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Are Pro-Life Activists Merely Anti-Abortion?

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The most common criticism every pro-life person has ever heard is that we’re not truly pro-life, but just anti-abortion.

No one has ever formulated this criticism better than the late George Carlin (and I admit it, it’s a funny routine):

“These conservatives are really something. Aren’t they? They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn, but once you’re born you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that they don’t want to know about you, they don’t want to hear from you, no neonatal care, no daycare, no head start on school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re preborn, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re f***ed.”

Of course, it is undeniable that there are many people whose only truly pro-life position is being against abortion and do not support a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death, but this statement does not hold water (still, it’s pretty funny when George Carlin says it).

There’s a very simple statistic that debunks it: There are 3 pro-life pregnancy centers for each abortion clinic in the U.S.–and with the more than likely closure of dozens of abortion clinics across the country in a post-Roe America, the difference will only grow.

Now, what are these pregnancy centers? These are institutions that provide essential and professional care to vulnerable pregnant women (for example, teenagers, poor women, abused women, or considering abortion for whatever reason) on a free or low-cost basis typically including:

  • Free pregnancy tests
  • Medical services such as ultrasounds, medical exams, STD testing
  • Prenatal and parenting education
  • After-abortion recovery support
  • Referrals for specialized medical care
  • Material assistance such as diapers, formula, clothes, etc.

“Pregnancy centers actually help women during the pregnancy, but also afterwards they’re there for the family. Some women don’t have support at home. They don’t have the financial means or the practical means to go home and take care of their baby. And for them there’s more difficulty and a pregnancy center will step in,” Laura Echevarría, comms director of the National Right to Life Committee, told El American.

The 2020 Pregnancy Center Fact Sheet of the Charlotte Lozier Institute shows that pregnancy centers served almost 2 million people in 2019, offering services of a total value up to $266 million. According to the same report, these centers have had the following impact:

  • 8 in 10 locations (or 2,132) offer free ultrasounds
  • 486,213 free ultrasounds were performed
  • 731,884 free pregnancy tests were performed
  • 967,251 free consultations with new clients
  • 810 locations offer STD testing
  • 563 locations offer STD treatment onsite
  • 291,230 clients attended parenting and prenatal education classes
  • 21,698 clients attended after-abortion support and recovery sessions
  • 2,525 locations offer material assistance such as baby items (including diapers, baby clothing outfits, new car seats and strollers)
  • 120 medical mobile units with ultrasound (at least) rolling on the road to bring services to women out in the community
  • 10,215 licensed medical professionals involved as pregnancy center workers (paid staff and volunteers combined)

“We actually had a young woman come into our pregnancy center and said she was pregnant and had other children of her own and had the custody of the children of a relative, was really struggling and the father was out of the picture. So, she was very worried about how she was going to take care of the kids that she was responsible for as well as have this baby,” Echevarría said about her experience working at a pregnancy center.

“And the client services director called a local church and said “we need help. We have a client, and I can’t go into too much detail, but her circumstances are difficult. These are the clothing sizes of the children that she has custody of, and she needs help with school clothes, things like that.” They went out and spent over $1,500 and bought everything. They bought shoes, underwear, socks, school clothes, backpacks, lunch boxes, you name it,” she added.

An important fact about these centers: 80% of these centers do not receive government funding and 90% of the total funds come from community-level donations. They are a great example of the principle of subsidiarity: we cannot wait for the state to solve everything and take care of the children of women in vulnerable situations when we can do a lot ourselves. To be sure, there are public policies that need to be enacted in healthcare, work, and social security to help women choose life—but there’s a lot we can do on our own. These pregnancy centers are a great example.

Care Net, the largest network of pregnancy centers with over 1,100, claims to have saved over 700,000 lives in 11 years, providing over 1.2 million ultrasounds, 3 million free pregnancy tests and helping over 1.7 million with material resources such as diapers, clothes, car seats, formula, and more.

Echevarría also mentioned an example of a very particular center called Mary’s Shelter in Northern Virginia which houses women in crisis pregnancies. “women can live there for up to two years. And they can bring other children if they already have children. And it’s set up so that if they need their GED or they want to finish high school in some way, they will help them with that. They will help them with job skills. They will help them with learning to take care of kids, and they can house almost 20 families.”

And what about the Catholic church?

Of course, one of the institutions that draws more heat from pro-choice attacks is the Catholic Church.

Well-known for its pro-life advocacy, the Church has been in the eye of the criticism of many progressives that believe its positions are outdated.

However, deeds speak louder than words.

