Jerry Falwell's 'Viable Alternative' to Abortion : Minister Advocates Godparent Plan That Experts Call Unworkable, Expensive

Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Jerry Falwell says the anti-abortion movement cannot win without a "viable alternative," so he wants to replace the 1.5 million abortions in the United States each year with 1.5 million adoptions.

He says the cost of his plan would be just "$400 per baby saved" or about $600 million this year.

But experts in child welfare say Falwell's plan is unworkable and that the costs for obstetrical care alone would exceed $3 billion per year while related costs would total tens of billions of dollars annually.

Falwell arrives in Los Angeles Monday to begin a talk show tour that will cover 30 cities in six weeks to promote his new book, "If I Should Die Before I Wake" (Thomas Nelson Publishing: $12.95), which advocates his plan.

In the book, Falwell writes, "Yes, we can win the fight against abortion without taking to the streets in real warfare, without bombing abortion clinics or abortionists' offices, without acts of violence and hatred."

Falwell said proceeds from the book will help pay for technical advice to churches establishing Liberty Godparent Homes for unwed mothers. He said 261 autonomous homes, run by local churches, are now in existence and that he has letters from 8,900 churches that want to start their own.

The book, published March 1, is in its second printing, with 75,000 hardback copies shipped so far. A third printing, of 25,000 copies, is planned, said Walt Quinn, a publicist for Thomas Nelson Publishing, a Nashville-based book and Bible firm.

Alternate chapters of "If I Should Die Before I Wake" tell the story of a twice-pregnant teen-ager who had an abortion the first time, then got pregnant again and went to the original Liberty Godparent Home here, giving her son up for adoption.

The young woman, who uses the name Jennifer Simpson, said she will accompany Falwell on most of his tour to promote the book.

TV, Rock, Films Blamed

In an interview, Simpson, now an honor student at Falwell's Liberty College majoring in public speaking, said she believes that network television, rock music and movies have contributed to the increase in teen pregnancies.

"Seeing the girls at the house, the shows they watch on TV, the whole idea of premarital sex is nothing, an everyday occurrence, so why should they think real life would be any different than TV?" she said.

Falwell, whose "Old Time Gospel Hour" TV broadcast is the cornerstone of a $100-million-per-year ministry, made it clear that in promoting his adoption alternative he plans to place much of the blame for teen-age pregnancies on the entertainment industry in general and especially on television producer Norman Lear.

Falwell, the father of three grown children and founder of the Moral Majority, began attacking Lear in 1980, when Lear and Christian and Jewish leaders formed People for the American Way in response to the rise of the electronic ministries of Falwell and others in the New Right.

The independent Baptist minister called Lear a "coward" for refusing to debate him on television and accused Lear of having an "anti-Christian complex" and of promoting "anti-Christian bigotry."

Reached by telephone at his home in Los Angeles, Lear responded: "I think that the Rev. Falwell has had a number of foreign policy disasters--his defense of Marcos and his attack on Bishop Tutu--and he is leaving foreign policy and coming back to domestic issues, and I am hardly a domestic issue and I choose not to give him the credence of a reply.

"I am very content to let Jerry Falwell be his own worst enemy," Lear said.

To get enough popular support to end legalized abortions, Falwell said, requires a "viable alternative" that includes a massive adoption program, sex education in the schools and stopping "gratuitous sex and violence" in television programming. He said 10,000 Liberty Godparent Home programs are needed to take care of the 1.5 million girls and women who get abortions each year. Many of these programs, Falwell said, will limit themselves to counseling and "shepherding" single mothers in the private homes of fundamentalist Christians.

Falwell said he is confidant 10,000 Liberty Godparent Homes will be open by the end of the decade. And once the homes are open, he said, there will be no reason for the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized most abortions, because it will no longer be needed.

'Immoral Relations' Deplored

He added that once teen-agers realize they cannot resort to an abortion to terminate pregnancy, very few of them will engage in "immoral sexual relations outside of marriage."

Abortions, Falwell said, should be limited to cases in which the mother's life is in jeopardy. But he said he believes the "political reality" is that abortions would also have to be allowed in cases of rape and incest.

Falwell spoke about, and in his book writes about, a "billion-dollar abortion industry." This would indicate abortions cost $666 each, but a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of America said 90% of abortions are done in the first trimester of pregnancy and cost about $200 each.

Falwell emphasized the low-cost nature of his plan.

