How to get the pro-life message into the media: pro-life leaders strategize at Law of Life Summit
WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 28, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The day before the March for Life in Washington, D.C., several hundred pro-life leaders and activists gathered to reflect on the importance of media in communicating the pro-life message.
Ave Maria Law School’s third annual Law of Life Summit, which was held at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill Jan. 24th, opened with an hour of brief talks by nearly 20 national pro-life leaders, followed by a panel discussion on promoting life in the media.
Fr. Frank Pavone, who led the opening prayer, said the event is “one of the most important gatherings” during the week of the March for Life “because our movement must not simply pray and march and gather, mourn and grieve and celebrate, we have to strategize.”
“The movement relies on strategic thinkers … who understand that it’s going to take risk and sacrifice,” he said.
The four panelists were Anne Carmichael of the Vitae Foundation, Tom Ciesielka of TC Public Relations, Ryan Bomberger of the Radiance Foundation and John-Henry Westen, editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com.
Westen spoke about the power of dedicated pro-life news media, highlighting a case in 2006 when LifeSiteNews was able to force a correction from the New York Times.
The so-called “newspaper of record” had reported that a woman in the pro-life country of El Salvador had been sentenced to thirty years after an abortion. But after a tip from local pro-life leaders, LifeSiteNews revealed that the woman, in fact, had strangled the child after birth, and the Times had spun the story as an attack on the pro-life movement.
“We have these really neat successes, and LifeSiteNews is really there for you,” he said.
Ryan Bomberger, who has created numerous viral pro-life Youtube videos, said the pro-life movement needs to pay a lot more attention to its design and messaging.
“Our design has to be intentional. Our messaging has to be intentional. It also has to be revelational, and there’s a beauty in brevity,” he said.
“God has given us all different talents. Do what you do best. I think the problem is, so many people try to be a one-size-fits-all and you can’t do it all,” he continued. “Tragically what ends up happening is we create some really poor content that does not connect with our intended audience.”
“Sometimes individuals or organizations need to step back and say, is this our strong point?” he added. “And if it’s not, seek out somebody who does have that strong point.”
Ciesielka, whose work is focused on helping pro-life groups communicate to media, emphasized that pro-lifers need to find creative ways to get their message out that will force the media to listen.
He mentioned an example where Planned Parenthood was holding a massive conference, but a local pro-life group was able to steal the show by, instead of protesting, holding a large baby shower on the streets for women in difficult pregnancies.
While there is a real pro-abortion bias in the media, he said, “If that’s where you’re starting at, get over it.”
In the brief talks during the opening hour, pro-life leaders gave brief promos for their organization’s work but also offered incisive comments about various facets of the cause for life.
Jeanne Monahan, the new president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, taking over from the late Nellie Gray, said the March for Life had gotten more media attention this year than ever before, noting she had interviews lined up with the New York Times and the Washington Times, among others.
“We have to continue to engage the media as much as possible,” she said. “We don’t have to manipulate our story at all. We don’t even really have to do convincing. All we really have to do is present things as they truly are, because abortion is a profoundly unreasonable stance, to be pro-abortion.”
“We have to remind the media that Roe was a decision of judicial activism,” she added. “It was outside of the parameters of the court, and even Justice Ginsburg has conceded that.”
Rebecca Kiessling, founder of Save the One and a national spokeswoman for Personhood USA, shared her story of having been conceived in rape and focused on calling out pro-lifers who, though they reject abortion in cases of rape, are willing to support rape exceptions in legislation as a compromise.
“To those who think that sometimes you just need to compromise: we are not cannon fodder,” she said. “You do not get to put us out on the front lines and take a giant step back, and you do not discriminate.”
Reggie Littlejohn, founder of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, warned attendees about the reality of sex-selective abortion, showing a three-minute trailer for her group’s documentary It’s a Girl.
“According to one estimate, up to 200 million women are missing in the world today because of sex-selective abortion,” she said. “This is the real war against women.”
Jere D. Palazzolo, founder of Catholic Healthcare International, spoke about his organization’s efforts to build a replica of St. Padre Pio’s Casa hospital and healthcare method in Eastern Kentucky, along with a Catholic medical school and 24/7 Eucharistic adoration.
The Catholic healthcare system in the U.S. is so large that it could “dominate” the industry, but it “has become secularized,” he observed. He said we’ve reached the point where “whole systems are forfeiting their Catholic identity legally, legally, becoming non-Catholic so that they can forge joint ventures with non-Catholic groups so that they can do things that are financially viable for them.”
“That needs to stop. That’s our cause,” he explained. “We are here to begin a remnant of bringing Catholic health care back to life in the support of true life issues.”
Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America, called on pro-lifers to use the word ‘abortion’ when they speak to media. She said Planned Parenthood recently signaled they were dropping the use of “pro-choice” in their rhetoric because “it’s too associated with the word abortion.”
“They know every time they use the word abortion, they lose,” she explained. “Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry don’t want you to know they are about abortions. So what’s our solution? What do we do in the media? We need to talk about abortion. I am proud of being anti-abortion. I am a proud abortion abolitionist.”
“Don’t be afraid to use the word abortion,” she added. “Until we end abortion, and we abolish all abortions in our nation, I’m not going to shut up.”
In an interview with LifeSiteNews, Fr. Michael Orsi, Ave Maria Law School’s chaplain, said the event is a testament to the school’s pro-life commitment.
“This is not one of those events where some student organization is having an event,” he told LifeSiteNews. “This happens at some of our other Catholic institutions, where they have a pro-life club, say at Georgetown, or they have a pro-life club at Notre Dame. Those organizations are funded just like any other organization in the school. They’re on the same level.”
“We as a law school fund this [conference] directly,” he said. “This is what our school is all about, and that’s why we’re not going to lose our Catholic pro-life identity. Other schools have compromised themselves.”