by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Last week, I recalled my experience 25 years ago, when serving as director of the archdiocesan pro-life office in St. Louis, I identified a goal: to create and fund a well-researched and professionally produced pro-life mass media educational campaign. I also recounted my frustration in not having a clue how to achieve this objective.
I was already discouraged about ever achieving this goal when, in 1989, the pro-abortion leadership in Missouri collected enough signatures to place a so-called “right of privacy amendment” on the ballot. In effect, this would have made abortion a constitutional right in Missouri. The supporters of this amendment had all of the profits from the abortion industry at their disposal to fund a slick media campaign for passage of the amendment. As a consequence, the pro-life leadership in Missouri was desperately attempting to raise money to develop an educational campaign to defeat the amendment.
At the same time, some of the best pro-life legal minds in Missouri mounted a legal challenge to the amendment. The ballot title is the description that voters are provided when they cast their vote. Pro-life attorneys argued that the ballot title was deceptive, because while the amendment was all about enshrining the right of abortion in the Missouri Constitution, the ballot title never mentioned abortion. Fortunately, the court agreed. The amendment was not allowed to appear on the ballot.
The pro-life movement in Missouri, by the grace of God, had dodged a bullet. Many of the pro-life leaders, who had been desperately trying to raise money for a mass media campaign to defeat the amendment, resolved we could never allow ourselves to be so vulnerable again. We recognized the need to be proactive by using mass media for pro-life education — not just at a moment of crisis or to influence a particular election, but to attempt to shape societal values by reaching the minds and hearts of people with consistent pro-life messaging. That was the beginning of what today has become the Vitae Caring Foundation.
The leadership of Vitae knew that if we were going to ask people to make significant donations for a mass media prolife educational campaign, our messaging had to be well-researched. Initially, Vitae selected, as its primary target audience, women in child-bearing years — most of whom, according to reliable polling data, self-identified as pro-choice, rather than pro-life.
We knew from our experience with Dr. Nathanson’s “The Silent Scream” that it would be impossible even to purchase time to portray the reality of abortion. Moreover, the research showed that such images were not effective with our target audience. A series of ads was developed that portrayed attractive, strong women challenging the pro-choice rhetoric by pointing out its internal contradictions. Nevertheless, in St. Louis not one network television station would allow Vitae to purchase time for its messages.
In 1992, Vitae achieved a breakthrough in Kansas City when the local FOX affiliate agreed to air the Vitae ads. Once there was a crack in the media dam, other stations in Kansas City and other media markets began accepting the Vitae ads.
Today, Vitae has a presence in 10 of the top 25 media markets in our nation, including New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and St. Louis. Vitae ads have been shown in 60 television markets on over 200 network stations and even more cable stations. In its less than 20-year history, it has raised more than $60 million dollars from more than 40,000 donors.
While Vitae Caring Foundation would never claim exclusive credit, it is no coincidence that during this period abortions began decreasing dramatically in Missouri, Kansas and nationwide. Also as a result of pro-life educational efforts, like Vitae, this past year for the first time polling data revealed more Americans self-identifying as pro-life rather than pro-choice.
Two weeks ago, the Vitae Caring Foundation held its annual fundraising dinner in Kansas City. Vitae has adapted to the ever-changing world of communications. To communicate its prolife messages, Vitae uses billboards, radio, television and the Internet. At this moment in the Kansas City area, Vitae has placed 90 billboards inviting women experiencing a crisis pregnancy to seek help at abortion alternative centers. In Kansas, women are directed to either the Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic or one of the Advice and Aid Pregnancy Centers in Johnson County. Vitae has conducted similar campaigns in New York and Atlanta that resulted in saving thousands of lives.
The original motto of Vitae was: “Reaching Minds to Save Lives.” Vitae Caring Foundation has played a critical role in saving thousands of lives as well as sparing thousands of parents from having to live with the overwhelming burden that they permitted the brutal killing of their own child.
If you would like to learn more about this effort that is changing minds and hearts, as well as saving lives, please visit the Web site at: www.vitae caringfoundation.org. If you are able, I encourage you to make a generous donation to the Vitae Caring Foundation. Checks should be made payable to Vitae Foundation and sent to: 1731 Southbridge Drive, Suite D, Jefferson City, MO 65109.
In the Old Testament, when Israel prevailed in battles against its enemies, it was never because of its superior strategy, numbers or strength. It was because of its complete trust in God and his ability to do what the nation was completely powerless to accomplish. As I sat at the Vitae dinner a few days ago, I could not help but think back on my goal of 25 years ago and marvel at what God had accomplished though the leadership, hard work and generosity of so many.
If you feel overwhelmed by some challenge in your life, I encourage you to take heart. Be persistent in your prayer. Recall the passage we heard from St. Mark’s Gospel a few weeks ago: “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God”(Mk 10: 27). God has a long history of making the impossible a reality. Sometimes, it takes 25 years or longer to recognize the unfolding of his plan.