Those who work in pregnancy centers will tell you that their ministry of mercy begins long before the woman even walks in the door.
That’s why Jenny Langness, executive director of Real Choices Pregnancy Care Centers in Boulder County, Colorado, is very particular about the types of outreach she uses to draw women to the center.
“It starts with your marketing,” she said. “What messaging you put in your advertisements and what you put on your website has to be very supportive of women and respectful. You have to use language that will indicate that you are there to give information and education, stressing that she deserves to have all the facts. It’s important to use words like ‘you deserve’ and ‘we care for you.’
You have to convey the message that you’re there to give her the information she needs to make her best possible decision and that you are there to support and listen to her.”
Warm and inviting
In addition to marketing, the exterior of the building is also vital. At Lighthouse Women’s Center in Denver, great care goes into the exterior of the building. The property is inviting, well-kept, and nicely landscaped with plants and flowers, and flower boxes and window boxes on the building itself.
“We understand now that women appreciate beauty,” director of Respect Life resources Lynn Grandon said.
“Here in Denver, Planned Parenthood has this very large building and all the way around it is a 12-foot high chain-link fence which they’ve completely covered in black vinyl so that you can’t see in. It’s visually daunting. When they look at our building, they see a place that’s beautiful and looks safe. It looks welcoming versus what they’re seeing at Planned Parenthood. That’s been very effective for us.”
Once inside, there are a number of factors that impact the effectiveness of the ministry.
“These girls come in, and they are scared and nervous,” said Krys Crawley, executive director of Life’s Connection, which operates two clinics near Milwaukee. “Imagine how hard it is for them to just take the step to get from the car to the door and then get in the door. When they open the door, the first 30 seconds of that encounter can make or break our outreach to her.”
For that reason, Life’s Connection goes to great lengths to present a homey, warm and welcoming atmosphere from the soothing wall and carpeting colors to the modern, comfortable furniture. There also is a welcoming station, which offers water, coffee and snacks. The goal is to give it a spa-like feel so clients immediately sense its goodness.
“Very much thought went into how we made our center,” Crawley said. “We want them to feel pampered, loved and cared for when they come to us. This helps us to be able to reach them and to work with them so that they can transform their lives to build strong families.”
It’s not only the place, but the people that is important. According to Langness, it’s essential to strategically choose who answers the phone and sits at the front desk of the center.
“You want that to be someone who is very positive; you want people who are good listeners, and you want people that will come across in a warm and caring way,” she said. “Pregnancy centers use a combination of volunteers and paid staff, and who you choose is critical as well as where you place them. I always say that passion isn’t enough. We might all be passionate, but not everybody who is passionate should answer your phone or be at your front desk. It’s not enough.”
From the first moments, staff and volunteers must proceed with compassion and respect no matter what transpires. Sometimes the women seeking help can be aggressive and even belligerent, and many of them have already made up their minds to abort their babies and are simply there for the free pregnancy test. Planned Parenthood requires a positive pregnancy test before executing an abortion. Regardless, pregnancy center workers treat all women equally.
“We think, ‘If this is my daughter, what might I hope that someone would say to her?’” said Kathy Dizard, executive director of Next Step Pregnancy Services in Lynnwood, Washington. “They’re in a lot of pain. For example, it often happens that a woman has had a past abortion and comes in for a second appointment for pregnancy test. She has an ultrasound, and then she sees the baby on the ultrasound screen. It’s very emotional, and it’s clear that it’s a baby. The woman has just discovered that she had been lied to and told that it was just a bunch of tissue and that there was no beating heart when clearly there is a baby there with a beating heart.”
As well as love and mercy, empowerment is a key factor in ministering to women in crisis pregnancies. Statistics show that 64 percent of women who have had an abortion would have chosen to keep their babies if just one person would have encouraged them to do so. Sadly, along with the lies that are told to them about the “tissue” within their womb, they are also lied to about their own capabilities.
“[Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics] say that we are anti-women, and if anybody is, they are the ones,” said Langness. “We are the ones saying, ‘You absolutely can do this; you totally can do this. We believe in you; we believe you’re going to be a great mom, and we believe that you’re going to have a wonderful life with your child. You’ll still be able to fulfill your goals. It will be a little harder, and you might need some help, but you can still do it.’”
It’s a common misconception that pregnancy centers are only interested in saving the baby. True, they don’t want to see the baby aborted. But they go to great lengths to offer ongoing support for mother and child and post-abortive women by connecting them to community resources for continuing assistance.
In the Archdiocese of Denver, for example, Lighthouse Women’s Center, which is owned and operated by Catholic Charities, provides a full range of services to women in need.
“The thing that sets us apart in Denver is that we have something here that I don’t know exists anywhere else in the United States as of yet,” Grandon said. “We have the continuum of care, because Lighthouse is aligned immediately with Catholic Charities. If a girl is homeless, we have a homeless shelter here. If she’s having domestic abuse, we have a place where we can put her. If she needs assistance in multiple areas, we have a social worker on site who will sit down with her and assess her needs. We have a huge array of more than 25 ministries to plug them into.”
Centers of faith
Extending God’s love and mercy goes beyond the physical and material to the spiritual needs of the women as well. Certainly, pregnancy centers can’t push their religious beliefs on their clients, but they can minister to them through prayer.
Lighthouse Women’s Center in Denver has a Eucharistic chapel connected to the facility solely for the purpose of praying for the center’s clients and staff.
Paula Dong is a registered nurse at Lighthouse. She says prayer is indispensable in carrying on their ministry. Before taking each client into the clinic area, staff members pause to pray for that woman and also for themselves and each other to be instruments of God’s love and mercy. Frequently, she’ll receive calls from center staff asking her to pray for a particularly difficult case. Additionally, a monthly Mass is said in the chapel, during which a box with the names of all the clients is placed on the altar. They’re acutely aware that the entire ministry is in God’s hands and believe that each woman who comes to the door was sent to them by God.
“It’s interesting to find out that the people who come to you on your day are the ones that you were supposed to see,” she said. “It’s fascinating to me how God works. Every day is a gift here.”
Marge Fenelon writes from Wisconsin.