I grew up in Wichita, Kansas: Air Capital of the World. Wichita earned this title because it is home to several aircraft manufacturing companies. Yet, when I was growing up in the 1980s, Wichita also had a darker nickname: Abortion Capital of the World. It earned this grisly title because it was home to one of only three clinics in the United States that performed legal abortions through the ninth month of pregnancy. As a result, women traveled to Wichita from all over the world to end the lives of their unborn children.
In 1984, my parents were busy raising five boys, ages twelve to two. (Yeah, I’ve got some stories.) But they also felt that God was calling them to do something to combat the presence of that late-term abortion clinic (which my mother described as a black cloud hanging over Wichita).
Around this time, my parents attended a dinner at which a speaker talked about a ministry that he had recently started in a nearby town – what he called a crisis pregnancy center. Its purpose was to provide resources and support to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
My parents knew immediately that God had planned this opportunity for them.
So, in 1985, my parents, with the support of many other individuals and churches, started the Pregnancy Crisis Center (now known as Embrace) in Wichita. Over the last 30 years, Embrace has brought help and hope to thousands of women by providing pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, counseling services, baby clothes, diapers, and many other resources. They have empowered hundreds of women to choose life, rather than abortion, for their unborn children.
One woman – I’ll call her Emily – is particularly memorable to me. Emily had moved from England to Wichita to live with her boyfriend. When she became pregnant shortly thereafter, her boyfriend threatened to kick her out unless she had an abortion. Emily wasn’t sure that’s what she wanted, but she had no job, no money, no family, and no place to go. She felt helpless and trapped. Emily thought she had no choice.
Then Emily heard about Embrace. She learned that there were people who would support her if she chose to keep the baby. Empowered by this support, Emily chose life. Emily even came to live with our family while she looked for a job and another place to live. Even as a child, I remember sensing the joy and relief that Emily felt when she realized that she did have a choice. She could choose life.
Every day, thousands of American women are facing an unplanned pregnancy. They know that abortion is an option and have even been encouraged by those around them to get one. But they are looking for someone to tell them that there is another option.
That’s exactly why pregnancy centers like Embrace exist – to give women that option. They provide medical assistance, food and clothing, parenting classes, and other resources to thousands of women. So that, just like Emily, they can choose life for their unborn child.
Now, imagine that Kansas passed a law forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to post a sign stating that women can receive a free or low-cost abortion from the state and giving them a phone number where they can get more information. That would have directly contradicted my parents’ purpose for creating Embrace. And for Emily, it would have been just another voice telling her to get an abortion, at the very place she was looking for a different option. A way out.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening in California, where a law requires pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for the abortion industry by posting signs like the one described above. In other words, this law forces pregnancy centers to speak a message that contradicts their very mission. If these pregnancy centers refuse, they face a fine of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 every time after that.
But the First Amendment forbids the government from compelling anyone to speak a message that person does not want to speak. That is why Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit challenging this law on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates and its affiliated pregnancy centers in California. On March 20, the Supreme Court will hear this case.
We must stand for the free speech of these pregnancy centers. Failing to do so not only limits the choices of women in California but also limits free speech for us all.