NEW YORK-On weekdays Chris Kan, 28, wears nice slacks and a pressed button-up shirt to work in the sky-scraping world of New York finance. On the weekends, he puts on sneakers, gym pants, and a sweatshirt, goes to the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center-located in an office building close to Grand Central Station-and sits down with people in crisis.
The office building's lobby, torn up for renovation, is hung with plastic tarps and cluttered with ladders, but the center itself, seven floors above, is peaceful. Its whole floor is painted like a baby's nursery in light blue and yellow, with softly blurred posters by Impressionist painters framed and hung on the walls. In an office that doubles as a counseling room, Kan sits down at an oval conference table with the husbands and boyfriends of women contemplating abortion. Next to that office is a more comfortable room with overstuffed pale blue chairs. That's where female counselors meet with the women themselves, a box of Kleenex within reach.
Kan has been volunteering at the center for almost as long as he's called himself pro-life: one year. He is one of an increasing number of Americans who have recently changed their views on the abortion issue from "pro-choice" to "pro-life." In 2009, Pew Research Center found that more Americans (41 percent) now favor making it more difficult to obtain an abortion, up from 35 percent in 2007. From 2005 to 2009 the percentage of Americans who want to reduce the number of abortions rose from 59 percent to 65 percent.
In a political climate that, at least rhetorically, favors working together to reduce abortions, that stat doesn't mean these people call themselves pro-life. But a Gallup poll last May found that for the first time in the 14 years Gallup has been asking the question, a majority of Americans-51 percent-identify themselves as pro-life. A year before, only 44 percent of Americans labeled themselves pro-life.
In a New York magazine article, pro-abortion writer Jennifer Senior asks, "Just how pro-choice is America, really?" The answer: Not as pro-choice as it used to be. Senior bemoans the fact that Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are "the most pro-life to come along since the generation born during the Great Depression." Crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion providers, she notes-and two-thirds of abortionists are over the age of 50.
She and pro-lifers agree that advances in technology-especially ultrasound technology-are aiding the pro-life side, and so are the painful stories of women who have undergone abortions themselves. The generation that never knew a time before Roe is no longer wholly convinced that abortion is a solution.
Kan once saw "pro-choice" as the "civilized" position, the "intellectual" position: "In New York, where tolerance and acceptance are so prized, those are the default views. People generally think that the more tolerant you are the more intellectual you are, the more civilized you are." He knew that the Psalms spoke of God knowing him from his mother's womb, but he couldn't translate that to the realization that God also knows a child from the womb of a single mother contemplating abortion.
Kan's church didn't discuss the issue, but his friends did. They challenged him to think about the issue more deeply, so he began to research it for himself, first to find out the facts and then to find out what his faith had to say. He started with blogs-pro-life author Randy Alcorn's-and with other teachers like Mark Driscoll and John Piper. After a while he understood the facts of when human life begins and intellectually embraced the pro-life view, but it was still just a set of statistics and not something to feel passionate about.
Then Randy Alcorn linked to a graphic video of an abortion, and Kan watched it. He knows that some consider graphic abortion videos and pictures to be "scare tactics," but Kan says he processes truth visually. He needed to see an abortion happen-"to see a limb being pulled out"-to care deeply about the human life lost. He watched the video, made by actor Eduardo Verastegui, which first shows an embryo developing, with its translucent fingers and toes and the growing dark blot of its organs. Then it shows an abortionist's gloved hands holding the dismembered body parts of a fetus: The baby's mangled limbs lay on a surgical counter, his severed head in those gloved hands.
That was the end of ambivalence. Kan asked, "Why is this allowed to happen?" Then he asked himself, "What am I going to do about it?" A month later, the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center was training him as a counselor.
Chuck Donovan is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a pro-life veteran since the 1970s when the movement began. He says the movement has changed since the 1970s, when pro-lifers expected to overturn Roe v. Wade by the end of the decade: "Now here we are, 37 years later." Donovan says the 1970s were all about asserting rights, but people have found that it leaves Americans bereft of community: "It just ends up in a multiplication of demands that people make on each other without acknowledging the responsibilities they have to each other. . . . The more they insist only on a rights universe, the more they get isolated from one another. The human desire for community is stronger than the human desire to be a hermit."
While there's still desire for legal change, Donovan sees more Americans-like Kan-realizing that even without changing the law they can help reduce the number of abortions: "People are finding they can make a difference close to home. They can act locally and eventually produce a global change at some point by showing that abortion has not lived up to any of its billings as the best resolution to an unexpected pregnancy."
