material and emotional needs of women and men considering abortion is truly inspiring. But what sets the Pro Abundant Life approach apart is its focus on transformational, not just transactional, work. Jesus did not do “retail”; he did not want “repeat customers.” He never let anyone who he served materially, physically, or emotionally walk away without addressing their spiritual condition, too. His call to all he ministered to was to come as you are but not to stay as you came. But, rather, to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Indeed, Care Net surveys thousands of pro-life people every year to gauge what inspires them the most about our work. The efforts we make to build strong families and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those at risk for abortion that we serve comes out on top every year. Why? Because they understand that these aspects of our ministry are key to saving babies from abortion and breaking the intergenerational cycle of abortion. They understand that in order to effectively end abortion and defend the unborn, you have to do these other things, too.