"The cost to us--personnel, general overhead of operating a home--the average is about $400 (total) for each person to whom we minister," he said. "They average stay (in a Liberty Godparent Home) is about four or five months; (they come to the homes) about the time they start showing . . . ." He said he arrived at the $400 figure by counting all levels of ministering from telephone contacts, with which the vast majority of women are served, to long-term residency in a home.

"It costs about $400 to prevent an abortion is what we are saying," he explained, adding "we think for most churches the cost would be less because we have a lot of paid people and have gone to the extreme so that we have a model. I personally think the costs can be less than $400."

'Underwrite the Whole Thing'

Asked if these estimates included medical expenses, Falwell said: "Some of them don't have insurance and they come to us and it is not unusual for a girl to cost us $7,000, $8,000 or $10,000," Falwell said. "And we underwrite the whole thing when they walk through the door if they are black, white, red, yellow, insured, non-insured. That's irrelevant. If they want to stay with us they may."

The average cost of having a baby--including obstetric care, delivery and purchasing items such as diapers and a cradle--is about $5,000, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Cordelia Hancock, former director of the Florence Crittenton Home in Lynchburg that closed because of financial problems and was sold to Falwell's ministry, said the costs for caring for single mothers in a home setting are much greater than Falwell's estimate. She said it cost more than $1,000 per month to shelter, feed, educate and counsel pregnant girls at the Lynchburg home.

Dr. Sharon Watson, executive director of the Crittenton Center for Young Women and Infants in Los Angeles, said it costs $3,000 per month to house each woman at the Lincoln Heights facility, which helps emotionally disturbed women, half of whom are pregnant.

Obstetric costs are a minimum of $2,000 per baby, Watson said. To deliver 1.5 million babies at $2,000 each would cost $3 billion per year.

Health Issue Raised

Watson and Hancock noted that many women who have abortions are not in good health, have used drugs or have other complications that could raise these costs considerably.

Falwell dismissed such concerns, saying, "When children are adopted, the adopting family pays for the delivery. Most of the girls who come here, their parents have insurance so that (expense) is not on us."

He said "only a very small percentage of girls need residential care. The old stigma of being pregnant out of wedlock is gone. It can happen in anybody's home, even a pastor's daughter. Many families take the proper attitude and just wrap the girl up in love when this happens . . . and they stay home and get care of the family which is by far, of course, the best approach. The majority can stay somewhere; the majority do not need housing."

The Liberty Godparent Home here and 260 others around the nation will not take government money, Falwell said, "because that would destroy them."

The Rev. James Savley, executive director of Falwell's Liberty Godparent Ministry, acknowledged that medical costs for some girls are paid by taxpayers through the welfare medical system.

"But government money doesn't go in there," Savley said, pointing to the original Liberty Godparent Home.

Falwell said 5 million couples in America want to adopt babies. Two million of these couples are infertile, added Savley.

However, fewer than 50,000 children were adopted nationwide last year, according to the Child Welfare League of America.

Awaiting Adoption

A league spokeswoman said at least 43,000 children are awaiting adoption, but probably will not be adopted because they are ill, disabled or are black or Latino. Another 293,000 children are in some form of residential care, she added.

Both the league spokeswoman and Savley said there is a substantial and unfilled demand for white babies, but that it is particularly difficult to find adoptive parents for black male children.

Falwell said he does not foresee a major problem finding homes for all the children that would be born in the event the Supreme Court overturns the decision entitling women to legal abortions.

"A family, if the girl so opts, is waiting for her baby, and 55% of our girls opt for adoption because most are underage; 45% take the baby home.

"The child grows up in a solid, stable Christian home. It has cost nobody anything, except the family that wants the baby. And had it been their own baby, they would have the same costs to pay. They're childless so they are happy. The girl did not participate in the destruction of her own child and does not later find herself with a guilt complex, as almost invariably happens . . . ."

Falwell's plan includes sex education in the schools from kindergarten through high school. "You don't tell first graders about intercourse, you do that around puberty, but you give them hard facts," he said. "I think we should have sex education in the schools not only to teach anatomy, but moral values."

Data gathered by the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, a research organization closely affiliated with Planned Parenthood of America, indicate that one in five women seeking an abortion is married and that 70% are white.

The institute reports that in 1981, the latest year for which analyzed data is available, 1% of abortions were performed on girls under age 15, 27.5% involved girls age 15 to 19, 35% were on women age 20 to 24 and that 36.5% of abortions were performed on women age 25 and older.

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