When Ryan Bomberger was 13, everything he knew about his origin story changed.
He already knew he was adopted—his adoptive parents and siblings are white, and he’s biracial, he said with a laugh, but every adoptee goes through a process of wondering why they were given up for adoption. So to realize his birth mother couldn’t keep him because he was the product of rape was shocking.
“But because I was so loved by my parents, I turned that pain into something very constructive,” Bomberger said.
Bomberger was adopted at just a few weeks old into a family that showed their love through actions and service to their community around them. He was the first of the children they adopted; almost every year after that, over the next 12 years, his parents adopted another child.
That Fringe ExampleBomberger’s shock turned into gratefulness, not bitterness. “That ‘Wow, she was courageous enough to go through that, horrific experience and still give me life, still give me the gift of adoption,’” Bomberger said. His loving upbringing had given him the foundation to see that life is a gift, and that life has purpose.
A few weeks later, for an eighth-grade persuasion speech assignment, he spoke of his own story from a pro-life stance.
“I realized I had a powerful story to tell,” Bomberger said. The responses to his speech were mixed, but for some it was an illuminating and indelible one. “I can almost never forget what abortion does, not just the lives it destroys but the people it would completely erase from other people’s lives.”
“I’m actually the 1 percent that’s used 100 percent of the time to justify abortion,” Bomberger said. “My birth mom experienced the horror and violence of rape, so I’m one of those fringe cases, the exceptions.”
“There’s something so powerful and disarming about my own story, because I am that fringe example, that any time you talk about abortion, it gets to that question: ‘Well, what about rape?’” Bomberger said. He’s heard people who say they are pro-life balk when it comes to that question as well.
“I answer that question. I’m that tangible example right before them, and I know that is in large part a powerful part of it, because I take away that abstract. It’s easy to reject something in the abstract.”
When a life is aborted, or not aborted, there is a powerful ripple effect. Bomberger has never met his birth mother, but says if he could, he would thank her for her courageous act of life and show her that effect. Because of her, he has become a brother, husband, author, speaker, singer and songwriter, an Emmy award-winning designer, and much more, and his story has touched many more lives.
Race and AbortionAbout 10 years ago, Bomberger and his wife Bethany founded The Radiance Foundation and as a fledgling little nonprofit decided to do an outdoor creative campaign.
The billboards were placed in black communities, because abortion marketing and clinics have a decades-long history of targeting minority communities, and abortion has had a particularly devastating effect on the black population.
According to national data, white women have 37 percent of the abortions and black women have 36 percent, but black women make up 13 percent of the national population (compared to non-Hispanic whites at 60 percent).
“We highlighted the history of eugenics of Planned Parenthood’s racist past and unaltered present,” Bomberger said. The response was polarized, as expected. There was negative, skeptical coverage from liberal media and strong support from pro-life voices—and some civil rights leaders.
Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., keenly understands the abortion narrative. She had two abortions herself, and then a miscarriage and a divorce. She later learned that in the 1950s, her mother was pregnant with her as a college student and was about to get an abortion—then illegal, and an exploratory procedure—but was stopped by her father who saw his granddaughter Alveda King in a dream. Since 1983, she has become a voice for the unborn, and quickly lent her support to The Radiance Foundation’s work.
“The coverage was massive,” Bomberger said. In fact, Planned Parenthood’s coordinated response was very telling, he added, as they felt threatened to the point that they called a conference of national bloggers and journalists in their headquarters “to try to figure out how to counter our message.”
This racial targeting by the abortion industry is nothing new and has been going on for decades, Bomberger said, but more people understand it now. “There are leaders in the black community where abortion is hardest felt statistically, who are awakening to this; that’s a great victory,” he said.
A few years ago, former NFL player Ben Watson gave a speech citing statistics that more black babies were aborted than born alive in New York City, and it made headlines. Fact-checkers picked up the story and found the statistics true. The discrepancy still hasn’t changed.
Race is undeniably an issue in the abortion debate—experts have already sounded the alarm on record low birth rates, and the black population is in the most precarious position, with one interviewee citing statistics that if this continues, the trend will be irreversible by 2050.