This generation has seen abortion's disappointments firsthand, Donovan notes. Women who have undergone abortion offer "subterranean testimony," and other women listen: "They know stories, they know friends. They know how people's lives have been affected. They know this promise of liberation hasn't happened."
Angel B. Lee, 27, has seen the change in her own time at Midtown Pregnancy Support Center, where she counsels alongside Kan. Lee works for a fragrance and beauty company and describes herself as a "corporate monkey"-a stylishly dressed one in boots and an airy scarf. She describes herself as pro-choice and says she believes in "a woman's right to choose" but thinks it's a wrong choice. She says the terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are hard for her and seems torn between the two: "I think it's one thing to tell someone what's the right and the wrong thing to do, but you just can't tell somebody else what to do. You give people guidelines and hope they make the right decision."
Working at a pregnancy center has deepened her conviction that abortion is a wrong choice. When she led a post-abortion support group, the pain she saw deepened her conviction that abortion goes against the "natural order." She has also seen women make the choice to keep their babies, and she's seen that it can work even in situations that seem impossible. She may not want a crack addict with other children and no husband to have another child-but she asks, who is she to say that the child shouldn't live?
Despite the talk of young evangelicals becoming more liberal, pro-life convictions have stayed strong. According to the Pew Research Center, although young white evangelicals are on average 14 points less conservative than older evangelicals, they are more pro-life than their older counterparts. Some 70 percent of white young evangelicals favor making it more difficult for women to get abortions, compared with 55 percent of older white evangelicals.
Those views are reflected in other volunteers at Midtown. Two others in the center were working with Kan one Saturday. Danny Garcia, 28, had just moved to New York from Gainesville, Fla., and had immediately looked for a place to volunteer. Garcia says that abortion is the only reason he didn't vote for Barack Obama.
The other volunteer, Emily Schendel, 27, was entering data into a computer-her way of helping out since she doesn't see counseling as her strength. Schendel says she's more liberal than the folks back home in south Georgia but less liberal than her peers in New York-so in New York she considers herself conservative. Unlike Kan, Garcia and Schendel have always considered themselves pro-life, but those pro-life views have stayed conservative as their other views have shifted toward the middle or left.
The stories have shifted the debate and so has ultrasound technology, said Donovan. Seeing the forming body and then the chopped limbs of an aborted baby made Kan realize, "This is a human life." Pro-lifers have learned the power of an image. According to Option Ultrasound, when pro-life centers combine counseling with ultrasound, it produces nearly 60 percent more decisions against abortion than counseling produces alone. Senior, the pro-abortion reporter, agrees that technology is on the pro-life side: This generation "was the first to grow up with pictures of sonograms on their refrigerators."
As more pro-lifers see the value of pro-life centers for their side, pro-abortion lawmakers and activists are taking note. Pro-life lawmakers are promoting laws that require ultrasounds before abortions, and their opponents are pushing back. Pro-abortion lawmakers are actively targeting pregnancy centers-see p. 57 for a Baltimore City Council action-and accusing them of providing misleading information.
But at least one person helped at Midtown Pregnancy Support Center doesn't see it that way. Kan points out a collage of babies and children, hung on the wall of the storage room where the center keeps bins of baby clothes, labeled according to size. One of the cards reads, "Many Thanks to You."
Kan knows the eloquent arguments of abortion supporters-arguments about unwanted babies, quality of life, and a woman's right to choose-and says, "We idolize people-pleasing, the concept of being accepted by others, not rocking the boat. But ultimately I think it's so offensive to God to be fearful." With both Christian and non-Christian friends he plans to have the kind of difficult conversation that first led him to look at the facts for himself.
He also plans to attend baby showers, boring events for most 28-year-old men but "exciting" when they take place for babies he has helped to save.
A pro-baby wave | Optimistic signs point to a changing abortion debate | Marvin Olasky
Learning to wait | Denied federal funds, abstinence educators plan next moves | William McCleery
'Look after orphans' | Twenty ways to become an adoption-friendly church | Paul Golden
Chemical reaction | The drug RU486 gives women the option of abortion in privacy | Alisa Harris
Finding searchers | Pregnancy centers buy Google real estate to reach abortion-minded women | Emily Belz
Higher learning? | Catholic colleges have become training ground for pro-abortion politicians | Anne Hendershott
Life changes | Anti-CPC forces alter their tactics and auditors eye Planned Parenthood | Alisa Harris
Called to a cause | The pro-life movement won over Marjorie Dannenfelser, and now she's working to help it win over Congress | Marvin Olasky
'It all clicked together' | How one Christian volunteer found herself in the right place at the right time at a crisis pregnancy center in Texas | Susan Olasky
The telltale protests | The abortion issue did not die after Roe v. Wade | Andrée Seu