Former NFL tight end and pro-life advocate Ben Watson says he didn’t want to write a book about abortion and race.
“It’s two heavy topics,” Watson says, adding that he saw a connection that needed to be made between the two topics, and “perhaps not in the traditional way.”
Pro-abortion advocates argue that women, especially black women, “need” abortion, but Watson says “while it is true that black women, black men, and black communities will be impacted by abortion, it’s not because we need it. Matter of fact, we don’t need it.”
In his new book “The New Fight for Life: Roe, Race, and a Pro-Life Commitment to Justice,” Watson explains the opportunity before the pro-life movement right now. Watson joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share the how the pro-life community can create a greater culture of life across the nation and how he went from pro football to becoming a leading voice in the pro-life movement.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure to welcome to the show former NFL tight end, author, and Vice President of Strategic Relationships for the pro-life organization Human Coalition Ben Watson.
Mr. Watson, thank you so much for being here.
Ben Watson: Good to be here with you. Thank you.
Allen: Well, you played for the NFL for 15 years. You started and ended with my team, the New England Patriots. How did you go from playing in the NFL to becoming really one of the leading and loudest voices protecting life and the unborn?
Watson: Well, Virginia, it wasn’t the plan at all. Not to say I didn’t enter the NFL back in 2004 thinking that I’ll be speaking about this issue, although, I always had a strong sense of justice and a sense of really wanting to speak for vulnerable people groups.
And throughout my time in the NFL, fortunately, my wife and I had the opportunity to engage on a lot of different issues, from trafficking to, obviously, the abortion issue, to racial justice, just using our platform and opportunities to help people.
We see that so much in Scripture. One of our favorite verses was Micah 6:8, which talks about doing justice, loving, kindness, and walking humbly before God. And we saw our life—and our kids, now seven of them—as really an opportunity to engage on these issues.
And so, we actually purchased some ultrasound units while I was playing through a partnership with another organization. And that was something that we just wanted to do to really give mothers and fathers an opportunity to see inside the womb. And I guess when you do that, when you’re in the NFL, it makes headlines for some reason. I don’t know.
But for us, being parents, we just thought it was a great thing. So, we did that in a few places where I played and that kind of allowed me the opportunity to speak about this issue, which I like to call it a justice issue because that’s why we’re involved.
Allen: It’s exactly what it is, a justice issue. Well, you’ve just released a brand new book on the topic, “The New Fight for Life: Roe, Race, and a Pro-Life Commitment to Justice.” Why did you write this book?
Watson: I didn’t really want to write the book.
Allen: That’s honest.
Watson: I’ll be honest with you. I did not want to. It’s two heavy topics. I’ve written a book about race before, after what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, several years ago. Obviously, with abortion, I’ve spoken about it and supported resource centers. I work with the organization Human Coalition, that serves pregnant women and engages on state and federal legislation on that issue. But I just saw this connection between the two, perhaps not in the traditional way.
When we talk about the history of abortion and stuff like that, that’s to be debated. And a lot of that is true, and some of the narratives aren’t, quite honestly.
But more as we look at the landscape of abortion right now, even in our work at Human Coalition, and our work personally, I kept hearing the stat that kept getting thrown out. It was that black women were three to four times more likely to have an abortion than their white peers, but also more likely than any other ethnic group in the United States.
Instead of stopping there, I wanted to know why. I’m inquisitive, always have been. My mom used to say I asked a lot of questions. And so, I wanted to know why.
The reason why I wrote the book was because of my conversations with some of these women. I did a documentary about the topic not too long ago, and I just felt like there were some voices that need to be heard. And there are, I guess, some reasons or maybe some descriptions that need to be made about how abortion is impacting specifically the black community.
So, after Roe went down, and we all cheered, which we should have, I thought to myself, “What’s next?” I think a lot of pro-lifers were thinking, “What’s next?” So, I wrote the book to tell the pro-life community that the fight isn’t over. I mean, even right now, as we sit here, about 75% of the country still allows abortions.
And even if you’re in a state that has a 15-week ban, 93% of abortions occur in the first 13 weeks. So, this is still a very pertinent topic. It’s still something that needs our prayers and needs our advocacy, and needs people in legislation at the federal level. But now, really, it’s a state-level issue. So, there needs to be just a reimagining or more energy poured back into this that we had before.
And then, looking at the racial components of it, I wanted to dig into what are the systemic drivers, whether it’s relationship with the father, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s health care, whether it’s housing. These are the things that women say make them feel like they need to choose abortions. What I’m saying for the pro-life movement is, how do we talk about those things more responsibly? How do we engage with those things?
