Friday, February 19, 2016

The Treasure Valley Pro-Life Billboard Campaign: Proclaiming the Good News of God's Love and Mercy to Women and Their Babies

In the fall of 2012, Planned Parenthood, which is the nation's largest abortion provider, was struggling in Boise, Idaho. Next door to them, a pro-life clinic, Stanton Healthcare, had opened, offering medical care and other help to women with unplanned pregnancies for free. When women were given a true choice, many chose life for their babies. People who went to pray outside Planned Parenthood in Boise noted that the building was looking worn and that they didn't have as many clients as in the past. Hopeful rumors began to circulate that the facility might close soon.

Then in late winter of 2013, news came that Planned Parenthood had acquired the funds to rent a new building in Meridian, a suburb of Boise. The new clinic would be not far from the freeway in order to reach more clients outside the metro area of Boise, known as the Treasure Valley. The pro-life community was shocked and angry. Tax payer money had been poured into Planned Parenthood, which helped them recover financially and afford the new site. Even before the clinic opened, pro-lifers began assembling to pray and bring awareness to the community for the sanctity of life. But Planned Parenthood had more up its sleeve.

. . . without the mercy of God, the world would not exist. (1)

Just as the new clinic opened, billboard signs and radio ads began bombarding the Treasure Valley. Planned Parenthood promised they were pro-woman and would help women take care of their "problems." One billboard had a teenage girl being caressed by her boyfriend, with a slogan that she should take responsibility so that he wouldn't have to worry about anything when they had sex. Another billboard showed a Hispanic mother embracing her college age daughter with the message, "Your mom wants to be a grandmother, just not now." That sign was the last straw for Lori Hadacek Chaplin.

Lori Hadacek Chaplin with her unplanned daughter, Ella.
Twenty-two years ago, Lori had an unplanned pregnancy. She had faced the fear of rejection from her parents. She was holding down two jobs, and she had anxiety that she'd be fired as a waitress and that her career at the Art Institute of Minneapolis would be derailed. On top of her own struggles, she met people who ridiculed her for keeping her baby, including a relentlessly jeering co-worker. However, her parents would eventually abandon their disappointment and welcome Lori's pregnancy. She was never fired, but she chose to leave her position at the Art Institute to better care for her baby. Eventually, she found a more rewarding career in writing. As for all the verbal abuse from people who thought she should have aborted, anyone looking at her lovely and talented daughter could see what a tragedy an abortion would have been. "Doors close when you have an unplanned pregnancy, but bigger doors, garage doors, open! Women improve their lives to help their babies," Lori said. From one life affirming step to another, Lori's life is far from the tragedy that some predicted. She has been happily married for ten years and has had three more beautiful children.

On a cold, rainy spring day in front of the Meridian Planned Parenthood which had just opened, Lori went to pray with a friend as a part of 40 Days for Life. As cars droned by them in the gloom, she turned to her friend and said with a fire in her eyes, "Did you see those billboards? We need pro-life billboards in Boise!" Her friend loved the idea, "Yes, we do! Even my kids are upset by the Planned Parenthood signs and ads. But how do we get pro-life signs? Planned Parenthood gets money from the government. How can we compete with that?" 

It is important that we not think of ourselves as self-sufficient. (2)

Lori was undaunted. At first, she almost charged the cost of the signs to her credit card. She was so upset, she wanted to take immediate action. Lori laughed as she recalled, "I realized this might strain my marriage, so I called Karen Simkins instead. I realized God doesn't want me to do this by myself. I wouldn't have made the friends I've made doing this charity if I had tried to do it all myself." Karen Simkins was the coordinator for 40 Days for Life in the Treasure Valley and of St. Mark's Respect Life and had many connections within the pro-life community. Because Lori had moved to Idaho only a few years before, she needed Karen's help in finding support for the billboards. Karen said, "In meeting and getting to know her, it was clear that with Lori's knowledge and connections in the internet journalistic world, that she had the know-how to be realistic about what was possible and yet was in tune with its potential. The more we met and shared ideas, it was clear that she was a determined and committed individual to what she believes in."

