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Focus on the Family pulls pamphlet on abortion drug amid pro-life criticism

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Focus on the Family's Welcome Center in Colorado Springs
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Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, who left the organization in 2003, speaks at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in 2014. John-Henry Westen / LifeSiteNews

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, December 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Renowned Christian family advocacy group Focus on the Family has pulled a resource it produced after coming under fire for its apparent endorsement of an abortion procedure.

Critics say the organization’s pamphlet, “The Abortion Pill,” gives a green light for medical abortion to abortion-minded women. Focus on the Family, on the other hand, insists their intention with the pamphlet is to offer the facts of abortion, without moral judgments, in the hope of nudging the reader to choose life.

Meanwhile, experts in the field of pro-life pregnancy care are defending, in principle, Focus on the Family’s intention for the pamphlet.

“We’re in the process of revising portions of the booklet that have caused some to question Focus’ strong, unwavering pro-life convictions,” Focus on the Family’s Director of Media Relations and Guest Relations Andrew Montgomery told LifeSiteNews in a statement. He added that they do not currently have an estimate on when the revision will be complete.

‘Mixed in its messaging’

Readers must get to the latter half of the document, authored by Obstetrician Dr. W. David Hager, to see anything acknowledging the humanity of the child in the womb. The pamphlet begins with details on what takes place during a medical abortion, lists of risks and side effects of the abortion pill, and guidelines for its use, including the statement, “Ignoring the guidelines make a medical abortion less safe.”

Download Focus on the Family's pamphlet, "The Abortion Pill," here.

In the last section, Hager does eventually indicate pro-life concern with medical abortion. “Think about the life within you before you take the abortion pill,” he writes. “Even if you yourself have no major complications after taking the abortion pill, this method always leads to the death of a baby.”

This is followed with a graphic illustrating the differences between the abortion pill and the morning-after pill.

“The pamphlet is mixed in its messaging,” Pulpit & Pen’s J.D. Hall said in a blog post. “Providing advice on how to safely and healthily receive an abortion, should that be the ‘option’ the woman chooses, is deplorable for a Christian publication.”

“This resource, and any profit made from it, is an affront to those who have supported Focus on the Family for years and it also acts as a stab in the back to the pro-life cause,” Theology Mix’s Jeremy Lundmark wrote in a blog post.

The pamphlet’s purpose

The material in the pamphlet is meant for abortion-minded women who visit pregnancy medical clinics (PMCs) seeking information on abortion, according to Focus on the Family, and it tries to affect their decision without touching on morality or being strident.

See Focus on the Family's full statement on the pamphlet here.

“It is not intended to sway the reader to a pro-life perspective using ideological or moral arguments, but it is one of many tools designed for use by trained, pro-life counselors at PMCs in the hope that presenting the facts of abortion will help steer the reader in the direction of choosing life,” the organization’s statement said.

“More specifically, the booklet is intended to educate – and to indicate the dangers of – a mifepristone/misoprostol abortion as it is currently performed. Its purpose is also to affirm that inside each pregnant woman is a special, unique person – all of this to an audience that, as many Pregnancy Medical Clinic directors have indicated, might disregard a piece of literature overtly directive in pointing women away from abortion.”  

Experts: Give abortion-minded women all the information

Experts in the field told LifeSiteNews that while some of the pamphlet language could be considered problematic, providing the kind of information they include in the pamphlet is not intrinsically an endorsement of abortion. They also stress the importance of fully informing a pregnant woman of the specifics about the choices before her.

Jay Hobbs, Heartbeat International’s director of marketing & communications, said the pamphlet’s intended purpose was to give a woman information on all of her options. “In fact, pregnancy centers don’t hide from that,” he said. “They aren’t afraid to give information on that. The more information a person has, the better chance of them making the right decision.”

Heartbeat International’s end goal in its work is to connect an abortion-minded woman with someone to talk to, he told LifeSiteNews. “The best alternative to abortion is another person,” Hobbs stated.

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He also said it’s not unheard of or necessarily a problem for there to be disagreement within the pro-life movement on how best to present everything. “We [Heartbeat International] try to pool as many experts as we can with every project,” Hobbs said. “It’s an ongoing process to learn our clients. We always operate with honesty and clarity, but it’s also a work in progress.”

Professionals in the field of counseling those in crisis pregnancy agreed that providing full and accurate information is key when working with abortion-minded women.

“Providing up to date, factual information, about abortion options and alternatives is an important part of helping women choose life,” licensed marriage and family therapist Wendy Solawetz told LifeSiteNews. “Though I would never endorse the use of abortifacients such as the morning after pill and the abortion pill, I will provide factual information to my clients.” 

In addition to family therapy, the Des Moines therapist works part time as a certified adoption investigator, supporting both birth families and adoptive families. She is also president of the board of directors for Iowans for Life (IFL), the state’s longest running pro-life organization.

“I think this work by Focus on the Family is a valuable resource,” Solawetz said. “I did feel that in some ways it's non-judgmental voice might sound like an endorsement to a client, but if read carefully it clearly challenges the client to avoid the complications and in the end clearly states that all forms of abortion take the child's life which can be avoided by considering positive options. I would use this resource as a teaching tool and to open up dialogue about risks and considering options both the mother and child can live with.” 

“Medical model pregnancy centers provide factual information on all types of abortion all the time,” said Kim Laube, director of Pregnancy Counseling and Adoption for Lutheran Family Services of Iowa, who also serves on the board of IFL. “They don't refer for abortion, but they do explain risks.”

“IFL does as well,” Laube told LifeSiteNews. “We have brochures about RU486 we give out at the fair. That doesn't mean we are promoting it.” 

“The piece states clearly that this causes death,” Laube continued. “A pregnancy counselor is there to tell a woman of her options and the truth about all of them. Pregnancy Counselors will give information like this coupled with information on how they can avoid this option. They need to be able to provide factual information to women and then provide the ultrasound so the woman can see her baby.”

With some of the reaction toward Focus on the Family, Laube expressed concern over pro-life organizations or individuals that criticize other pro-life organizations who are in the midst of authentically trying to help women in crisis. 

“Focus on the Family is an outstanding organization,” Laube told LifeSiteNews. “I have no problem with the brochure and its intended use.”

Hobbs added that even when there is disagreement on approach, caution should be taken to avoid efforts against unity in the pro-life movement, a concept he called, “Shooting our friends.”

“We need to be careful and watch out for that,” he said.

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