Texas heartbeat bill revives pro-life enthusiasm
Churches and pregnancy centers report an increase in volunteerism and financial support
At Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas, 28-year-old Tia Stelzer has volunteered since 2019 as a mentor for pregnant women and new mothers. Stelzer has long been passionate about the unborn, but having her own children showed her how difficult motherhood can be even in a supportive, stable situation. A few weeks ago, she drove a mentee to a Dallas hospital and sat with her in the NICU, chatting while the woman held and fed her premature baby.
The number of expectant mothers served by the large nondenominational church’s Life Initiatives unplanned pregnancy ministry has grown from fewer than 10 in 2019 to about 30 on average today. The number of Watermark members volunteering as mentors and taking an eight-part training program (including topics like “Abortion 101” and “The Call of the Mentor”) has increased, as well. For the first time in her memory, Stelzer said Watermark has a surplus of trained mentors, “eight women who are just on deck waiting to be paired with a mentee.”
The bump in volunteering came last year amid widespread discussion about Texas’ heartbeat law, a measure that took effect last September and protects unborn babies from abortion once they develop a detectable heartbeat, usually at about six weeks of gestation. Abortion advocates are seeking to overturn the law in court. But at Watermark and elsewhere, reports from ministry leaders suggest at least some Texas churches have seen a renewal in assistance for pro-life ministry since the law’s passage.
The demographics of expectant mothers who apply for Watermark’s Life Initiatives ministry have changed, possibly as a result of the law. In the past, applicants were typically further along in their pregnancies, often in the second or third trimester. Recently, many women have applied while only in their seventh or eighth week of pregnancy. Mentees are primarily referred through Watermark Health, the church’s medical ministry with urgent care clinics that offer free medical services in the Dallas area.
At the church’s annual Life Initiatives Forum event last fall, it gathered about 50 pro-life leaders and stakeholders from the Dallas–Fort Worth area to discuss the anticipated effects of the heartbeat law, as well as its shortcomings. Bruce Kendrick, director of the church’s pro-life ministry, said in an interview that one drawback of the law is it can lead people to think life begins when a baby has a detectable heartbeat “when we know it begins at fertilization.” Still, he said the law has helped the church understand alternative ways women may seek an abortion—out-of-state or through mail-order pills online—if they cannot obtain the procedure at brick-and-mortar facilities in Texas.
The heartbeat law has also inspired Texas churches to step up their help for pro-life pregnancy resource centers. The directors of the Raffa Clinic in Greenville and Hope Women’s Resource Clinic in Beaumont both told me they’d seen an increase in local church support since the law passed.
Threesa Sadler, the executive director at Raffa Clinic, has seen more interest from long-time supporting churches and from new ones. She used to send out Facebook posts or emails to donors about the clinic’s needs, but says she has done that less frequently lately: “The needs are still there, but we’re seeing more support on a regular basis to keep our shelves stocked.”
Crosspoint Fellowship, a Baptist church in Greenville, has supported Raffa for more than 10 years. Elder Mark Hutchins said the church recognized “that if the law were to pass it would present an opportunity for the church to step up to the plate to help these mothers in need.” When it did, he said, Crosspoint decided to add a “substantial” increase in its assistance for Raffa in its 2022 budget. The church is also providing volunteers to the clinic and donating needed supplies such as diapers.
Sadler referred to the pro-life cause as an “Old Faithful” issue in the church that often gets put on the back burner. The heartbeat law seems to have revived awareness. As Texas congregations look for new ways to serve pregnant women, Sadler said, “that just shows me that the Lord is working and gathering His people. He’s stirring their hearts to take action on this.”
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