Among the needs for the pro-life billboards was an organization devoted to helping women with crisis pregnancies, which also had a 24/7, 1-800 number. Lori felt it was vital that the billboards not just promote life, but also offer help. "You need to have a 1-800 number on the billboard because when a woman finds out she’s pregnant she wants to connect with someone right away, even if it’s after hours," Lori said.  She didn't know Birthright was in the Boise area until Karen told her about them. A volunteer at Birthright had just voiced her desire to help with marketing when Lori contacted them about the billboards. The timing was perfect, and the synergy to fulfill the need for a public pro-life message was immediate. It was an answer to prayer! Not only would Birthright be ideal for getting out the message of hope to pregnant women, partnering with Birthright also allowed the billboard campaign to move faster, since they wouldn't need to file for its own 501(c)(3) with the IRS.

We have received freely, we give freely. We are called to serve Christ the Crucified through every marginalized person. (3)

The partnership also had personal meaning to Lori: It was Birthright in Minnesota which had helped Lori when she had her unplanned pregnancy in 1994. She went to Birthright because she had seen all their ads and billboards in Iowa, where she grew up, and then in the Minneapolis area. She had known in her time of crisis that Birthright would give her help without judgment or criticism. Lori was excited to be able to partner with Birthright and to get out their message of love and compassion to the community.

Now that she had a charity to partner with, she needed to figure out funding. They were given the opportunity to get six bus stop signs at a discount, but they were short $1700. Lori believed that the need for the signs was so great, that she took a step of faith and charged the amount to her personal credit card. Just three months after she formed the Treasure Valley Pro-Life Billboard Campaign with Karen Simkins and Irene Deely of Birthright, they had six bus stop signs in Boise, Nampa, and Caldwell. In August, Lori reached out to different Knights of Columbus groups, as well as Protestant churches in the Treasure Valley. The local Catholic radio station, Salt and Light Radio, also helped get the word out about the billboard campaign through interviews and public service announcements. At last in November 2013, with approval from Birthright's board of directors, Treasure Valley Billboards signed a contract with Lamar Advertising for two rotating billboards in the Boise metro area. The first went up on the Feast Day of Juan Diego (December 9). On the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), the patron saint of the pro-life movement, the second billboard premiered. The pro-life community was thrilled to see the encouraging and life-affirming messages across the valley.

From that winter in 2013, the Treasure Valley Pro-Life Billboard Campaign has continued to grow. Their signs are on backs of metro buses and on kiosk displays in Boise Town Square Mall. For 2015-16, the billboards launched their "She was Unplanned" campaign, a direct counter to Planned Parenthood's assertions that unplanned babies are bad for women. Featured on the signs is a young mother, Lauran, with her beautiful toddler, Isabella, who had been conceived in the nightmare of rape. The mother chose to keep her baby instead of abortion, turning the pain of a tragic event into the beauty of life. The signs include a website link so that people can read the true story of Lauran and Isabella, along with other stories of unplanned pregnancies. During this recent campaign, the Treasure Valley Billboards were honored to be endorsed by Bishop Peter Christensen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise. As an apostolate (a Christian organization run by laity), the billboard team couldn't be happier about the bishop's kind recommendation!

Lori feels that the first priority of the billboards is to the women. When women are in a crisis pregnancy, they don't think about the baby they are carrying. They are too distressed. Once you are able to reach out to the mother, then you are able to help her baby. Lori had another objective in mind for the billboards, too: She wanted them to be a life-affirming encouragement to the community. From her own experience, it was the advertising of pro-life groups that witnessed to her throughout her growing up which planted the seeds for her to make a pro-life decision when she was in crisis. The media is so full of negative and dark messages about women, children, and life. Lori wanted to counteract that with signs all across the Treasure Valley. "Respecting life is respecting our bodies and respecting us as women. Giving life is our super power," Lori said. She feels the burden to shout out to the world that all human beings are valuable, whether or not they were planned, and that we can draw together as a community to help women overcome their difficult circumstances rather than desecrate them with abortion.

