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Pregnancy care: Reaching beyond the crisis

By Jennifer McClure

About a year ago, Mariesa Ho was 5-months pregnant with their second child when her husband moved out. With a decline in household income, two months away from college graduation and a minimum-wage job, Ho ran low on funds.

Phone calls from her parents, serving as Assemblies of God missionaries in the Netherlands, provided comfort, but didn’t help with the immediate assistance she needed.

Then the Pregnancy Care Center in Springfield, Mo., gave her food, diapers and crisis intervention. Right before her bank account hit empty, a Care Center mentor connected Ho with a better paying part-time job.

“God used Pregnancy Care Center to assure me, I’m here with you, I see you, and I will provide for you and take care of you,” Ho says.

Nationwide, many pregnancy care centers are expanding beyond crisis intervention counseling to also provide medical services, material assistance, parenting programs, postabortion ministry, men’s ministry and more. Such extra services helped Ho survive her crisis financially, spiritually, physically and emotionally.

“We look at it as holistic care — caring for the mother’s physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health,” says Peggy Hartshorn, founder and president of Heartbeat International, a resource network for pro-life centers based in Columbus, Ohio. “When all those things are supported, then she makes the decision for life.”

Eight years ago, Heartbeat International assisted in the opening of the Pregnancy Care Center in Springfield, Mo., which since has added an ultrasound program; classes on parenting, adoption and the law; postabortion recovery counseling; and a fatherhood program, just to name a few.

“If Christians don’t do this, nobody else will,” says Cindi Boston, director of the center and a member of Central Assembly of God in Springfield. “It’s our responsibility to reach out to those facing unintended pregnancies. We meet the needs of the young women and men initially through educational services, and can then prepare them for parenting or adoption with classes and mentoring.”

Elizabeth New Life Center in Dayton, Ohio, is another center that ascribes to holistic care. Life skills classes, money management education, material assistance, marriage education and medical services are some of the ways Elizabeth New Life ministers to a client beyond the moment of crisis.

“If God sends us somebody, our response is ‘How do we help this person?’ ” says Vivian Koob, director of the center.

The increasing availability of ultrasound technology has aided the shift to holistic care, Hartshorn says. According to Heartbeat International, up to 80 percent of abortion-vulnerable clients who see their babies or hear their babies’ heartbeats through ultrasound choose life. Nearly a third of the nation’s 2,300 care centers can give ultrasounds, Hartshorn says.

“This service is really attractive to a woman who is considering an abortion, since it is a diagnosis of pregnancy,” Hartshorn says. “At the same time, she can see her growing, developing baby and hear the baby’s heartbeat, which helps her bond to that baby.”

Another growing medical service within pregnancy care centers is prenatal care and nutrition education, a program the Pregnancy Care Center has offered since it first opened in 2000.

“More than 1,000 young women have attended six 30-minute sessions on nutrition,” Boston says. “Out of all of those, not one has had a low-birthweight baby.”

A unique medical service connected with Elizabeth New Life Center is Holy Family Pediatrics in Dayton, Ohio.

“It’s wonderful for our clients to have a godly pediatrician who’s willing to take them in as Medicaid patients,” Koob says. “It’s another way we honor, support and value people. They deserve the best pediatric care, and we’re able, by the grace of God, to provide it.”

Hartshorn says fatherhood programs are another valuable service more pregnancy care centers are starting to provide. In the past when men came into a pregnancy care center, they often just sat in the waiting room.

Guys for Life, a nonprofit organization in St. Louis, assists pregnancy care centers in starting men’s programs. Last year, Guys for Life launched a national fatherhood program, and by May, Director Kurt Ramspott says 58 pregnancy care centers will have received training.

Pregnancy Care Center in Springfield became the first center Guys for Life partnered with under the national fatherhood program. In the program’s first year, more than 160 dads received mentoring at the care center.

“We realized that these young men didn’t really understand the fatherhood role, and if we could make that clear and give them some tools, we could dramatically decrease the amount of abuse and neglect in our community,” Boston says.

According to a survey Ramspott conducted of 100 care center directors, 71 said men are the greatest source of pressure for women to have an abortion.

Another key factor influencing a woman to undergo an abortion is if they previously had one. Half of all abortions involve women who have had at least one previously, Hartshorn says.

“If we’re not actively reaching out to them, trying to provide healing, they will have additional abortions,” Hartshorn says.

In an effort to minister to the hurting as well as prevent future abortions, many care centers, including Elizabeth New Life Center and Pregnancy Care Center in Springfield, recently began offering postabortion recovery groups.

Though many may see the holistic care as needed, it’s understood that crisis intervention takes priority when resources are limited.

“The most important part of the mission is to serve women who might be abortion-minded or abortion-vulnerable, and provide the resources that are going to help them make a life decision,” Koob says.

As baby Ilena, a 14-pound bundle of joy, learns to crawl, mother Mariesa Ho, now a college graduate, is grateful for the choice she made.

“It’s not easy, but I would not trade it for anything,” Ho says. “I look at her face in the morning and can’t imagine how horrible my life would be without her."

JENNIFER McCLURE is assistant editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at

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