• 46°

Dads key to pro-life fight

When Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed House Bill 314 last May, that state’s sweeping protections for the unborn made headlines. As the law’s November implementation nears, legal challenges loom, but that’s no surprise to the bill’s sponsors. They say they wrote it specifically to generate a court case that would test Roe v. Wade.

Such legislative conflict is common whether it’s Alabama or here in Mississippi. Just ask the pro-lifers outside Mississippi’s only remaining abortion center, a loud-and-proud pink building in the heart of artsy Fondren. Those sidewalk counselors know the drill — life law passed, lawsuit filed, law blocked, repeat.

And just across the street from that pink place, a crisis pregnancy center keeps churning out good deeds, holding out hope and support to anyone who chooses life. The same is true in Alabama. Bethany Garth, executive director of First Choice Women’s Medical Center in Montgomery (Ala.), says their focus is firm regardless of what happens in the courts: “Yes, it’s a win when abortion is made illegal, because that’s a public affirmation of life. But the real win is when a private affirmation of life happens — when a woman sees the positive line on the pregnancy test and recognizes that that’s a human life that needs to be valued.”

First Choice is a pregnancy resource center staffed with parenting educators, four nurses, a post-abortion counselor, and as of June, someone to reach those often left out of the abortion equation — dads.

Yes, their new focus is dads.

Studies show that the No. 1 influencer in a woman’s decision about whether to continue her pregnancy is the father of the baby. “If we’re really looking at the big pro-life picture, men have to be a part of the decision process,” Garth says. 

But engaging fathers is tough work, especially in states like Alabama and Mississippi. One-third of our children live in homes where fathers are absent.

Each day, staff members at First Choice deal with generational effects of fatherlessness. A director explains, “A lot of the young men that come in, they’ve never had a role model. They’ve never seen a father portrayed in a right way in front of them.”

Until they meet men like Craig Shore, a father and foster parent of three. He’s the first to spearhead the center’s growing ministry to dads, beginning with meeting men at the initial pregnancy test appointment. While the mom gets prenatal vitamins, Shore makes a connection with the father and hands over a pamphlet titled: “10 Tips for Expectant Dads.”   

Then there are men-only group sessions, where Shore facilitates instruction on everything from financial responsibility to infant first aid. He also prays. A lot. 

“I’m praying for safe deliveries. I’m praying for the individuals to get the promotion that they wanted. I’m praying for their mom and dad not to be upset when they tell them they’re having a baby. I’m praying that those situations lead to Christ ultimately.”

And his aim reaches beyond delivery dates.

“Sometimes we don’t have that continued relationship, which is so needed because we’re educating on a safe pregnancy. It’s a lot different from a safe toddler. Those are different conversations, and the center has resources to meet needs beyond when the baby gets here,” he says. 

Shore gets help at the sessions from volunteers like Anthony Poellnitz. Poellnitz believes dads are key to the pro-life fight: “If they can lead and be the father that they need to be, then these women will be glad to continue life because they know there’s somebody in their corner.”

Support is a major concern for a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. At centers like First Choice, tangible help for a mom usually tapers off after two years. But as Garth points out, the mom’s need for support continues to increase as the child ages. “To the degree that woman cannot figure out where she will find that support, she is much more likely to have an abortion,” Garth acknowledges.

That’s why Craig Shore and the others at the center want to reach fathers. When dads are involved, long-term support becomes possible, and more women make life-affirming choices.

So while legal challenges to Alabama’s pro-life laws play out, the work at First Choice continues. Staff provide pregnancy tests, conduct ultrasounds, offer counseling, and visit hospitals where new parents are all alone. And while they’re at it, they encourage pro-life thinking and pro-abundant life living (like Jesus spoke of in John 10:10).   

Garth underscores there will always be women and men facing unplanned pregnancies, even if the Supreme Court does eventually overturn Roe v. Wade: “I hope everyone’s ready to invest more in their local pregnancy centers, because the need will be greater than ever.”

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.