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Pro-life centers aim to offer hope for every woman in crisis pregnancy

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Since 1996, Tere Haring of San Antonio has been waging a war against abortion, fighting it one package of diapers and one rent check at a time.

Haring is the founder and executive director of Allied Women's Center, a pro-life pregnancy care center that provides help with housing costs as well as diapers, baby clothes and other supplies for women facing unplanned pregnancies in San Antonio and other areas in south Texas.

She founded Allied 25 years ago because of a deep-seated commitment to the pro-life movement rooted in her strong Catholic faith — and also because she believes that those who oppose abortion should be prepared to assist women who choose life for their babies.

"A lot of women who show up at abortion clinics are not bent on having an abortion — they're just desperate," Haring told Catholic News Service. "I always felt that many women got abortions because they felt the lack of a choice — that they had no outs, nobody to care for them.

"I thought that we could save more babies by offering women the help they needed."

Services offered by programs such as Haring's could be needed more than ever in the near future depending on what the Supreme Court decides next year.

Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, has been in the spotlight in recent weeks as the justices took up arguments over a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Court watchers speculate the justices could decide to overturn Roe or at the very least severely curtail it with their decision on the Mississippi case, which is expected in June or early July.

The possibility of Roe falling, or of access to abortion being scaled back in many states, has led pro-life advocates to wonder how to better serve a resulting increase in the number of women facing crisis pregnancies.

That, according to Haring and other leaders of pregnancy centers, is where they come in — both with services they already offer and by providing models for new assistance programs for mothers and their babies.

Leaders of crisis pregnancy programs said they also present a real-life, tangible answer to critics of the pro-life movement who claim that those who want to end abortion only care about policy and not about providing any real help to mothers and their children.

Christopher Bell, president and founder of New Jersey-based Good Counsel Homes, learned about the need for real help for pregnant women in crisis while working with the homeless in New York City's Times Square in the late '70s and early '80s.

"Back then I was taken aback that there were no real constructive options for homeless pregnant women or young women with babies," Bell said. "I turned to my spiritual director, the late Father Benedict Groeschel, and asked why somebody wasn't doing something more to help women and children."

The late Father Groeschel, co-founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, was a leading pro-life figure. He agreed to help Bell form a ministry, and the result was Good Counsel Homes.

Today, there are five homes in New York and New Jersey for women facing crisis pregnancies and their children. Since 1985, the organization has helped more than 8,000 women and children transition out of homelessness.

Along with housing, Good Counsel's clients receive help with finding education and employment, classes on parenting, nutrition, budgeting and other skills, and spiritual guidance. On average women live in the homes for about a year, although some stay longer.

"We're not only helping the mothers but also helping children to have a solid foundation and protection in their formative years," Bell said. "Eighty percent of the women coming to have us have experienced some form of domestic violence or serious neglect in their lives, and homes like ours offer support, opportunities to continue their education, to work, to save money and most importantly to be safe."

Bell said growing needs nationwide call for more programs such as Good Counsel that offer tangible help for women, and he also sees a need to increase awareness about crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and other assistance programs that already exist.

Good Counsel Homes, for instance, maintains a list of maternity homes for women in crisis nationwide on its website and also offers a toll-free crisis pregnancy hotline available nationwide.

"We have to get the word out that there is always help and also absolute hope for every woman in a crisis pregnancy even if she has been abandoned by everyone she knows," Bell told CNS.

In March 2020, the U.S. Catholic bishops launched a new effort called the "Walking With Moms" initiative, inviting all U.S. Catholic parishes to get involved in offering a pastoral response to the needs of women facing pregnancies in challenging circumstances.

The program's website, www.walkingwithmoms.com, has resources, outreach tools and models to assist parishes in this effort. Resources are continually added to the site, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.

This pastoral response to pregnant women and mothers in need "has long been the case" for the church but the new initiative aims to intensify that effort, said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, then chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, when he announced the program.

One of the longest-running crisis pregnancy services is Birthright International, which traces its roots to the first Birthright founded in Toronto in 1968 by Louise Summerhill, a mother of seven who wanted to help women facing unplanned pregnancies.

Since then, the organization has expanded to 250 sites in the United States, Canada and Africa.

Its centers offer free pregnancy testing, maternity and baby items, and referrals for medical services, food assistance, housing, counseling and other services as needed.

Terry Hodaly, a Catholic, is the executive director of the Birthright office in Columbia, South Carolina, which was founded in 1980 and serves about 300 women a year, most of them from Richland County where Columbia is located. Birthright also has three other locations in the state in Greenville, Charleston and Georgetown.

Along with the usual array of services Birthright offers, Hodaly said the center she oversees is constantly working to develop new programs to meet the whole gamut of client needs.

The Columbia location offers some funding help for mothers and fathers to receive their GEDs, recently added a combined class on newborn care and breastfeeding, and also runs "Mommy and Me," a series of video classes on a wide variety of child care and parenting subjects that mothers are asked to watch throughout their pregnancy.

Mothers are asked to watch two videos a week and receive gift cards to local baby stores upon completing the program.

In Columbia, Birthright also is helping the next generation of health care providers to take up the pro-life approach and become aware of the needs of mothers in crisis.

Through a partnership with the nursing school at the University of South Carolina, nursing students serve as interns at Birthright during the school year, learning both how to run a crisis pregnancy center and how to provide the best assistance possible for mothers in need and their unborn children.

"Some people get in their mind that if they come to a crisis pregnancy center, someone is just going to talk their head off about not having an abortion," Hodaly said.

"What we offer is compassion and caring," she added. "We approach the women who come here in a nonjudgmental way and we want them to know they are valued. We will talk to them about anything and help in any way we can. The key is that we provide a positive alternative to abortion."

Haring of the Allied Women's Center said that crisis pregnancy ministry is one important way that Catholics and others concerned about both mothers and babies can put their faith into action.

"Crisis pregnancy centers are a wonderful opportunity to live the beatitudes," Haring said. "We offer spiritual acts of mercy as well as the corporal. A lot of the women we see just need someone to show they care."

To learn more, the Allied Women's Center website is https://www.alliedwomenscenter.com. The Good Counsel Homes website is www.goodcounselhomes.org, with the organization's nationwide toll-free 24-hour crisis pregnancy hotline, (800) 723-8331. Birthright International's website is https://birthright.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021