|Birth Moms panel at #ProLifeWomen17|
The 2017 Pro-Life Women's Conference was amazing. A picture is worth a thousand words, so check out our photo album on facebook.
Secular Pro-Life's conference booth was set up just a few yards away from our friends at Rehumanize International, with whom I also shared a hotel. Quick plug: their latest project is Create | Encounter, which wants your visual art, creative writing, musical works, etc. related to any and all life issues. Submissions are due July 31; details here.
The program opened with Lacey Buchanan, who spoke about her experience as a mother. Her son, Christian, has an extremely rare disability. Among other things, his eyes never developed. She struggled with people who've stared at Christian, made insensitive comments, and even attacked her as a "bad mother" for not aborting him! But the family has persevered, and the more she publicly advocates for him, the better it's gotten. She had a wonderful message about the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Next up was a panel of women who had all received poor prenatal diagnoses. Some did indeed give birth to children with disabilities; in other cases, the doctors turned out to be wrong. All of them described immense pressure from their doctors to abort, even after repeated refusals. One asked for a note to be placed in her chart that she was keeping the baby and did not want to hear any more abortion talk, to no avail. The most moving story came from a woman who received a scary initial test result. She asked the doctor for more testing, and was told "The only test I'll perform on your daughter is an autopsy." After sharing this, she asked her daughter to please stand—she was there attending the conference, 19 years old and perfectly healthy!
After lunch, there was a panel of pro-life physicians. Much of the discussion focused on natural family planning (NFP): what it is, and what it isn't. Specifically, it is not the rhythm method, and it is not just having a period tracker app on your phone! Effective natural family planning methods use personal indicators like cervical mucous and temperature readings to determine when you are ovulating, as opposed to when the "average" woman in an "average" cycle is ovulating. NFP allows women to either avoid pregnancy or try to conceive, and charting also offers doctors insight into underlying hormonal issues that may be treatable. The panelists were religious, and opposed hormonal birth control for a mix of medical and religious reasons, but noted that NFP can benefit women from all walks of life. This led to the memorable line "Atheists have cervical mucous too!" (Can confirm.)
Two breakout sessions were scheduled for the afternoon. All the speakers and topics looked interesting, and it was hard to pick. For the first session, I attended a presentation on pregnancy loss from a woman who had experienced seven miscarriages/stillbirths at various gestations. She shared that she was well supported when she lost a child later in pregnancy; people brought her meals and sent sympathy cards and listened. But that was not the case when she miscarried early, and that hurt. The pro-life community needs to step up in those situations, and we shouldn't expect women's grief to follow the classic linear "seven stages." Life is much messier than that.
The second breakout session I attended focused on sex trafficking. The speaker was a social worker who shared (with names changed, of course) how her clients, often young teens, were recruited into prostitution rings through a combination of seemingly legitimate job opportunities, manipulation, and force or the threat of force. Helpful tip for pregnancy care centers: trafficked women and girls are often supervised by a handler, except when they are in the restroom. When a client goes to the ladies room to take a pregnancy test, give her the opportunity to tell you what is going on. This can be accomplished with a sign and a message box. Naturally the message box must be checked after each pregnancy test.
The morning's keynote speaker was Melissa Ohden, who shared her story of surviving a saline abortion, growing up in a loving adoptive home, and eventually reconnecting with her birth mother—who, as it turned out, had been coerced into the abortion by her mother, Melissa's grandmother. You can read more about Melissa's incredible journey here.
Next up was a panel entitled "Engaging the Black Community." Much of it was church-focused, which is not surprising given the large role Black churches play in social and political life. But here's an important takeaway for the pro-life movement in general: be mindful of Martin Luther King Day! It often falls on or near the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when we have memorial events and rallies planned. But Planned Parenthood is attending the MLK events, and if we aren't, we're giving the abortion industry a free pass. Schedule accordingly.
The final event of the conference was also one of the most moving. Seven birth mothers shared their pregnancy and adoption stories. They were incredibly diverse; some never considered abortion, others wavered back and forth, and others were dead set on abortion until a pro-lifer changed their mind. One woman was incarcerated during her pregnancy and gave birth in shackles, a terribly inhumane practice that everyone, whether pro-life or pro-choice, should oppose. There were many adoptive parents and adoptees in the audience, and the Q&A was truly beautiful.
Throughout the weekend, I had the opportunity to network with like-minded women from all over the country, and I also got to hold three different babies. This is the most mom- and child-friendly conference on the planet. Whenever a mom needed a break, there was a line of people volunteering for a shift. If you want to see what pro-life means in practice, this is it! The date for the 2018 conference is TBD (I assume it will be sometime in the summer), but the location has been announced: St. Louis, MO. See you there!