When I lived in Chicago, I worked as a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) downtown, just across the street from Millennium Park. I volunteered there two days per month for nearly three years, doing both phone and face-to-face counseling. I’m a socially awkward introvert, so at first, the idea of working one on one with women in a true time of need seemed daunting and overwhelming. How could I talk with them about abortion and its consequences in a loving way?
I didn’t have answers, but I signed up anyway. A lot of my questions were addressed in the long training process. Still, I feared that it would be awkward to talk with a total stranger about sex, abortion, contraception; the big three of controversial topics. There’s a funny thing that happens when you do what God asks: even when it’s painfully uncomfortable or downright scary, when the time comes to do it, the words just come. The courage to speak the truth with love is there. I learned in those first few months at Aid for Women that the bulk of what I had to do was to open my mouth and get out of God’s way. But I learned a few other things as well.
1. Women in crisis need and want love, support, and help, not an “easy” solution.
In nearly three years at the CPC, I spoke with hundreds of women, some convinced abortion was the only option, some wanting desperately to keep their baby, but afraid they could not make it work. Many of the women had other children already. The voices, hostile to life, swirling around them said, “You fool! This baby will ruin your chances, your career, your life.” “Oh great, another mouth to feed.” “Wouldn’t it be easier to just get rid of it?”
Regardless of the exact message a woman hears, or if the pressure to abort is internal or external, all of these women wanted the same thing. Not to hear that there is an “easy” solution, but to know they (and their baby) are worth the effort to try. These women came to us, desperate and afraid, because they knew that the people who should love and support them had thrown them to the wolves. One young woman had family members who would pay for and take her to get an abortion, but no one was willing to help her buy groceries or take her to doctor appointments.
Society offers abortion as an “easy” solution to the problem of an unplanned pregnancy. Of course we must ask the question, who is it easy for? Certainly the father, who can walk away from the woman without any ties. Certainly for society, which can then avoid the “burden” of another human being to care for. But is it easy for the baby, ripped limb from limb in (what should be) the safest place on earth? Is it easy for the mother, who has to live with a lifetime of unanswered questions and regret, who must always wonder, “What if?”.
What counselors at CPC’s do is lay it all out. Talk with a woman, sometimes for hours, and look at every option. Abortion, adoption, parenting. Our goal is to be that person who is outside of the situation who can step back, look at all the pieces, and say “See, this person here. What about so and so who is supportive?” “How about community college, which has more flexible classes?” “Here are all the things you need to apply for medicaid, food stamps, rental assistance, etc. Let me sit with you while you call.”
It’s not about convincing a woman not to have an abortion, though certainly we hope and pray we can change every woman’s heart by sharing the truth of what abortion is and does. Rather, it’s about showing them their strengths, helping them see that if even one tiny part of them has doubts about aborting, they can make it work. They can choose otherwise, and someone will be there. It’s about offering the support needed to make a truly free choice.
2. Information is power.
There is one woman in particular who I will never forget. She came in for a free pregnancy test, thinking she was pregnant. In the midst of our counseling session, she disclosed that she’d had an abortion the previous year. I asked how she felt about that decision, and she replied “Alright, I guess. I try not to think much about it.”
Later on, during the pregnancy test, she was looking around, waiting for the result, when a fetal development chart caught her eye. After reading it for a minute, she looked at me and said, “Is this true? The heartbeat begins at 24 days after conception?” I nodded yes, to which she responded by bursting into tears and saying “Oh God, if I knew my baby had a heartbeat, I never would have had an abortion. They told me it was a clump of tissue, not alive.” It was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life, seeing this beautiful young woman’s face crumple with the realization that she had let the abortionist kill her child, and had never even known the truth of what happened.
In my opinion, speaking the truth is the most important thing CPC’s are doing today. We are giving women the straight up truth; showing fetal development from a science textbook, giving a description of the abortion procedure, and honestly disclosing the risks to the woman. Of course, any woman who receives counseling at a CPC can still choose to go to Planned Parenthood and get an abortion, but she’ll never be able to claim she didn’t know exactly what happened to her and her baby. How many girls and women, not given the truth, will never know why they feel so empty after the “simple procedure” of “ending a pregnancy”?
3. People are capable of much more than we think.
Ask the woman who was living in her car when she found out she was pregnant, and worked with us through her entire pregnancy to make a life for her and her child. She finished her GED, enrolled in community college, and is living in an apartment with her daughter. The world took one look at this girl and wrote her off. “She’s got to have an abortion, she’s homeless! Obviously she can’t change.” But she knew she was capable of more, and she reached out for help.
The flip side of an unplanned pregnancy is that it gives the mother (and father!) an unplanned opportunity to change and grow. When given a chance and support, women are capable of much more than we think, especially when the motivation of their child keeps them working for more. The best confirmation of this is in the faces of these women when they came back to visit us, with their beautiful baby in tow. There is gratitude for the help offered, but also for the support that allowed her to realize just how strong she really is. That’s true empowerment.