“Disbelief.” That’s how Shelley Lewis, executive director of the Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center in Little Rock, described learning the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in this country.
“It actually happened,” she said of her initial thoughts, but soon her feeling of joyous relief was replaced by an immediate onslaught of questions.
“What now? What does that mean for us? What does that mean for the abortion clinic next door? And what does that mean, more specifically, for our clients?” Lewis wondered.
Founded as a Catholic ministry in 1977, APC provides pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, non-abortive options consultation, community and medical referrals, parenting classes, abortion pill reversal treatment and after-abortion support. The clinic does not perform or make referrals for abortions. All services are free.
The federal court's reversal of Roe pushed the legality of abortion to the states and immediately triggered Arkansas Act 180 of 2019, which bans abortion in all cases, except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency.
Nearly half of the states, including all surrounding Arkansas, have put abortion restrictions in place, requiring those seeking the procedure to travel to a clinic in a state where it is available. Out-of-state clinics require traveling patients to get an initial pregnancy screening and ultrasound to determine how far along they are in order to schedule an appointment. That’s lead to new realities and a surge in business for pro-life pregnancy centers like the APC and Heart to Heart Pregnancy in Fort Smith.
“We’re seeing more women who are coming in who are abortion-minded, more so, even abortion determined,” Lewis said. “Not only is abortion on the table for them; it is their primary option that they are considering, more so than ever. They won’t really talk with us about options, make a lot of eye contact or make follow-up appointments.”
Lewis said building trust with clients has been harder since the June 24 Supreme Court decision, so they have altered terminology to help build rapport when talking with patients.
“We don’t use the words legal or illegal anymore,” she said. “We use the words available and not available. With a term like illegal being used, it makes people close off to talking to anybody about what they’re actually considering. When it was legal in Arkansas, people were more apt to talk about it because they didn’t fear any kind of retribution. But now, they’re hearing the term illegal and all of the sudden it makes them not only feel ashamed of what they’re choosing but that they’ll be prosecuted in some way, even though that’s not true.
“They’re afraid if they tell you that you might have to report them in some way. It put up a wall between us and our clients, so we changed how we discuss options in the counseling room.
“Spirituality, it’s harder because we have seen more and more closed off clients. People aren’t being forthcoming as they used to be, so it’s a little harder to read the situation or truly know if we’re helping someone,” she said. “But the good news is, if abortion clinics are driving them to go somewhere locally that means we have more of an opportunity to see abortion-minded clients. We didn’t have as many before. We relied on chance, misdirection from Google or mostly divine providence — people accidentally walking in (thinking they were going to the abortion clinic next door). But now they’re being driven somewhere local and, of course, they’re going to go somewhere where they can get it free. So, the ability to see more abortion-minded clients, because they need that ultrasound, really helps us get in front of more women.”
Lewis and Catherine Phillips, the Diocese of Little Rock’s respect life director, said the way pro-life pregnancy centers are operating is evolving and both are hoping they can expand services in the future.
“The ministry of the pregnancy centers is really valuable, and they’re still there to help people just like they have,” Phillips said. “Certainly, the change in abortion laws hasn’t changed the difficult circumstances that women and their families face when they have unexpected pregnancy, a difficult pregnancy or just really hard circumstances to start with. They still need financial stability, safe housing, medical care, educational opportunities. Those needs haven’t changed, and pregnancy centers can help them with that.”
Lewis said organizations like hers used to be known as pregnancy crisis centers but are now referred to as pregnancy resource centers.
“In the past, it was managed as a crisis,” Lewis said. “And though it is a crisis, feeling as something that needs appropriate resources is the approach that has helped us best.”
Being able to provide a continuum of pre- and postnatal care is one of her goals.
“What we’d like to see is a center that can provide well-woman visits on a regular basis, maybe a mental health professional that can accept appointments and a coaching program can provide them a one-on-one experience,” she said. “What it will take to get there is support from the community, not only monetary support because monetary support can definitely help when you’re looking at adding medical professionals and the insurance that we have to protect those medical professionals, but we would need strong community support, outside of the monetary support, people that are willing to help. That's the world I’d like to really to see”
Phillips said she envisions increased community partnerships between parishes and pregnancy centers to provide the care and services needed to properly bring a child into the world.
“Really comprehensive prenatal care, that’s not something that pregnancy centers really provide,” she said. “I hope to see more of a focus from our parishes, which have always been great partners and supporters. Women with an unexpected or challenging pregnancy need a welcome where they feel they're not alone. They need empowerment, but they also sometimes need transportation, childcare or resources. We really need to surround these women with the help and support they need.”
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