. . . let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us. (4)

It has been difficult to quantify the effects of the pro-life billboards in the Treasure Valley, but if one were to ask around, it wouldn't be difficult to surmise that people have been genuinely impacted. There are mothers who were considering abortion but chose life because they remembered the help they saw on a sign on the back of a metro bus or on a large billboard. A pregnant college student didn't want an abortion, and when she saw one of the signs she felt empowered in her decision to keep her unplanned baby. One woman broke down in tears when she first saw the billboards because it felt like an affirmation from God that she had made the right choice to keep her baby despite the difficulties she had faced. A teenager said he feels the signs are reminders that life is a joy, not a burden. Parents have said their children will whoop and holler when they spot the billboards because they know the billboards are about women and their babies being saved and loved. The billboards bring a message of light and hope, of love and mercy. Karen Simkins said, "If the pro-abortion world is going to be promoting and advertising, the pro-life world has to do it better. Awareness and education are paramount, and the billboards are a powerful way to contribute to the effort."

It is fitting that it is during the campaign for "She was Unplanned" that the Year of Mercy has begun in the Church. Pope Francis said in his Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, "The Church's first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy" (5).

Father Caleb Vogel, a Vocation Director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise and pastor of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Nampa, had this to say about the billboards and the importance of their message, "Life is not easy nowadays, especially when one is facing an unplanned pregnancy. Yet, a baby is not a curse. A baby is a precious life, and so is the mother. The pro-life billboards are an attempt to let people know that a pregnancy doesn't have to mean the end of one's dreams for a joy-filled life, and that there is support for those who believe that their life dream is vanishing due to pregnancy.

"Pope Francis has called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy. This is a call to extend kindness, care and love to those who need it. The Catholic pro-life movement takes this invitation seriously. The life of the mother is to be treated with tremendous kindness, care and love. The life of her baby is also treated with kindness, care and love.  That's our hope and our call."

Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviours that are shown in daily living. (6)

The Treasure Valley Pro-life Campaign has brought the southern Idaho community together. Through Birthright, the Knights of Columbus, Catholic and Protestant churches and organizations, Salt and Light Radio, and individual donors, the message that every human life is valuable and worth loving, is reaching hundreds of thousands of people.

During the season of Lent for the Jubilee Year of Mercy and until the observation of the Feast Day of the Annunciation (April 4), a generous donor has offered to match 20% of all donations. Please donate to the Treasure Valley Pro-Life Billboard Campaign here, and help keep the message of life, love, and mercy going strong.

Read the true stories behind the "She was Unplanned" campaign for the Treasure Valley Pro-life Billboards here.

You can like and follow the Treasure Valley Pro-Life Billboard Campaign on Facebook!

To read more about Lori Hadacek Chaplin's story and how to create a pro-life billboard organization in your community, please read this article in Celebrate Life Magazine.

Finally, if you want to know more about the damaging effects of abortion on women and society, visit Silent No More. If you or someone you love has had an abortion, there is forgiveness and healing; visit Rachel's Vineyard to find out more.

(1) Pope Francis, The Name of God Is Mercy. New York: Random House, 2016. 24
(2) Ibid., 58.
(3) Ibid., 98.
(4) Ibid., 148.
(5) Ibid., 123.
(6) Ibid., 119.

Written by Emily Woodham, staff writer for and freelance writer, blogger at Roses and Whimsy: 

©2016 Emily Woodham (Please link to this article if you quote from it. Please email to request permission to print.)

©2016 All photographs property of Lori Hadacek Chaplin

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