Foundation works for ‘long-term cultural change’

by Marc and Julie Anderson
Special to The Leaven

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s not every day a celebrity is on hand to help launch a charity’s media campaign.

But that’s exactly what happened Oct. 24 when Fred Thompson appeared as the featured guest at the Vitae Caring Foundation’s pro-life benefit dinner.

Approximately 650 attended the annual fundraiser held at the downtown Marriott in Kansas City, Mo. The event has a 14-year tradition in the Kansas City area and raises money to help the foundation fulfill its mission “to encourage a greater respect for human life and reduce the number of abortions by using mass media education for long-term cultural change.”

Starting at a backyard barbecue in the early 1990s in Jefferson City, Mo., with just 50 people, the Vitae Caring Foundation has grown by leaps and bounds, raising $60 million to date. Now it boasts approximately 40,000 donors and supporters. On average, 80 percent or 80 cents out of every dollar has gone directly to program. Organizers for this year’s benefit said that $250,000 was collected at the dinner; with follow-up, the foundation hopes to reach its goal of $400,000 in donations.

This year’s benefit coincided with the launch of the latest mass media effort in the Greater Kansas City area. The Callfor-Help campaign — aimed at assisting women who are facing unplanned pregnancies to connect with pregnancy care centers for free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, confidential options counseling sessions and other services — began the week just prior to the annual fundraiser with the placement of the first of 90 billboards.

Between now and December, funds generated from the dinner will help place 90 more throughout the Kansas City area. The name of the Vitae Caring Foundation never appears on the billboards. Instead, they feature the phone numbers of pregnancy care centers. Targeted at women ages 18 to 34, the billboards are strategically placed on traffic routes women would typical use to reach abortion clinics.

Similar campaigns in other cities have resulted in significant declines in the number of abortions. For example, in New York City, Vitae ran an integrated media campaign in 2008 that saved nearly 1,200 babies from abortion. A four-week bus advertising campaign in the Washington, D.C. area earlier this year generated more than 750 phone calls to the pregnancy care centers. Vitae reports at least 60 babies were saved from abortion as a direct result of the campaign.

In her remarks, Anne Carmichael, vice-president for the Western Region, said the importance of informing women about abortion alternatives cannot be stressed enough.

“Basically, we need to get there first with the message that there are options,” Carmichael said, adding later that the abortion industry is extremely aggressive in how it targets young women.

But Carmichael also said she is already encouraged about the Kansas City campaign’s effects. Within the first week and with just a few billboards in place, 15 phone calls have already been made to pregnancy care centers. Of those 15 calls, three women are scheduled for ultrasounds and one woman has decided to keep her baby.

“It’s thrilling to see how quickly results are occurring,” Carmichael said, adding that while media campaigns are important in reducing the number of abortions, it’s also important to pray for those facing unplanned pregnancies.

“Please pray for those women who are in the balance,” she said.

In his remarks, Thompson, perhaps best known for his role as Arthur Branch, the New York City district attorney in NBC’s hit television series “Law and Order,” discussed his eight-year stint in the U.S. Senate, his television career and the role of government in society today.

Mostly however, his remarks centered on various pro-life issues facing the nation today, including the current debate over health care reform. He likened the debate about the sanctity of life to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and told those in attendance that the sanctity of life is “the civil rights issue of our day.”

Not all doom and gloom though, Thompson also marveled at the number of people gathered in support of the Vitae Foundation’s work and said the sheer number indicated that many people already know what’s right and are giving of themselves and making progress on important issues such as abortion.

He joked about leaving his Senate post for “the realism and sincerity of Hollywood” and recalled how in one episode of “Law and Order” he pointed at a copy of the Constitution and asked for someone to show him where a right of privacy existed in the document.

“They’re still looking,” he quipped.

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