Watson said he has long known about the statistics of how the black population disproportionately makes up the number of abortions, and has been driven to fight against injustices all his life. “My reaction has been to understand why,” Watson wrote via email. “The more I’ve researched and spoken to those directly affected, I’ve found that there are several factors that contribute to this dilemma.”
Watson found that Americans were deeply divided on the topic of abortion, but it wasn’t at all a clear-cut left-versus-right issue.
“There are nuanced points of view that don’t get airtime on cable news. I’ve learned that the current landscape, especially politically, is a recent development,” Watson said. “In order to correctly address the present, we must understand how we got here and where we may be headed.”
Watson spoke to more than 30 experts, legislators, doctors, women who have had abortions, people who survived abortions, and fathers affected by abortions. “It touches all of us in some way,” Watson said.
New PerspectivesWhen Bomberger started giving talks, it took him to many prominent college campuses, including Ivy League schools.
“I’m thinking I’m not worthy, this is an Ivy League school, they’re going to ask these deeply intellectual questions—with citations even. And it wasn’t like that at all,” Bomberger said. Instead, at Harvard, people protested against him and activists screamed profanities at him. It was a disappointing and poor reflection of the school, he said.
But what was quickly revealed, Bomberger said, was how little the pro-abortion students really knew about abortions—and people attending his presentations left with broadened horizons.
“It depends on the lens which you look at the world through: If I see them as my enemy, I’m going to treat them the same way some of them treat me, but I don’t. I see them as people who are worthy of love and worthy of dignity and respect, even when they don’t give any of it,” Bomberger said.
He admits it isn’t easy to stand there and smile when he’s being attacked, but his faith in God is where his belief that all life has value comes from, and Bomberger lives by his beliefs.
“Every life is equal and has irrevocable worth, that’s what drives me and Bethany,” he said.
“Those who come in self-identifying as pro-choice, in many instances their minds have been changed. I’m not saying every student who comes in, but it’s really obvious. I’ve had students come up afterward and say, ‘I wanted to hate you when you came in, but you gave me a perspective that I’ve never heard before,’” Bomberger said.
“They get such a narrow, singular perspective on most of these college campuses, they don’t ever get a truthful perspective. Harvard was the perfect example, the professor I was debating knew nothing about ... abortion’s impact on the black community. But this is why we do what we do. Our campuses need more truth, not less.”
Aside from the 50 or so media presentations a year, the foundation also creates fact sheets, memes, videos, and articles. The Bombergers also have written two books. The billboard campaigns, which they began with, have met with more resistance over the years as they’ve dealt with companies that will put up pro-abortion billboards (“Abortion is a family value”) but refuse their pro-life advertising.
“That’s preventing us from doing what we started out doing,” Bomberger said.
“My creativity, as far as I’m concerned, is given to me by God,” Bomberger said. “It’s always life-affirming, it’s always illuminating, it’s always revelatory—that’s our hope, that we reveal something different to someone. They may have heard the message a thousand times but because the way that we’ve created or design it, they see it differently and feel it differently.”
“My wife and I couldn’t do the work that we do if we didn’t believe that we are all created in God’s image.”
The Radiance Foundation is named for Ryan and Bethany’s daughter Radiance. The two met during a planning meeting for a pregnancy center—Ryan was the singer for the event and Bethany was working on marketing—and Bethany was a single mother at the time, who had her own unplanned pregnancy. The couple now have four children, two adopted, and the most important thing Bomberger says he wants to pass on to them is what his own parents instilled in him.
“My parents are Christians, and the most important thing they taught us is to love one another, and we saw them carry that out not just in the 13 children that they loved and cared for, but the people around them. I grew up watching my parents serve those who were in need. And of course, our family was in need, too—we were not wealthy—so I grew up watching them just pour out love for people,” Bomberger said. “For my children, that is the most important thing, to love one another and love people who are hard to love, too.”
“Hand in hand, when you love God as my parents did, the natural outflow of loving God is loving people,” Bomberger said. It may not be easy in our culture that now seems more prone to hating first than loving first, he added, but love is what enables reconciliation and communication. “People are a little more responsive to love than the dismissiveness of hate.”