Allen: Did you feel, in writing the book, you were able to come up with those tangible solutions? To say, “This is how we can tackle an issue,” like so much fatherless in America that people do point to as one of the leading reasons for just this furtherance of abortion in generation after generation?
Watson: I realized that I couldn’t fit it all in one book.
Allen: That’s fair. You couldn’t solve all the issues in one book.
Watson: Exactly. I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I had high hopes. And a lot of it’s incomplete. A lot of it is just what I found. I think there are so many—I mean, when you look at marriage rates, and you look at housing, or poverty, or health care deserts, there’s just so much that goes into a decision, and we need to enter into this with conviction and with compassion.
The conviction is the child in the womb. The preborn child has inherent dignity and inherent value. That value does not change when that child is born or when that child dies. They’re valuable because God created them that way. And that doesn’t change. So, to snuff out or to terminate that life is something that we shouldn’t stand for and we shouldn’t ever say it is OK.
That being said, I dug into those issues. And what did I find? Well, there’s a statistic that we found at Human Coalition, and it’s 76% of abortion-determined women say they will prefer to parent if their circumstances were different.
And you ask them what those circumstances are, undoubtedly there’s a father piece to that. What does he say? But also it’s, “Do I have dependable housing? Am I living with my parent, with my mom? Am I living in an apartment? Do I have another child that I’m dealing with? Economically, do I think that I can afford another child?”
So, what I do in the book is encourage the pro-life movement to perhaps reimagine what simple, straight line, pro-life advocacy, “don’t have an abortion” really means now. Because there is an entire world, an entire America that is looking at us and assuming that we only care about children up until birth, although we know that’s not true, and I see this as an opportunity to widening the tent.
There are some people who would be pro-life in the sense that they would be against abortion if they felt like some of those needs were important and perhaps met.
So, in the book, I talk about some policy things. I talk about things like maternity leave. How does that factor in when it comes to fathers? I mean, having a job, as a dad, makes a big difference. So, how do we provide opportunities where there’s sometimes aren’t opportunities?
And for me, being a believer, being a Christian, this issue is not necessarily political for me, although it has political connotations. I mean, we operate in law, as Americans. … Legislation is important. I’m not saying it’s not. But to me, it’s bigger than that. It’s about human flourishing. And it’s about restoration.
Allen: I like that expression that you use, “the widening of the tent,” to think about what are the additional resources that maybe moms need now to go even further because, as we know, pro-life pregnancy centers have been doing such good work for so long, but where is there now maybe a role to step up further and provide care?
Watson: Yeah, I mean, there’s 2,700 pregnancy resource centers around the country, give or take a few hundred, I guess. And they, as you mentioned, are doing a tremendous job. I’ve had an opportunity over the last several years to partner with many of them, visit many of them, speak to the directors, speak to women and men who have come through their doors.
I remember playing for the Baltimore Ravens and visiting a local pregnancy resource center up the street from where we are right now and speaking to a mom who came in and then a dad who came in afterward, and they ended up keeping their child.
So, they’re doing tremendous work, but they don’t make legislation. They don’t deal with government spending and budgets or state spending from that aspect. So it’s, what can we do there?
Education is a huge thing. When you think about the average woman who has an abortion, she is in her late 20s. And you can find this on conservative or progressive or any sort of outlet will tell you this. I saw it on The New York Times and also saw it with Human Coalition. So, two drastically different things.
But she’s usually in her late 20s. She usually has a child already. She usually has high school education, perhaps some college education. Disproportionately, she is from an ethnic minority, probably black American, just from a proportional standpoint.
So, if I’m looking at her and I’m trying to address her needs from what I can do, education is a big piece. And when you think about the fact that educational spending is not even in this country—a recent statistic showed how majority-white school districts receive much more funding than majority-non-white school districts, even though the states are supposed to even it out, they don’t a lot of times.
How does that, which doesn’t seem like a pro-life issue, how does that factor into an education of a child and opportunities that child has after they leave the school district and go on to do different things in life, if we’re looking at the average person who has an abortion?
And so, though these things may not seem connected, I think that they are. My point of this being a new fight for life is all those factors were still there the day after Dobbs was decided.
A year ago, June 24th, 2022, Dobbs was decided. And it did not change a lot of these issues. It changed none of them, actually. And that’s why you see such a sway on the “other side.” And the fact that they’re able to talk about these things and say, “You pro-lifers aren’t really dealing with them.” Whether that’s true wholesale or not, that’s the narrative. We have an opportunity to combat that narrative and also to save lives in the process and serve women in the process.
