The Winning Pro-Life Message During the COVID-19 Crisis

Opinion   |   Tom Ciesielka   |   Apr 17, 2020   |   6:45PM   |   Washington, DC

According to the Washington Post, “The coronavirus is a flimsy excuse to ban abortion,” while Fox News reports, “Pro-life leaders scrutinize WHO funding amid support for abortion during COVID-19 outbreak.” How are those who call themselves pro-life advocates supposed to create messages that will transcend the current pandemic? A pro-life mission does not sway based on who is president, how laws expand or contract access to abortion, or because of a crisis no one could have anticipated. What does one do when one still has the desire to be out on the sidewalks counseling women that the greater pandemic is the number abortions taking place throughout the world?

Here are some tips for crafting an effective pro-life message during the COVID-19 crisis:

1. Stay on mission

For example, Live Action is an organization whose mission states that it “…exists today to shift public opinion on the killing of preborn children and defend the rights of these most vulnerable among us.” When Lila Rose started the organization, she was an undercover journalist working to expose illegal activity at abortion clinics, in order to help shut them down.

A recent headline in Live Action News reads, United Nations gives China seat on Human Rights Council, despite abuses and genocide.” Why? Because we know that women in China often face forced abortions and Live Action’s reporting points out that China does not deserve to be associated with an entity that supports human rights. The article is a good fit for Live Action’s mission. And while that hard news is tied into COVID-19, you have to admire their powerful human interest article, “Bittersweet: Photo of newborn meeting grandfather through window shows realities of COVID-19.”

This should be helpful to other pro-life groups who are tempted to exclusively chase after “all things COVID-19” as it relates to the pro-life/abortion debate. Don’t overlook the power of a “feel good” story.

  1. Pivot your theme

The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement how the American College of OB/GYN believes that “abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care.” One key fact in that release is that, “85% of OB/GYNs do not perform abortions. If abortion was an ‘essential component’ of women’s health care, it would be a part of most, if not all, of our practices.” In addition, the statement concludes, “Elective abortions offer zero health benefits to women and do not treat a disease process.” While the statement was a new release as it related to abortion services during the COVID-19 crisis, it really was a pivot from the organization’s theme that abortion is clearly not healthcare.

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Other pro-life advocates can follow the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ lead when communicating. Start out with strong facts that support your life-affirming position then be sure to “land on” a message that will never change, in this case that elective abortions are not essential and are not health care.

  1. Make your message “yes and” rather than “either or”

I live in Chicago where our mayor has pushed hard for social distancing, yet she posted photos with her hair stylist in close proximity without any protective wear to be seen. In a public service announcement, she tells women, “Getting your roots done is not essential.” This is a bad example of saying “yes” on social distancing while adding an “and” that the mayor is above her own executive order.

However, what Pro-Life Action Ministries communicated is a winning “yes and” message with the statement, “Covid-19 and Abortion: Events Cancelled; Sidewalk Counseling Remains a Must.” The message makes clear that the mission of Pro-Life Action Ministries will continue by honoring the social distancing guidelines by the government and still let women know that there are other life-affirming healthcare services to support them during a crisis pregnancy.

I remember the classic example that free speech does not apply to yelling “fire!” in a crowded theatre, because expressing your “free speech” in that manner could causing a panic that results in harming people. The same is true for pro-life activities, if you truly believe in protecting life, then you must also support directives from the government to protect the health of others during this pandemic.

  1. Promote Pro-Life Good Works that Meet Current Needs

Our family has chosen the homeschool option for our children. My wife has been teaching our girls out of our house for years. However, that is not the case for the majority of families. So when the Culture of Life Studies Program offered free digital material during the quarantine, that was a winning idea for everyone. It gives pro-life parents the opportunity to supplement their home education with a curriculum that increases their children’s knowledge of and heart for the most essential subject ever: life.

In the case of Students for Life of America, they used the tried and true tactic of making a list: “The Top 8 Pro-Life Things to do During Coronavirus.” The list ranges from how to thank elected officials who support the pro-life position to participating in an online diaper drive. All are perfect ideas for a generation of digital natives who can do all suggested tasks online with ease.

By coming up with creative ways for a pro-life organization to blend its mission with timely added value for constituents, Students for Life of America has demonstrated that its mission can be relevant in any season, certainly well outside of the national March for Life timeframe that garners attention culminating in January.

Creating a better news cycle on the abortion issue

If you search for news on elective abortions during the COVID-19 crisis, much of the coverage  focuses around state governments deciding if abortion is an “essential” or “non-essential” medical service. You will see the abortion industry crying foul when the practice is curtailed, and see some coverage of pro-life activists doing “business as usual” while appearing to ignore the crisis that has gripped the entire country. My hope is to suggest this: the winning pro-life message during the COVID-19 crisis is that of crafting a narrative that stays true to your organization’s mission of helping women and their babies in a crisis pregnancy, while finding unique points that add value well beyond the current rash of polarizing headlines that pit pro-life advocacy against abortion “rights.”

LifeNews Note: Tom Ciesielka is president of TC Public Relations, an agency that represent pro-life and conservative/Christian organization with media relations, social media strategy and crisis communications services.


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