Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Event Supports Proliferation Of Pro-Life Message

By PRISCILLA GREEAR,Staff Writer | Published January 12, 2006

Keynote speaker Pia de Solenni, Ph.D., affirmed at the annual Catholic fundraiser for the Georgia Right to Life media campaign that one of the most effective actions people can take is to support these television ads, which reach women where they are, with a nonjudgmental pro-life message, in the comfort of their living room.

And the media has more power than ever to shape attitudes, as she reported that 66 percent of homes have three TVs and 99 percent of homes have at least one, and that Americans watch an average of 28 hours of television a week—while if they’re Catholic they may put an hour in to attend Mass.

Solenni reported that over 43 million U.S. women have had abortions since in 1973 the Supreme Court legalized the procedure to kill a growing fetus through all nine months of pregnancy. At current rates the Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that about one in three American women have had an abortion by age 45.

“We have an abortion-minded culture, and we’re able to reach 99 percent of households in America with a message. That’s exactly what these ads allow us to do…We’re going out and finding people where they are, in their living rooms, their hotel rooms…and bringing the message to them, and it’s all part of education,” she said. “Pope John Paul II really emphasized that to build a culture of life we have to change minds and hearts, we have to change how people think and feel. We have to change how they respond to things because, God willing, Roe v. Wade will be overturned in the near future, but that means the battle will then be on 50 different fronts…We have to try to find a way to educate people.”

The event, sponsored by the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, was held Dec. 12 at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast in Norcross and included a silent auction with items including paintings of the Madonna and Pope John Paul II. The host for the evening was Mike Patterson, pro-life leader of St. Mary’s Mission in Jackson.

The event will support a new round of ads through GRTL’s Raising Educational Awareness and Changing Hearts (REACH) project set to run in the metro Atlanta area in 2006, targeting women ages 18-35 through carefully selected channels and time slots. The ads include a number that connects callers with a pregnancy center counselor in their area.

“As much money as we can raise, the more we can get time slots,” said GRTL executive director Nancy Stith. The archdiocese began holding “Jeremiah’s Call” to raise funds for GRTL in 2002 after GRTL launched its first-ever media campaign in 2001, and since then has raised approximately $325,000. This event kicked of their 2006 fund-raising for the campaign.

According to the Georgia Department of Human Resources, the number of abortions in the state in 2004 was 32,708, down from 34,545 in 2003, 34,289 in 2002 and 33,545 in 2001.

Patterson said that those figures amount to a 5.3 percent rate decrease from 2003-04. He commended GRTL for its lobbying work this year to get the Georgia General Assembly to pass the Woman’s Right to Know Act, requiring women having an abortion to be given basic information about the pregnancy, risks and alternatives, and the option to get additional information including on fetal development, and to then have a 24-hour waiting period.

“We’re winning the battle, guys,” Patterson said.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory gave welcoming remarks where he affirmed that protecting the weakest life in society affirms and upholds the value of every life. “It’s kind of a self-supportive activity. If you can build a reverence and support for all human life, then maybe people would be more reverent to your life and to all life. But there are a number of very powerful forces in society that would like to distinguish which lives are worth protecting and caring for, and the distinctions really result in danger for all human life. If we do not begin, from the very first moments of conception to natural death, to revere life without distinction and without reasons for failing to reverence life, in fact all our lives are less valuable and are threatened,” said Archbishop Gregory. “I’m grateful to all of you here to give reverence and support for the efforts to increase, support and strengthen our nation’s reverence for human life.”

He spoke about the progress being made. “I believe our efforts are successful because the debate about the dignity and reverence of human life is still being waged.” He expressed his prayer and others’ fear that with the new Supreme Court appointments “the scales may be tipped and all aggressive anti-life judgments may come to an end.”

“The gift of human life is too valuable and too precious to be threatened by political forces that fail to see it for its real value…I welcome all of you who have worked so long and so hard for the protection of human life. May your efforts and God’s will result in a new moment for our nation and for the precious lives that will be conceived and hopefully will be allowed to be born, to prosper, to grow and to develop as God would have it.”

He challenged them to step forth like Jeremiah and to speak God’s words in Scripture, to remind the world that “before I knitted you in your mother’s womb I knew you.”

In an introduction to a video featuring the new GRTL commercials, he asserted that “we’ve been summoned to restore the conscience of a nation that has been numbed by misinformation… Our humanity calls forth a right to life that must not be erased for convenience or denied because we haven’t a voice. This right to life is the foundation for us to be the person God has created us to be. It must be protected as fundamental to all other rights. It does not belong to society, it does not belong to the courts, it comes from the hand of God.”

He encouraged them to “support this vital ministry that has the power to change hearts and lives.”

A series of commercials were shown at the event, including one saying “you are valuable, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise” flashing images of diverse people, including a child in a wheelchair and one with a woman in a shadow at a desk writing a letter reflecting on her child who never was born. Another spoke about the obstacles that come up for people for which they need the courage to face life.

Solenni is the director of life and women’s issues—government affairs for the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., and specializes in women’s health, life issues, bioethics and the new feminism.

