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Pregnancy center workers react to new Va. abortion law

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State health regulations enacted over the years to protect women seeking abortions came off the books July 1. Now, there’s no 24-hour waiting period or requirement for women to have an ultrasound confirming pregnancy before an abortion. Non-doctors, such as nurse practitioners, can perform abortions. Certain building codes regarding abortion clinics are gone. 

Pregnancy resource center workers see the new regulations as an attack on women's health and a boon to the abortion industry. 

“They want to make abortion as assessible and profitable as possible,” said Becky Sheetz, CEO of Care Net Pregnancy Resource Centers in Woodbridge and Manassas. “I think it’s absolutely terrible to reduce those essential standards of care. None of these laws that are designed to ‘advance’ women’s freedom is good for women’s health.”

“With this current law, women don’t even have the right to see their ultrasound anymore,” said Joanna James, president of HOPE in Northern Virginia. “And it’s just bad medical practice to not conduct an ultrasound to determine how many weeks along they are, if it’s an ectopic pregnancy, if they’re in the process of miscarrying — a lot of real, tangible health concerns.” 

The new environment has made the need to provide ultrasounds more pressing in the minds of many pro-life pregnancy centers workers. HOPE recently moved its office closer to the Falls Church Healthcare Center, an abortion clinic, and plans to become capable of providing ultrasounds soon. “We have been on this road to go (become a medical center) for months now and it became a lot more urgent for us to get up and running,” said James. 

Care Net has performed many more ultrasounds this year, partially they believe because of increased web and social media marketing. So far in 2020, they’ve performed 249 ultrasounds, compared to 133 by this time last year. They hope to find new ways to attract women to the center in this changing landscape. 

“The only thing we can do is continue to adapt and look at ways (to be) relevant because you better believe the other side is attractive in their messaging and how they portray themselves,” said Sheetz. 

A Best Choice Mobile Ultrasound & Pregnancy Resource Center received a new 4-D ultrasound to replace their old 2-D model. “We’re going to get a crisper picture so we can really make a case for the baby, show the baby’s humanity better,” said Angela Clark, director. “With the new ultrasound, not only can we hear the heartbeat,” but the mother can see red and blue pulsating lights that correspond to the blood flow through the fetus’ veins and arteries.

The Knights of Columbus Mount Vernon Council based out of Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria and the Ascension Council based out of Sacred Heart Church in Manassas purchased the ultrasound for A Best Choice. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge blessed the ultrasound outside an abortion clinic, the Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, Aug. 22. The recreational vehicle typically parks beside abortion clinics or travels to women who request an ultrasound. 

Clark believes the new regulations may lead to more women seeking ultrasounds at pregnancy centers. “I think that Gov. (Ralph) Northam rescinding the law for the 24-hour waiting period as well as the ultrasound law is a direct attack on our pro-life efforts but it’s backfired because I believe women still want to have an informed decision,” said Clark. “We give moms one last opportunity to bond with their babies.” 

On the other hand, Sheetz is concerned that this law and similar ones in the future will make the work of pregnancy centers more difficult. “We are facing a really hostile state government, I think that we could very directly or indirectly be targeted. We’re vulnerable, as an industry,” she said. “We have to be strong and know that this is not an easy time to be doing the work the Lord has called us to do.” 

It remains to be seen how the new law will impact abortion in Virginia in the coming months, and James hopes her center can adapt as they learn more. “We’re having the sidewalk counselors come to our board meeting to discuss what they’re seeing on the ground — are people coming in the same day and having an abortion, are they seeing an uptick?” she said.

“We’re at this watershed moment for the pro-life movement in our community. We really have to think about how we’re going to press forward,” said James. “The more people we have allied to do that, the better.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020