In the wake of a bill introduced in Congress that could threaten the life-saving work of crisis pregnancy centers, congressmen on Capitol Hill this week got a chance to listen to key members of a pint-sized constituency whose lives were profoundly touched by such centers.
Four moms and three children – two of them babies – went to the Longworth Congressional Office Building on Wednesday as part of Heartbeat International’s 6th Babies Go to Congress event. They arrived to tell their stories of how crisis pregnancy centers helped them see new options other than abortion, and to show off the smiling faces whose lives were saved in the process.
One mother told congressmen the story of how an ultrasound obtained through her local crisis pregnancy center made her realize her tiny daughter’s humanity – and helped save a life she had felt pressured to end. “I had no idea it was a baby. I really thought it was just tissue and was just blown away that she had a head and arms and legs,” said mother Danica Fountain.
“I just want members of Congress to know how important these centers are and they’re so good for our community and our country,” said Fountain, whose daughter Elia, now 8, came along for the trip.
The mothers and pregnancy center representatives who participated said that their message had been well received by several congressmen.
Earlier this month Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) announced that they would introduce a bill to force crisis pregnancy centers to clearly advertise their lack of abortion services.
The “Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act” is strongly backed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood, who have complained that such centers often position themselves near abortion clinics and attract potential customers.
However, the bill has been descried by pro-life groups and pregnancy care centers as a transparent attempt by abortion providers to protect their bottom line, and to prevent women from considering alternatives to abortion.
Crystal Berger of Sioux City, Iowa, is one woman whose personal story is a testament to the need for pregnancy care centers and the alternatives they offer. She came to Washington this week without a little one in tow, because she had chosen to give her up for adoption – a choice she said she does not regret. “Knowing what it took to raise a child, I wish I could say I was strong enough … but I knew I did not have it in me to handle another child, and not have the father present,” said Berger, who became unexpectedly pregnant with a second child at 22 years old. After the Alpha Center of Sioux City offered her guidance, she found an adoptive family with whom she keeps in touch, and is able to visit her child.
Reps. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) greeted the moms on their first day at the Capitol. The next morning, the group visited the offices of Rep. Stephanie Sandlin (D-SD), Steve King (R-IA), and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI).
Terrie Thompson of Chicago, IL brought bright-eyed baby Savannah, 1, on the exhausting trip – but says she was glad to have made the effort. “I was nervous, but so far the trip has been really wonderful,” said Thompson, 38.
The young faces even attracted an unexpected admirer: Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) stopped to greet Savannah on the way to his office a few steps away.
Other congressmen on the docket included Reps. Randy Forbes (R-VA), Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ); Senators included Sens. Jeff Fortenberry (R-LA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Jacquelyn Payne, 31, arrived from Virginia Beach, VA to tell the story of how she overcame the fear that her unexpected pregnancy would dash her hopes of maintaining her career and completing her college education.
“I was afraid, I was afraid of losing my great position in my great firm, I was afraid of not being able to get my degree, I was afraid of failing my son who’s 11, and which I made those sacrificial decisions in the first place, and disappointing my family, my friends, my coworkers and peers,” said Payne. She had decided to get a secret abortion before meeting with pro-lifers outside the abortion mill, who handed her information describing other options.
“The [abortion] facility was cold. They offered to or not to get an abortion: you either get in this line or you don’t. And I knew it wasn’t right,” said Payne, whose son Zuri Alexander, now eight months, dozed peacefully on her lap.
A volunteer at the Keim Center of Virginia Beach helped Payne see things differently. “She took four hours of her day to listen to me, a strange person out of the world, and she gave me all the emotional and moral support that I needed: she didn’t judge me, and I wasn’t afraid anymore,” she said. Having maintained both her career and her college plans, Payne now says that “everything has actually been blessed because of the pregnancy.”
On her decision to come to Congress, she said: “I didn’t know if my one little voice would make such a huge impact, but I knew I at least want to try to make a change where I could to help people … the way that I’ve been helped, selflessly. I’m very confident that us being here is making a big difference in the way they’re thinking.”
Yvonne Mackey, the director of the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Tidewater, praised the attentiveness of one congressional office to the stories of women who had been helped by crisis pregnancy centers. “Who else better can share the services of the centers than those who have actually used the services?”