Dressed in a fitted maroon velvet dress suit and thin high heels, the young woman also emphasized the importance of education, as she believes that the more people know about abortion procedures and laws the less they will support them. She told the story of a Republican woman who was scheduled to debate against her boss on MSNBC in support of the partial-birth abortion procedure, but when she began talking with the other guest in the dressing room before going on air, the opponent learned more about the brutality of the procedure and changed her position. “She said on air, ‘Do you know what they do?’”

And with so many watching TV that has many negative messages, they have to “jump in there” with their pro-life message. “Television has become a substitute parent, a substitute authority, a substitute friend, a substitute community,” Solenni continued.

She has heard young women on planes rushing to get home to watch “Sex in the City” and asserted that for those who watch so much that they get a sense of community and values through the tube, “it’s definitely going to color their thinking over issues like abortion.”

The speaker, who earned her doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome and in 2001 was awarded the Award of the Pontifical Academies for her doctoral work by Pope John Paul II, believes “the time is right” to reach women as so many now have suffered from abortions already. “What I continue to see is unless we change hearts and minds all the legislation and lobbying will have very, very little effect. What it tells is that as people become more and more informed about these issues they become more pro-life.”

It’s also imperative to show women considering abortion alternatives and to emphasize that they do have the support they need to deliver the baby to term and, if desired, to make an adoption plan for the child.

In discussing the role of the media, Solenni discussed how the Catholic Church historically has supported all sorts of cultural works through the fine arts and has been present throughout culture. Quoting C.S. Lewis that “it’s not that we need more Christian writers, it’s that we need more writers who are Christian,” she stressed that any media initiative must be done by professionals with a world view that is Catholic.

“Advertising works, it gets an idea in people’s heads.”

She noted Pope John Paul II’s teaching that one should encounter a person in her experience, and how in Scripture Jesus talks to the woman at the well on her level and she ends up being the only person in Scripture to whom he reveals that he is the Messiah.

“He encountered them in their world. That’s what we do with advertising.”

Describing how ideas can catch on, she told how the tradition of engagement rings came about in the country by a Sears campaign and how the white wedding became in vogue after the original “Father of the Bride” movie.

“These ads catch women when they least expect it,” she continued. “I see this as a way we will educate people. Until we change the parameters of the story, change what it is that they know, we are not going to change the way they think and feel. So I urge you to support these ads any way that you can because if we can reach 99 percent of homes in the United States, it’s probably more significant than anything we can do outside of prayer.”

GRTL president Caryl Swift asserted that a pro-life TV ad campaign in Michigan reduced that state’s abortion rate by over 40 percent in the past decade. She said that during 2005 the GRTL ad campaign, its Google search advertising had yielded many hits every month, describing the ads as “nonconfrontational, nonjudgmental.” She reported that in Georgia that 75 percent of the procedures take place in DeKalb and Fulton counties, and there has been a 10 percent drop in those two counties, in which they have heavily focused their efforts.

The group is looking for chapter leaders for north and south Fulton and Atlanta. “This is our fourth campaign this year to put pro-life ads on the air, but we’re not stopping with that. We also have a Google campaign because young people today go to the Internet for their source of information…In 2004 the Atlanta Care Center was number two in the nation in calls as a direct result of our effort, and in the third quarter of this past year Atlanta Care Center was number one in the nation,” she said, adding that they are also beginning Yellow Pages advertising in 2006.

In an interview GRTL executive director Stith affirmed that the Catholic support has been critical. “It’s due to our partnership in previous years that GRTL has been able to produce and air TV ads that have reached out to women and funneled them to crisis pregnancy centers. This help has been invaluable in the past and is now to help get the message out that there are alternatives to abortion.”

She said the pro-life organization has done studies in other states that reflect how they can change opinions as much as by a third of those in the “mushy middle,” who are not strongly in support of abortion rights or have not thought much about the issue but don’t consider themselves pro-life.

Mary Boyert, director of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, said pro-life groups in churches have been asked to do their own fundraising projects throughout the new year. “This is the best way to reach the largest amount of people. It is proven to be effective that when these ads are shown, it makes a difference in influencing beliefs and understanding about pro-life (position) and it gives them information on (resources to find) hope and help if facing crisis pregnancies or in the aftermath of an abortion.”

She also believes that the Woman’s Right to Know Act now in effect in Georgia will have a positive influence. “That should reduce abortions considerably, just letting women know there is help. We’re excited about that.”

Attorney James Sacca, who has eight children of his own, attended the fundraiser for a cause he strongly supports. He expressed optimism regarding the strength and momentum of the national pro-life movement with the national debate over the removal of the feeding tube in the Terri Schiavo case and the appointment of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and the expected naming of Samuel Alito Jr., both of whom he believes interpret the Constitution as protecting all human life. And he noted that as Pope John Paul II was such an ardent upholder of the sanctity of all human life, his teachings and legacy continue to shape the debate and consciousness on pro-life issues.

“The Terri Schiavo debacle—it made people really look at the issues, that they are killing this lady and all she wants is something to eat and drink,” he said. “People are looking on (Pope John Paul’s) life and what a great supporter he was of pro-life causes. That will help. There are certainly positive trends.”


Those wishing to make a donation should send checks, payable to Georgia Right to Life Educational Trust Fund, with Jeremiah’s Call written on the memo line, to Jeremiah’s Call, Pro-Life Office, Archdiocese of Atlanta, 680 W. Peachtree St., NW, Atlanta, GA 30308. For more information call (404) 888-7821.