The annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington is always interesting, and it’s been known to include some pro-life panels. Now and then, even a marquee speaker will say something encouraging. The most constructive conversations and connections, for anyone interested in pro-life media and politics, occur in the breakout sessions in the side rooms, away from the huge mainstage ballroom. This year’s conference was no exception.
“Changing Hearts and Minds in the Pro-life Movement” was tucked away in one of those side rooms, in the last time slot of the day. (Always read your conference agenda through to the end.) The panel was made up of a pair of political folk, an entertainer, and a worker in a front-line pro-life nonprofit agency about as far from politics as can be. And in that high-powered company (by CPAC standards), it was the guy from the front lines who left the deepest impression.
Jeff Gilbert of Save the Storks was on the speakers’ platform. His organization adapts vans into mobile units where women can obtain pregnancy resources and no-cost ultrasounds. The vans are designed to be used by pregnancy resource centers anywhere they’re needed, even near abortion facilities. Save the Storks has just launched its 33rd bus. (One of them visited New Hampshire last year to demonstrate a unit’s capabilities.)
Jeff had a no-doubt answer about how his project has changed hearts and minds: it builds one relationship at a time, where a woman is seeking aid. “We showed up. We didn’t just pass her on to someone else.”
The people who came to hear the panel sat up and took notice when Jeff talked about Save the Storks. This was not a typical political-conference speaker, and hardly anyone in the room had ever heard of Save the Storks. The agency seemed to have stepped way out of its zone to come to CPAC to reach people who might not otherwise have heard about its mission and message.
“We take these mobile units to the front doors of abortion clinics. We’re here to help [pregnant women] slow their thoughts down. We’re there to give them free resources. We want to start a relationship right on that bus. ”
Relationship was the common thread linking all the panelists. Congressman Jody Tice of Georgia, a pastor for more than three decades before coming to Congress, talked about his work through the years with pregnancy help centers. “Through those venues, (I’ve) seen incredible stories. I don’t know that specific words change a person’s attitude towards life. We have seen the most impact not so much from words as from attitude. Authentic love and genuine compassion has spoken louder than any words I can think of.”
Don’t underestimate the power of words, warned actress Cameron Goodman. “I’ve noticed repeatedly that the [Hollywood] left pays a lot more attention to words than to actions.” She found that to be true in conversation with a longtime friend who did not share her pro-life views. “I have a very close friend who’s an animal rights activist. Over years and years, I won credibility with her. When it came time for me to challenge her on her pro-choice views…we had something in common. We cared about the innocent.
“If I had challenged her as a stranger, it wouldn’t have worked. It’s important we have a relational foundation with people before we start talking about those hard cases.”
White House policy advisor Katy Talento gave an example of how conversations within relationships can lead to changed hearts. “Personal testimony. Let’s not forget that’s how our President became pro-life.” (I’m sorry that she didn’t have time to elaborate on that.) “A friend of his chose life, and that story so compelled [President Trump] that it literally changed him.”
Katy then looked at Jeff and paid tribute to Save the Storks. “What you’re doing is replicating that over and over, every day.”
Words and actions, one person at a time. “We do have the language. We do have the stories,” said Jeff. “I just didn’t want to get out there with a grotesque sign. That’s not how I flow. We show up with resources and support. It brings hope into darkness, it brings light into darkness.”