Although there is not a national database of Catholic pregnancy centers, by checking out the largest dioceses in the U.S., is easy to tell that the Church is putting its mouth where its money is.

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to at least 13 Catholic pregnancy centers. New York has also a dozen of them and at least three maternity homes. The Archdiocese of Miami has at least three such centers, as in Boston and Denver.

New York is also home to the Sisters for Life, a Catholic community of  religious sisters that seek to “uphold the dignity and worth of each person, created from and for God’s great love”  by “serving women who are vulnerable to abortion, giving them the support and resources to be able to choose life for themselves and their children; hosting weekend retreats; evangelization; outreach to college students; and helping women who have suffered after abortion to encounter the mercy and healing of Jesus Christ.” The sisters are located in 7 cities in the U.S. and Canada and run a network of pregnancy centers and maternity homes.

But the Church’s network goes beyond that as it is the largest private provider of social services in the U.S., with almost 20% of the total services provided. This includes 645 Catholic hospitals that care for 1 in every 6 patients in the U.S. (at usually lower rates than regular hospitals and even providing free services in some instances), plus 438 healthcare centers, 1,389 specialized homes, and 853 daycare centers.

Catholic Charities is the third-largest charity organization in the U.S., which completes almost 3,000 adoptions per year and provides pregnancy support services to almost 150,000 women per year. Moreover, it also provides employment services to over 65,000 people per year and helps over 500,000 per year with housing-related services, including 33,000 permanent housing units.

There are over 1,400 food banks run by Catholic Charities in the U.S., and over 300,000 people receive immigration-related services from Catholic Charities each year, including 70,000 refugees.

The criticism

Of course, pro-abortion organizations have long criticized pro-life pregnancy centers because they allegedly provide misinformation and manipulate women.

A TIME magazine article provided a totally unproven scenario that because pregnancy centers do not fall under HIPAA guidelines, they might use the information provided to them to help prosecute women who abort their children. The article also mentions an isolated case of a woman who was told she could carry an ectopic pregnancy to term, which, clearly, is not possible.

“If someone did say that, they would get quickly corrected in a one-on-one conversation with the client services director because that’s inaccurate medical information. Ectopic pregnancies are actually medical emergencies. That baby has implanted in the fallopian tube and that is not the place for a pregnancy to grow. And as the baby grows, that fallopian tube will burst. And when it bursts, she ends up with internal bleeding,” Laura Echevarría, Comms Director of National Right to Life Committee told El American.  

“In the pregnancy center where I worked, we had a nurse manager who was a trained in what they refer to as “limited obstetrical ultrasounds.” (…) The nurse in that situation would explain that an ectopic pregnancy is actually very dangerous. And I do remember our nurse manager caught one when I was working there. She caught an ectopic pregnancy and immediately sent a young woman up to the emergency room and were able to save her life.”

Regarding the security concerns, she added that pregnancy centers “try to abide by HIPAA regulations to the best degree that they can, but because they are nonprofits and they don’t charge for their services, they don’t fall under HIPAA guidelines because HIPAA is with regard to paid medical services.”

“When I worked at the pregnancy center, we did not email confidential patient information to each other. Everything was kept on paper and files and then they were locked. If we had to send the information to the doctor, he would come in physically, go through all the ultrasound and sign off on them. If the nurse saw something that she felt was suspicious, then she would immediately call the doctor and let the doctor know but the doctor would come in physically to look over the files just so they didn’t get transferred back and forth. But we were very cautious about that information. Unless a woman signed a release form, we would not give that information out, not even to her husband,” she said.

In fact, Echevarría mentioned that they had a policy of only making three follow-up calls to someone who had gone to the center because “after that it could be considered harassment. There are limitations and rules about what they do and how far they go with something. And they were really super cautious with patient information. Only a select few people would have access to it.”

“That was all intentional because we realized that’s personal information and there’s stuff in those files, notes about you never want, for example, a child when they get older and they find out their mom was thinking about an abortion, you don’t want that child to ever find out that mom was thinking that. So, all that information stays very confidential and no one gets a hold of that information,” Echevarría added.

Pregnancy centers do significant work in their communities in respecting and cherishing life in all its stages and will likely be at the forefront of the pro-life movements in a post-Roe America.

Edgar is political scientist and philosopher. He defends the Catholic intellectual tradition. Edgar writes about religion, ideology, culture, US politics, abortion, and the Supreme Court. Twitter: @edgarjbb_ // Edgar es politólogo y filósofo. Defiende la tradición intelectual católica. Edgar escribe sobre religión, ideología, cultura, política doméstica, aborto y la Corte Suprema. Twitter: @edgarjbb_

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