Allen: One of the narratives that we do hear from those on the pro-choice, abortion side is this argument that restricting abortion disproportionately harms African-American women and this argument that African-American women “need” abortion. You make a very different argument. Talk a little bit about that.
Watson: Well, the first part of that is true. It does impact African-American women disproportionately. You know why? Because African women disproportionately have more abortions. And so, that’s a true statement. There’s always some truth in a lie if you’re going to sell it. There’s always some truth in a lie.
The second part of that statement is that they “need” it. [That] is the lie. The lie is that, no, we don’t “need” it.
Abortion has been legal in this country for 50 years. There have been 65 million-plus abortions that have happened. Approximately 32% of them, according to statistics, have been black. In that time, black children were still three times more likely to be born into poverty. In that time, the racial wealth gap has been 10 to 1. In that time, the list goes on and on of issues plaguing the black community. And abortion has solved none of them.
So, while it is true that black women, black men, and black communities will be impacted by abortion, it’s not because we need it. Matter of fact, we don’t need it. But there are some other things we need.
And when you listen to black women specifically—and I know many of them. A good friend of mine named Cherilyn Holloway from an organization called Pro-Black Pro-Life, she actually wrote my forward, love her. And she talks about some of the things that black women need, and they’re all the things that we’ve been discussing in this conversation.
But those things somehow get swept under the rug. And instead, you’re offered abortion. And perhaps the reason why is because abortion is a money-making industry. And if I’m going to make money, I’m going to go where I feel like people will buy what I’m selling because they feel like they need it, for other reasons.
And so, I hate hearing that. I do. But it’s something that I think we have to faithfully and holistically combat. And not just say it’s not true, but also explain why it’s not true.
Allen: As you have become so outspoken on this issue with this new book and over the years with the documentary, what is the response that you have received from the NFL, from your community of people who maybe don’t hold to the same views or maybe, actually, surprisingly, do?
Watson: I think the latter part of what you said is more fulfilling.
There are so many people from different backgrounds who agree, and specifically when it comes to black folks. Black people are largely, I guess, I use the term socially conservative in a lot of ways when it comes to marriage, gender, when it comes to even the issue of life. And there are a whole host of organizations and people, whether they are in the faith community or outside of the faith community, who adhere to this life ethic, who believe in the sanctity of human life.
The difference, however, in what you may call a more, I guess, known pro-life community, meaning the more right-leaning, white evangelical community, is that with this community, there’s also an emphasis on all these other issues that we’re talking about.
And the reason why is because that’s our lived experience. In this country, that’s the lived experience, largely having to fight for those things and deal with those things. So, there’s this widening of understanding how they’re all interconnected.
But I think that this language is spreading, the idea of being womb to tomb. It doesn’t mean that I’m soft on abortion. No, very, very strong stance on abortion. Abortion is an evil, abortion is unthinkable, and we want to make it unnecessary, all those sorts of things. But also a focus on the totality of human flourishing and the things that are obstacles to human flourishing.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised with some of the people who don’t have loud microphones, but they feel the same way. And then, there are others who definitely don’t agree.
As far as the NFL goes, it was interesting. So, I’ve been out for three years, but even while I was playing, we were involved in a lot of ways with pro-life advocacy. And I never felt ostracized. I never felt like I lost a job because of it. I basically lost my job in the end because after 16 years, I just couldn’t really run any anymore, so I had to move on.
But what was happening while I was playing was just that I would have coaches come up to me sometimes and say, “I heard what you said. My wife told me to read this, and we agree with you.”
And so, the thing I loved about the NFL, that I don’t think a lot of people know, I’ll just drop this nugget, is that in the NFL, you really can be a lot of different things politically, socially, even in your faith. I mean, I had a friend who was a Muslim and he would pray in the shower, but can you play ball? Can you play ball?
And I think that the lesson there, it’s not that there’s no discrimination in the NFL, I’m not saying that, because there is some, but what I’m saying is that because we’re in relationship with each other, even though someone’s different and disagrees, doesn’t believe in God, and we have a argument about it before we go to practice, I respect their humanity.
And a lot of what the book is about is human dignity and respecting others’ humanity and acknowledging that in the best ways we can.
Allen: Yeah. And what more powerful way to do that than through pro-life advocacy?
Allen: The book is “The New Fight for Life: Roe, Race, and a Pro-Life Commitment to Justice.” You can get your copy now wherever books are sold. Ben Watson, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Watson: Thank you.
Allen: Perfect. Thank you.
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