Smartphones join fight to save babies

Posted on Jan 17, 2014 | by Bonnie Pritchett/Southern Baptist TEXAN

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sunday, Jan. 19, is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) -- "OnlineForLife: Center TX02 is speaking with someone considering abortion. Will you pray?"

The notification popped up on an iPhone and "Yes" is tapped, adding another intercessor in behalf of an unknown woman seeking counsel at an unknown Texas crisis pregnancy center. That the woman was even speaking with a life-affirming counselor can be credited to a simple yet underutilized tool in the pro-life movement: Marketing.

Attracting women to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) often requires a personal touch. A woman facing a difficult pregnancy may confide in a friend or family member. The prayers of a sidewalk counselor may be the last words a woman hears before entering an abortion clinic. But what if there were a way to direct a woman to a CPC before she leaves her home and simultaneously rally a national network of partners to pray for her?

"We're business guys, and we test things so we can maximize the number of babies we save," said Brian Fisher, co-founder of Online For Life (OFL), a pro-life nonprofit business.

Drawing on the expertise of professionals in the business and technology industries, OFL has developed cutting-edge online marketing techniques to direct abortion-minded women to CPCs and their life-affirming message.

That work is then undergirded in prayer. The OFL iPhone application asks followers to pray. Being able to pray in real time for a woman considering abortion has powerful potential, Fisher said. Mustering the prayers of many thousands of people across the nation on behalf of abortion-minded women and their families could be a culture-changer.

"When you have that many people interceding, you're going to have babies saved," he said.

Fisher admitted the "abortion holocaust" was not on his radar in the 1990s. But the friendship of a crisis pregnancy center director in Pittsburgh and the birth of his first son in 1999 began an eight-year journey leading to his involvement in the pro-life movement. In 2007 Fisher and a co-worker at Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida toyed with the idea of using the Internet and social media to direct women from abortion clinics to CPCs. And it worked.

Fisher took the prototype to Dallas in 2009 and launched Online For Life. On June 21, 2010, the first OFL baby was rescued. That reality crashed over Fisher in a wave of gratitude to God. All of the hard work and dedication wrought a priceless reward -- the life of a baby rescued and a mother saved from the heartache of abortion.

"That's our baby," declared Lori Szala, executive director of Pregnancy Resource Center South Hills in Pittsburgh.

One of three CPCs involved in the 2007 test project, the Pittsburgh center became the first CPC in the nation to affiliate with Online For Life, and the partnership has proven invaluable.

Szala said nonprofit centers like hers cannot compete with government-subsidized abortion giant Planned Parenthood and for-profit abortion clinics in the Internet marketing arena. But OFL gives them an edge.

For a monthly fee, the Pittsburgh center partners with OFL to get the clinic's foot in the marketing door. That has translated into a 75 percent increase in inquiries from abortion-minded women, Szala reported.

Fisher and Tim Gerwing, OFL vice president of technology, would not divulge too much detail about OFL operations out of concern that abortion advocates might use that knowledge to undermine their efforts. Gerwing called OFL an extension of a pregnancy center's ministry. Leaving careers in highly competitive businesses and technology ventures, OFL employees now dedicate their skills to saving babies and their families.

OFL works with 50 CPCs in 23 states to direct women in crisis to their affiliated centers as quickly as possible. Just as in the business world, there is competition in the abortion industry -- nonprofit CPCs are competing against well-financed and market-savvy abortion providers to see who can be more persuasive.

"We have to out-fund or outwit them to get the same person," Fisher said.

Using Internet target marketing, OFL programming recognizes Internet searches for abortion services. The goal is to have OFL affiliates pop up on the first page of results along with the abortion clinics, giving the searcher a choice of services.

Research indicates 80 percent of the Internet traffic OFL monitors is on mobile devices. That puts a woman just one tap away from an abortion provider or a life-affirming pregnancy center.

"Our goal is to get her talking to a pregnancy resource center as fast as possible," Gerwing said. "It's like a 911 call. Clearly she's shopping for an abortion."

As a result, staff at CPCs have been retrained to counsel women on the phone. Szala said getting callers to calm down and think clearly is the greatest challenge. Once that is done, the counselor details the options available, including a visit to the CPC. Callers are told in the initial conversation the center does not provide abortions or abortion referrals.

Gerwing said it is gratifying to be a part of that connection. From its Dallas office, OFL connects scared, panicked, vulnerable women to "people willing to love and care for [them] in the name of Christ."

The endeavor hasn't been without growing pains. As the network grew, more phones calls were coming into the pregnancy centers than there were available people to answer calls. Because the centers have limited office hours, only 42 percent of calls coming in were answered by a person.

"You only have one chance to pick up," Gerwing said.

With no one answering at the CPC listed on her Google search, an anxious woman would simply scroll to the next listing, possibly an abortion clinic.

So OFL established a 24-hour phone service. Calls going to centers after office hours are rolled over to an OFL counselor in Dallas who can schedule an appointment with any affiliated center in the country.

And because OFL is staffed by business and tech wonks, the urge to tweak and improve never stops. That is why the logical next step for the organization is the establishment of their own pregnancy resource center in the Dallas area.

"We've designed the end-to-end care center that rescues families and children," Fisher said.

Recognizing the impact abortion has on women and their extended families, the new center will serve not only as an outreach to women in crisis but as a learning laboratory for OFL. As entrepreneurial businessmen, Fisher and his team are always looking to discover how they can do their jobs better so that more babies will be saved.

Such is the motivation behind the upgrade of the iPhone app. Gerwing said the new version -- due to roll out in January in time for national sanctity of life emphases -- is designed for all smartphones and Windows applications.

"Our heart is to build a nationwide prayer network," he said.

The application will allow users to:

-- See real-time prayer requests from as many or as few CPCs as they wish.

-- See the number of people praying at a given time.

-- Post notifications to social media.

-- Allow churches and pregnancy centers to post needs or events advancing the pro-life cause in their communities.

And it will continue to notify users of the number of babies saved. Until recently, pro-life organizations did not keep such a public tally. Fisher said that tactical change is most notably seen in the work of 40 Days for Life. The organization not only announces the number of babies saved through their efforts but the abortion workers who leave the industry (most notably Abby Johnson) and the number of abortion clinics that close.

And that, Fisher contends, will be the impetus for cultural transformation. By celebrating the number of babies saved from abortion -- the exclamation point at the end of the pro-life message -- society will regain its appreciation for the miracle of life and champion its cause.

Keeping the numbers in front of the culture that engages so prolifically in social media while using that same media to draw women to CPCs will create a self-perpetuating paradigm shift, Fisher said.

"By accelerating the number of babies saved, you create the cultural transformation of more people wanting to save babies," Fisher said.
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Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.