For crisis pregnancy centers, looks matter

When walking through the doors of the Pregnancy Resource Center in Rolla, Mo., you could be walking into the offices of a small accounting firm or an insurance agency. The colors on the wall are warm and calm. The look is crisp and professional; the framed artwork is generically beautiful. According to Joe and Jane Dalton, who have been helping save lives in this central Missouri college town for nearly eight years, this aesthetic appeal is not a coincidence.

“Everything we do here, we do purposefully,” said Jane.

But this wasn’t always the case.

A new appeal

When the Daltons moved their crisis pregnancy center into a more spacious location in October 2012 — after being in a downtown office space for many years — they rethought the way the center should look. As they were preparing their new space, the Daltons drew upon the wisdom of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director whom the Daltons discovered shortly after she left her position.

“She makes the point that mismatched furniture, dusty plastic plants and a worn, floral-print sofa from grandma’s basement isn’t going to cut it,” Joe said. “It is not going to reach the 20-something pregnant young woman who comes in here.”

Johnson first talked about the aesthetics of pregnancy resource centers in Rolla with the Daltons in March 2009. By the end of this year, Johnson will have given approximately 100 such talks at pro-life events all over the nation and world. Johnson herself admits that her talk on the aesthetics of a pregnancy resource center is not a popular one among those who are intimately involved in the pregnancy resource center movement.

“I want a woman to be able to walk into a pregnancy resource center in St. Louis and a pregnancy resource center in Austin and have it have the same feel,” Johnson told Our Sunday Visitor. “That is what Planned Parenthood does really well. They do a good job of reaching their demographic.

“I tell centers that when they are designing their centers think of Starbucks,” she added. “Think of neutral colors or the comfort of your chair. All of these things make a difference.”

The business of welcoming

Since 1981, Keener Marketing in Dayton, Tenn. — an advertising and design agency — has been helping pregnancy resource centers provide a unified professional image. Margie Wertz, president, said she stresses to clients that just because they are a nonprofit resource center does not mean that basic business or marketing concepts don’t apply.

pregnancy resource center
Pro-life centers such as the Pregnancy Resource Center need to have a consistent brand that reflects the environment women can expect when they walk through the door. Photo courtesy Eddie O’Neill

“It is very important what these centers look like,” Wertz said. “But it is also important that their marketing and their brand reflect what the women can expect when they walk in the door.”

Wertz explained that the research shows that a young woman who is facing an unplanned pregnancy is first going to talk to friends and then get on an organization’s website to research her options. If the young woman finds a pregnancy resource center’s website and decides to visit, then what she sees on the website needs to match what she sees when she walks in the front door.

“If the website doesn’t match what they see when they walk in the door, then the center is being dishonest,” Wertz said. “It is so important to gain the trust of these young women who come in the door. Everything a pregnancy resource center does must be completely aboveboard.”

Jane Dalton agreed that honesty is key in the battle for life.

“There is nothing hidden about what we do here,” she said. “The office windows are oversized. They can see the people and what they are doing. The big clock on the wall says to the young girl that her time is certainly important to us.”

The Daltons’ service of welcoming — from the size of the clock on the wall to the way that the young women are talked to — is making a difference. And numerous testimonies from past clients can attest to this.

“When I found my way to the Pregnancy Resource Center, I was hoping I had enough money saved to have the abortion,” said Jackie, who now has a 6-month-old daughter. “Joe and Jane treated me with such dignity and love like I’ve never experienced before. Even though I believed that I could not trust anyone, I felt like I could trust them somehow.”

A call to unity

Planned Parenthood is very clear in its disdain for pregnancy resource centers. On its website, under the heading of “Health Info & Services” and the subhead of “Crisis Pregnancy Centers,” the nation’s leading abortion provider posts:

“Deciding what to do about an unplanned pregnancy can be very difficult. It may be made even more difficult by so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers.’ These are fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion. They have a history of giving women wrong, biased information to scare them into not having abortions. These centers may not give you complete and correct information about all your options — abortion, adoption, and parenting. These fake clinics often trick women with false advertising. They may make women think they will be offered unbiased information and a full range of health services.”

With this in mind, should pregnancy resource centers across the nation involve themselves in developing some uniform standards? Absolutely, said Johnson. In her years with Planned Parenthood, Johnson participated in focus groups and marketing surveys on what works and doesn’t work in the business of abortion.

“Since we are fighting for the same demographic, why can’t we, in the pregnancy resource movement, copy what they are doing but make it life affirming?” Johnson asked.

This goal has been shared with two of the larger pregnancy center networks, Heartbeat and Care Net, Johnson said. Together, both of these organizations boast more than 2,500 pregnancy resource centers.

“There needs to be an effort [between] Heartbeat and Care Net to go into these centers once every few years and lay eyes on them and ask, ‘Should this be a part of our affiliation?’” Johnson said. “I do not know of any organization or movement on the planet that would stick their name on a product without actually seeing what they are selling. We need some sort of standards. We need to implement a program that would create a standard of best practices. I think it would go a long way and solve some of the problems we have in the pregnancy resource center movement.” 

Eddie O’Neill writes from Missouri.