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Roland Warren worked in the corporate world for 20 years and led the National Fatherhood Initiative for 11. In 2012 he became president and CEO of Care Net, the nation’s largest network of pregnancy resource centers. Here are edited excerpts of our August conversation.
You grew up in Ohio without a dad in your home? My mom and my father split up probably when I was 5 or 6.
What position did you play in football? Running back in high school and college. That kept me on the straight and narrow for the most part—having a focus on academics, athletics, and then faith.
What faith did you have? I went to Church of God, out of Anderson, Ind. At church camp every summer I learned about who Jesus was. There was a real focus on Jesus as your personal savior. There would be altar calls, and pretty much every year I’d make a profession of faith.
Then football not at Ohio State but Princeton. Ohio State was the dream, if I had been better. But at Princeton I played football and ran track. Having those seasons helped me avoid some of the other stuff that I could have potentially gotten involved in.
Were you part of a Christian fellowship at Princeton? A lot of the black students were involved in the gospel choir, which I was involved in, but frankly I wasn’t a regular at church.
You met Yvette, your wife-to-be, in your sophomore year. She was a freshman in the same dorm with the goal of becoming a doctor. We were both Christians, and we knew what God’s standard was. We had some desire but didn’t have the discipline, and we found ourselves pregnant. Telling people in school about it was embarrassing and difficult: People knew we were Christians. Having to deliver that news to my mother and her father was hard. They were both very disappointed. Her father wasn’t a big fan of me to begin with, and my mother, who had gotten pregnant in high school, was very concerned that this would derail my life. But God was faithful in the middle of that.
Princeton student services encouraged abortion? The nurse suggested that unless Yvette had an abortion she wouldn’t be able to graduate and become a doctor. The nurse could have asked, Who’s the father? Maybe we can get him in to support his child. None of that.
What was your immediate reaction when Yvette told you she was pregnant? I don’t remember the initial reaction other than I loved her and wanted to marry her anyway. I was probably surprisingly calm, and I’m not sure where that calmness came from because we had no visible means to support ourselves. Our parents basically cut off financial support for us at that point. Sometimes you’re so young you don’t know enough to be scared. We just said we’re going to do this, one step at a time. Her father did give us a wedding present of paying for the delivery of Jamin.
How did you make it work financially? We moved into married student housing and were able to work and find little projects. God always provided a financial opportunity for us to make some money. I’d take sometimes extra food from the training table and bring it home for her. We took one plate, one cup, one bowl, and one set of utensils from the dining hall. We still have one of the bowls. Yvette took a year off, then went back to school. I finished my senior year and went to work.
The more successful our advocacy, the more care women will need. If Roe v. Wade were overturned today, it would not overturn sex outside of marriage, unplanned pregnancy.
After graduation in 1983, you worked at IBM. It was a godsend because that job offer was in Trenton, not far from Princeton, and soon after I started, the office moved from Trenton to Princeton. That was fantastic because I was five minutes from home while Yvette was going through school. Then she was pregnant again her senior year and finished her thesis a month after she delivered our second son. She’s a pretty amazing woman. The nurse was accurate in saying Yvette wouldn’t graduate with one child. She graduated with two.
Your personal story links well with Care Net’s goals. That’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about this work, because I’ve been there: the temptation to keep the secret, abort the child, move on. But what inspired us in that moment—I probably didn’t say it as well then as I can now—was we knew our son wasn’t a life worth sacrificing. He was a life worth sacrificing for.
The involvement of the father makes a huge difference. As a newer person to the pro-life movement, I think that narrative has been missing. We focus on saving the baby and helping the mother—“love them both”—but that misses something. We should say “love them all” because of the impact on the abortion decision of the guy who got her pregnant. For too long in the pro-life movement we haven’t focused on engaging him and inspiring him to be involved. My wife’s ability to fulfill her hopes was tied to the decision I had to make in that moment—to be a husband to her and a father to our child growing inside her.
If when she said “I’m pregnant,” you had said, “You’re going to have an abortion, aren’t you?”—what would have happened? I’m hopeful she would have said, “I’m going to have the child anyway,” but she’d be in a very difficult position. If I were to have a heart attack at this moment, the most important person is the first responder whose action affects the life trajectory of the person in a crisis. With pregnancy, the guy is typically the first responder. We did a national survey of women who had had abortions and asked them who they talked with about it. The No. 1 person—ahead of medical professionals, abortion providers, pregnancy centers, their mother, their best friend, their father, anybody—was the guy who got her pregnant. He’s the first responder and the most influential person in her decision to abort.
What if the guy says, “I support whatever decision you make?” That’s a guy’s nonresponse response, a shift of the moral and social responsibility to her, with an attempt to make it look like you’re supportive. That response is not the kind that leads a woman to say, “I can do this.”
How does that work in counseling? You always want to ask, “Does the father know?” The next question a lot of times is “What does he think?” We’ve encouraged pregnancy centers to make the next question “Why did you tell him?” Also, “How were you hoping he’d respond?” In many of those situations they’re hoping he’ll say, “I’ll be your husband and a father to our child. We can do this.” Why do you think the other side frames this issue as her body and her choice? They want to isolate her from anyone who could be an influence in the other direction. We don’t want to isolate her. We want to surround her with support.
Roe v. Wade delinked fatherhood and motherhood. When we talk to clients, the mother often says, “I can’t give birth to this child.” She understands she’s already a mother: Her body is changing. Often when we talk to the men, they say, “I don’t want to be a father.”
He already is a father. The question on the table is “What kind of father will you be?” The law for 40-plus years has been telling men you’re not a father until birth. But think about the birth of Christ. Mary’s pregnancy was unplanned from a human perspective. Mary had uncertainty to deal with: How am I going to tell my father, my mother? What’s my community going to say? But Mary focuses on the certainty: “Let it be unto me as you have said.” What did God do to make sure Mary’s unplanned pregnancy wasn’t a crisis pregnancy? He sent an angel to Joseph to say, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” God’s response to an unplanned pregnancy: Create a family.
The pro-life movement has political and compassion wings. Do we focus too much on the political side? The more successful our advocacy, the more care women will need. If Roe v. Wade were overturned today, it would not overturn sex outside of marriage, unplanned pregnancy.
A controversy is brewing among pregnancy resource centers: Should they prescribe birth control pills to unmarried women? They say they want to build relationships. Care Net affiliates do not encourage behavior that is not Biblical. Jesus never violated a principle to do a good. I understand the relationships argument, but violating a Biblical principle to support a Biblical principle is a house divided against itself. If you think maintaining the relationship is more important than upholding the Biblical principle about sex outside of marriage, you’re making an idol out of a relationship.
How does this work out at street level? When they were coming to you not to get pregnant, they’re unlikely to come back to you to help them bring the child into the world. Say you have a friend who’s an alcoholic. Other friends have been giving this person alcohol to preserve the relationship. Will people who don’t want to drink anymore go to the person who’s been giving them alcohol? No, they’ll go to that one friend who made the Word of God, truth, primary. Jesus didn’t value relationship above truth when the rich young ruler asked a question.
Do you like pro-lifers playing off Black Lives Matter by saying “unborn black lives matter”? If you’re focused on George Floyd when the officer’s got a knee on the throat and he’s saying “I can’t breathe,” but you’re not focused on the child in the womb fighting for its first breath, to me you’re not legitimate in terms of caring about my people.