Los Angeles Pregnancy Services (LAPS) has saved an estimated 1,200 babies from abortion since its founding 10 years ago. Located a mile west of downtown Los Angeles in a poor, high crime neighborhood, the bilingual counseling support center helps women in crisis pregnancy situations.
LAPS serves a predominantly Latino, Spanish-speaking community. The women who visit are poor and in distress, and believe abortion is their only option.
Adriana, 29, was one such client. She came to LAPS in 2009. Unmarried and destitute, she discovered she was pregnant. She collected jewelry from her family to try to raise the money she needed for an abortion.
Adriana saw an ad for LAPS in El Clasificado, a Spanish-language publication, and decided to speak to a counselor.
Adriana told the counselor she was Catholic and didn’t want to have an abortion. Her sister had had an abortion, she said, and the guilt led her into alcohol addiction and depression. The LAPS counselor assured her she had options other than abortion. Adriana decided to have her baby. She later told the LAPS staff: “God put you in my path, and I will never forget you. You illuminated me about the truth of abortion. I didn’t know.”
A lack of knowledge has led many women to abort their babies, Astrid Bennett, LAPS director, told Our Sunday Visitor.
“Hosea 4:6 says, ‘My people perish for lack of knowledge,’” she said. “Many women don’t realize what abortion is, and they don’t know what support is available to them if they choose life.”
When Adriana left LAPS, Bennett said, she had undergone a transformation: “Her distress had turned to hope. Our job is to empower women like Adriana, and make them see they have choices. We want to offer a Christian alternative to abortion.”
Adriana returned to LAPS three weeks later with an ultrasound image of her baby boy, who was born in July 2009. She named him Randy.
“The ladies at LAPS are my angels,” she said. “I am so grateful for the help they gave me. It is amazing that there are people willing to help you without expecting anything in return. If it weren’t for them, my baby would not be here today.”
Adriana’s LAPS counselor served as baptismal sponsor for her child. Part of LAPS’ continuing support of Adriana included providing items such as diapers, baby clothes and formula for her baby, along with financial help so she could pay her rent.
“The abortion clinics offer a quick and easy answer to women in crisis, and then they abandon them,” Bennett said. “We’re the opposite. Our answer is not quick and easy, but we’re always there to help.”
The next chapter
The LAPS leadership is moving toward its next chapter: conversion into a medical facility with ultrasound equipment, which will give the staff new tools to help clients. The Knights of Columbus donated an ultrasound machine, which must be operated by a licensed nurse. Once a nurse is hired and other needed equipment installed, LAPS can offer ultrasounds. Many nearby pro-life pregnancy centers have discovered that once they were able to show clients ultrasound images of their babies, far fewer women opted for abortion.
As a medical facility, LAPS will be better able to “compete” with the many abortion clinics in the neighborhood. In fact, within a one-mile radius of LAPS are nine abortion clinics, many of which engage in aggressive marketing campaigns to persuade women in the community to use their services. Many are susceptible to their overtures, said Bennett.
“Medi-Cal [California’s Medicaid program] pays for abortion, and our clients are easy to persuade to get them,” Bennett said. “Abortion clinic employees hand out slick fliers and earn a commission when they persuade a woman to have one.”
Bennett described LAPS as a pregnancy center defending life in a Los Angeles community that is “ground zero” for abortion. LAPS is staffed by four employees and 30 volunteers. Most are engaged in counseling. They are open every day except Sunday (when they’re speaking at churches soliciting donations) and offer all services to women free of charge.
LAPS attempts to offer a soothing, calm environment, Bennett told OSV, where counselors offer compassion and love. They discuss fetal development, offer referrals to pro-life physicians and provide baby supplies.
Commitment to life
Bennett has served as director of LAPS for four years. Before coming to LAPS, she worked as a project coordinator for Hispanics for Life. She said: “When I learned about the thousands of babies being aborted in this country every day, and the reality of what abortion is, I couldn’t stand on the sidelines. I had to get involved.”
She lamented the dearth of Hispanic representation in the nation’s pro-life leadership, and was previously involved in establishing Hispanic Respect Life Committees in Catholic parishes. Bennett has taken her pro-life advocacy to the airwaves, too. She been a regular guest on EWTN’s “ Defendiendo la Vida ” (“Defending Life”), has done television programs with evangelical Protestant ministries and has debated Planned Parenthood spokeswomen on the NBC Spanish-language affiliate Telemundo. Bennett’s heroes include Priests for Life founder Father Frank Pavone. She is a member of his lay association Missionaries for the Gospel of Life (named for Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae). While LAPS is open to all regardless of religious faith, they are open about their commitment to Catholic teaching, including the promotion of chastity and rejection of artificial contraceptives.
Keeping LAPS going is not an easy life, but it’s a good one, Bennett said.
“Women who come to LAPS are anxious, sad and depressed. When we help them make the choice for life, they return with their babies, and they are radiant and grateful. It’s a joy for us. It makes it all worth it.”
Jim Graves writes from California.
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