Pro-lifers minister to panicked women in Texas
With most babies now protected, pregnancy centers step up to take care of mothers
On a busy Tuesday at the Fifth Ward Pregnancy Help Center in Houston, a young woman burst into the lobby holding up a picture of the abortion pill on her phone. Screaming and crying with tears streaming down her face, she demanded, “I want this! Give me this!” The flustered staff ushered her into the conference room with the center’s executive director, Shayla Gaitor, who sat down across from her at the table and asked her what was wrong. As the woman vented, she slammed her hands on the table and sometimes almost launched at Gaitor. “Just give me the abortion! I want the abortion!” she yelled.
Gaitor said she eventually learned the woman had seen something on television about the state’s new heartbeat law, which would go into effect the next day, making it illegal to obtain an abortion after a baby has a detectable heartbeat. Thinking she was pregnant, the woman rushed to the pro-life center where she had received help while pregnant with her now 1-year-old son, frantic to get an abortion out of fear that having another child would break her already fragile financial situation.
The center staff gave the young woman a pregnancy test. It came back negative. She calmed down, and the staff had a chance to pray with her. They sent her away with diapers and wipes for her 1-year-old.
But Gaitor said that experience was a wake-up call.
Clients usually don’t arrive at the center until about noon, but that morning three had already shown up before the center opened at 9 a.m. She said some had come because they were considering an abortion and were in a hurry to know how far along they were. Call volume to her center and an affiliated one in downtown Houston had already increased from women saying Houston abortion facilities were no longer accepting appointments. While none of the other patients that day were as frantic as the young woman, Gaitor recognized something similar could very well happen again with a different outcome. “To me it was like, okay, this is what you have to prepare for because the next one could be pregnant. You know, the next one could have a positive test. You’re still going to have to do the same thing and minister.”
After the law took effect on Wednesday, some centers said they saw no change in their numbers, but Gaitor and other pregnancy center directors across the state said they saw a definite increase in clients. Some women came specifically because of the new law, and some, like Gaitor’s client, were angry. While pro-abortion groups continue to raise a national outcry by spreading fears about the law’s consequences, pregnancy center staff are excited about the babies and mothers the law might save.
On Aug. 30, pro-abortion groups filed an emergency petition to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to block the law from taking effect Sept. 1. When the Supreme Court declined, Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson called the situation a “travesty.” Adriana Piñon with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas in the same news release bemoaned that minority and impoverished Texans would be “forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will.” Whole Woman’s Health president Amy Hagstrom Miller said her clients were “scared and confused.”
“Undoubtedly the abortion industry filed this emergency petition in the Supreme Court in order to posture to the court about Roe and abortion rights,” said Steven Aden with Americans United for Life. He said abortion groups reacted dramatically to the new Texas law as a warning about the effects of driving abortion businesses out of states. The Supreme Court is set to review Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States, in an upcoming case about a Mississippi law that protects unborn babies after 15 weeks of gestation. Aden said the drama likely won’t spook the justices, but it has touched the public.
ABC News covered the desperate efforts of one Whole Woman’s Health facility in Fort Worth, Texas, to abort as many babies as possible on Aug. 31 before midnight. The staff said it completed 67 surgical abortions and about 50 follow-up appointments for drug-induced abortions, performing the last procedure at 11:56 p.m. A normal day sees closer to 15 and 20, respectively.
“It was a pure push to get everyone that walked in that door yesterday completed before 11:59 p.m.,” said Marva Sadler, the director of clinical services.
Hanah Wranosky, 21, felt pushed to take the abortion pill during her second visit to the Alamo Women’s Reproductive Clinic on Aug. 25, a week before the law took effect. After her first consultation at the facility, she said, she wasn’t sure she wanted to abort. But her boyfriend encouraged it, so she went back the next day to take the first part of the abortion pill cocktail. She was surprised when the facility staff ushered her into a room with about 15 or 20 other women and gave all of them the abortion pills at once, telling them to take them in front of the staff. (An online Google review of the facility from about a year ago showed that the staff followed a similar routine in the past, not just in the days leading up to the heartbeat act.)
None of the women were making eye contact or talking to each other, but Wranosky watched to see when most of them took the pill. She swallowed hers quickly so she could leave.
“They take your payment before you even take the pill, and it’s like $600,” she said. “We don’t have extra $600 laying around. So that’s how I felt, too. It’s like, oh I’m very deep into this. I already paid them my money, so there is no turning back now.”
Wranosky cried during the three-hour drive home to the Corpus Christi area with her boyfriend. The next day, she contacted a local pregnancy center and found out about abortion pill reversal treatment. By the end of the day, she had started taking two progesterone pills twice a day in an attempt to halt the effects of the first abortion pill she had taken. A week later, her baby still has a heartbeat.
The pregnancy center that helped Wranosky is one of four locations of the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend. Executive Director Jana Pinson said that particular location saw a nearly 100 percent increase in services last week compared to the same time last year. On a normal Saturday, they usually don’t have any appointments booked in advance and take in three or four walk-ins. On Friday, they already had seven appointments booked for the next day.
At the Downtown Houston Pregnancy Help Center and its sister center in Houston’s Fifth Ward, where Shayla Gaitor calmed her frantic client on Tuesday, call volume to the center started increasing on Monday. The two centers performed a total of 96 ultrasounds between Monday and Saturday. Sylvia Johnson-Matthews, the CEO of the Houston centers, said they normally perform 100 ultrasounds in two weeks. She said she has seen other women come in angry, believing the new law has taken away their rights. Other center directors have seen that same anger, but they’ve also seen ultrasound images change the minds of families who wanted abortions. Other women have felt relief when they learn about the free services the centers offer.
“I have to be honest with you. We’re loving this,” said Johnson-Matthews. “This is what I’ve practiced for 36 years for.” A few directors cried when I asked them about how they felt about the new law. Heather Jones, the director at a small pregnancy center in Port Lavaca, said she wakes up crying. “It’s amazing that it actually has happened,” she said. “We don’t know if the Supreme Court is going to say something different, but for now, for this season, the fact that abortion is illegal after a heartbeat is detected is something I don’t know that I ever thought I’d see in my lifetime, and it’s just—it’s beautiful.”
Aden with Americans United for Life says that the law is unlikely to stay in place for long. “I think it’s only a temporary victory because I don’t believe the law will be found enforceable by Texas state courts,” he said. “But for now, it’s having a really beneficial teaching effect. … It is teaching all that the state values life, and reaping the benefits of that saves lives.”
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