With Planned Parenthood spending millions to promote abortion among teens and college students, pro-life groups seek to promote new awareness that women deserve better

Catholic, Latina and pregnant at 16, Franne Valle faced an uncertain future before her. Then a junior in high school, she had scheduled an abortion. But the evening before, her child’s father gave her the words she needed to hear to make a different choice: “We’ll get through this.”

With the support and encouragement of her family, Valle decided to give herself and her daughter a chance. While Valle’s parents watched the child during the week, she studied at U.C. Riverside and worked at a pizza restaurant. Valle spent weekends with her daughter, taking her on day trips to the zoo or the beach. 

Within five years Valle had earned her biology degree. Now 34, she is set to obtain a master’s in health policy at Mount St. Mary’s University, works in a community health clinic in Hollywood, and serves her parish, Ascension Catholic Church in South L.A., in their adult faith formation ministry.

But across the country, many young women don’t have a story like Valle’s. Facing an unexpected pregnancy, they lack support from a world that often tells them that having a baby means their life is “over.” 

Many Catholic and pro-life leaders are focusing their efforts on advocating for social and political changes that will make it easier for women to feel they can both choose life for their baby and a bright future for themselves. 

Their biggest obstacle: Workplaces and college campuses have embraced abortion as a low-cost alternative to investments that might make accommodations for young mothers. 

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., has long been the leading proponent of the idea that female empowerment requires the availability of abortion.  

The organization benefits from institutions that opt to make abortion more widely available rather than make changes that give more opportunities to young parents.

The latest example of this attitude can be found in SB 320, a bill working its way through California’s legislature that would require public universities and colleges to  provide the RU-486 abortion pill in student health centers. 

While the bill would mandate that schools use private and not state dollars to provide the pill, it opens the door to Planned Parenthood and other like-minded groups to expand their reach onto college campuses. 

The organization has invested heavily in targeting a key demographic: millennials, the “most diverse, progressive, and bold our country has ever seen,” according to Planned Parenthood’s 2016-17 annual report.

Since 2014, Planned Parenthood has reported establishing more than 300 “Generation Action” chapters across the U.S. — a self-conscious response to Students for Life, which has approximately 1,100 chapters nationwide. 

More than 156,000 young people joined Planned Parenthood’s #IDefy campaign network, part of a five-year campaign to “identify, train and mobilize young people to be activists” in the digital and real world. 

In addition, the group claims to have trained 750 young activists in 11 cities at the organization’s Youth Power Summits.

Planned Parenthood even draws some support among millennial women who would choose to carry their babies to term, but feel uncomfortable telling other women they can’t choose abortion. 

Franne Valle explained that she felt this way once — and even worked at a Planned Parenthood clinic — until about six years ago, when she started praying and practicing her Catholic faith again. 

Growing ‘market’ share

Thanks to a sustained influx of private contributions, Planned Parenthood is flush with cash to retool its operations and promote its agenda among millennials. It received $532.7 million in private contributions over the last fiscal year — an amount almost equal to what it received in total federal reimbursements.

Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, told Angelus News that Planned Parenthood has invested in young people — particularly high schoolers — through “peer counseling programs, use of online and smartphone technology, and endorsement of trendy themes and images that comport with the latest ideas of the sexual revolution.”

But the college scene, Donovan explained, is a “big focus” of Planned Parenthood, which has a 35 percent share of the abortion market. The U.S. sees the highest rates of abortion in the 20-24 age group, which accounts for approximately 34 percent of all abortions annually. 

“Inaugurating chemical abortion projects at California state universities fits this strategy perfectly,” he said.

One emerging strategy among pro-life advocates is to provide millennial women a positive, holistic and more comprehensive alternative to Planned Parenthood.

Kathleen Eaton-Bravo, founder of the pro-life Obria Group, is working to open women’s health clinics on college campuses. 

But with millennials now turning to their smartphones for health care (and in some cases, even abortion), she said the pro-life movement must focus on digital engagement.

Planned Parenthood has recently invested $20 million in digital platforms to offer live online chatting with a nurse, online appointment bookings (including for abortions) and its own telemedicine app.

Obria is also investing in online technology, offering online appointment scheduling and a telemedicine app aimed at millennials. 

“This is how health care is changing,” Bravo explained.

What women deserve

Abortion continues to be considered by women because society shows them few other thinkable options, according to Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life, which launched a campaign 16 years ago it branded “Women Deserve Better” than abortion. 

She believes American society needs to be more intentional about providing “better solutions” than abortion for pregnant women. “That is a huge issue,” she told Angelus News. 

The reasons women give for abortion have hardly changed since the Supreme Court legalized abortion on the national level in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, according to Foster. 

Those reasons include concerns about their existing responsibilities to others, the inability to afford another child and fears that they’d no longer be able to work, go to school or care for their dependents.

In higher education, women have been forced to comply with an educational system that assumes a lack of responsibility for children, leading to lower graduation rates for women who are mothers. 

As a result of these assumptions, which essentially discriminate against women, Foster said, “We are seeing a feminization of poverty.”

‘Hard but doable’ 

Foster proposes several measures to make education friendlier to young mothers. Campuses could offer family-based housing, on-campus child care and flexibility for mothers through online learning or accommodating schedules. 

Camille Rodriguez, a coordinator for Students For Life, said her organization is trying to push colleges to make lactation rooms and diaper-changing stations more readily available and to give women more flexibility in their scheduling.

Valle hopes that more young women and girls facing unexpected pregnancy will hear the same message she did. She wishes that society would hold up more visible examples of successful young mothers, so that young women faced with an unexpected pregnancy could take encouragement in knowing their future is not over. 

Going through college as a young mother, Valle said, was “hard, but doable.” Having a network of support was key, and thankfully, her family supported her decision to keep her baby, helped her substantially and encouraged her to succeed. 

Her daughter’s paternal grandparents also played a “very supportive” role. And having a daughter kept pushing her forward, even on her hardest days. 

“What motivated me was knowing I have a daughter.”

Peter Jesserer Smith, a staff writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, is a frequent contributor to Angelus. His most recent article for Angelus, on the nuclear tensions with North Korea, was published in our Dec. 15, 2017 edition.