In November 2013, Pope Francis reiterated the Catholic Church’s unwavering commitment to protect the unborn, while at the same time expressing the need for Catholics to “accompany women in very difficult situations” (Evangelii Gaudium, 214). The Holy Father’s position challenges the Church to continue reaching out with compassion to women considering abortion and offer positive alternatives.
For nearly twenty years, policies have been in place that successfully meet the Holy Father’s challenge. In 1996, for example, Pennsylvania enacted the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program. This program provides necessary support to women in crisis pregnancies from their child’s conception through twelve months of the child’s life. It reimburses eligible service providers, such as pregnancy resource centers, social service and adoption agencies, and maternity homes on a fee-for-service basis. These service organizations provide women with pregnancy counseling, prenatal health information, parenting support and education, and necessary care items such as clothing, diapers, and formula. Real Alternatives, a pro-life organization that has operated the Pennsylvania program, maintains a hotline number to direct women to their nearest eligible service provider for the services they need.
Since the program’s inception, over 228,000 women have been served in Pennsylvania through over 1,140,000 visits. Additionally, a similar program has been created in Texas called the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, which has served over 71,000 women over the course of seven years. Clients in these states have shown a higher number of doctor visits, regular infant care pediatric appointments, and increased immunization rates. The rate of abortion has also decreased in these states during this period of time. All of these outcomes should be applauded, as they uphold the dignity of the human person, including the unborn, by protecting mothers and promoting healthier lives for the children.
Speaking about the program, Kevin Bagatta, who heads up Real Alternatives, said, “It has been so gratifying over these years that so many women who were alone and facing a crisis pregnancy had another person to assist them and empower them to overcome obstacles and pressures so they could choose life for their preborn baby.”
Based on the success of these services in Pennsylvania and Texas, Michigan Catholic Conference was pleased to see a similar program created by Michigan lawmakers in the 2013–2014 Michigan Department of Community Health budget. With an initial starting budget of $700,000, lawmakers demonstrated a willingness to support necessary and life affirming services that help women in crisis pregnancies. Moving forward, it is important for Michigan to continue to expand this program to include a greater number of qualified service providers and create greater awareness throughout the state to assist women and their unborn children.
A common concern for women who choose abortion is feeling like they have no place to turn to when they are faced with an unexpected pregnancy. Through the hard work of pro-life organizations in Michigan, such as pregnancy resources centers, social service and adoption agencies, and maternity homes, women in search of support can “discover new hope and find assistance” so they do not feel they are facing pregnancy alone (Evangelium Vitae, No. 88). These organizations seek to eliminate the obstacles that make abortion seem like the only option, and they allow women to see there are individuals who care about them and their unborn child. Real Alternatives looks to build on the successful work that these groups are doing and will walk with women in need through difficult times.
For more information on the work of Real Alternatives, watch a short film about the success of the program at www.RealAlternatives.org/film or call for more information at 717-541-7832.