Unplanned pregnancies have not stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, and neither has abortion, some proponents of the latter even suing to be able to ply their business as the world navigates the virus outbreak.
While abortion does not rest during this time, nor does Heartbeat International, and its affiliates have not ceased in serving those facing unplanned pregnancy. Heartbeat and its network have stepped up to meet the needs of women, children and families amid the current continually changing situation - just as prior to the pandemic.
The coronavirus has meant adaptation but not cessation of pregnancy help, as those in the ministry get creative and persist in saving and supporting lives.
Some pregnancy help organizations (PHOs) have seen an increase in abortion-vulnerable women and men, and also greater need for material assistance, as many people are without work and wrestle with fear for the future. And amid increased contact volumes for Heartbeat’s crucial Option Line (OL) service, Option Line is still there to support women, as is Heartbeat's Abortion Pill Rescue Network.
An estimated 50 of Heartbeat’s 2,900+ affiliates had temporarily closed their doors earlier in the outbreak of the virus. Some 18 or so have remained so for the time being. This is not without good reason, such as having a notable percentage of volunteers coming from at-risk demographics or experiencing a death directly connected to the center.
Those many centers that are in operation have implemented protocol adjustments and additions, such as streamlining staffing, suspending some volunteer activities, more frequent cleaning, and screening clients for potential virus symptoms prior to in-person meetings.
As with much of society right now, technology is key in the centers’ providing many services to women and families. Consultants are often meeting and checking in with clients by phone or otherwise virtually. Centers are hosting training for staff and classes for clients via webinar and employing social media posts to communicate more than ever.
Key in the pregnancy help centers’ continued services are medical appointments and counseling, along with provision of material needs, which is where much of the creativity is also employed.
Diaper banks, grocery funds, shipments or delivery of diapers, wipes and grocery gift cards are some of the efforts on the part of PHO’s to serve families in need.
Many centers have previously had online baby registries for their greatest needs. Building on this idea during the current situation, some pro-life organizations have organized a national effort to help fulfill those registries. That initiative is called #SpecialDelivery! Individuals who wish to take part by supporting their local pregnancy help organization can locate the closest PHO through Option Line.
This is an extraordinary time, said Heartbeat International President Jor-El Godsey.
Godsey said that the number of closed centers had dropped was, “Good news as more of our friends find footing for their services.”
Heartbeat continues with information gathering in this ever-changing time, he said.
“Our teams have had their ears to the ground gaining insights on the federal directives (CDC), legislation (Cares Act/PPP) and more,” said Godsey. “We've translated that and learning from "the field" into the increased communications and engagement.”
Heartbeat International hosted an unprecedented three consecutive days of webinars to support the pregnancy help community in mid-March as things were ramping up with the pandemic in the U.S., The series of trainings covered center services, messaging to donors and moving forward during uncertain times. A fourth webinar on housing followed shortly thereafter.
Heartbeat’s Annual Conference is also taking place this week, despite across the board lockdown orders across the country. The largest such gathering of its kind, the conference was converted from a traditional on-site event to a virtual gathering amid the pandemic - all in the last few weeks - so Heartbeat could still provide the comprehensive training and programming received by so many in the pregnancy help community each year.
Betty McDowell, Heartbeat’s Vice President of Ministry Services, said that Heartbeat has fielded many questions about COVID-19 from medical policies and procedures to HR issues and opportunities.
“Not only have we needed to learn a lot but then get the information out to the community,” she said. Articles, webinars, answering emails and calls.”
“We have lots of prayer requests, as so many people serving in the movement have been directly affected by the sickness and the restrictions placed on their state,” McDowell said. “A lot of the information we felt orgs needed was and still is changing by the hour so the need to learn and teach has not let up.”
Despite this, many pregnancy help leaders have contacted Heartbeat to give positive reports about how they have adapted in these uncertain times, she said.
“While we have seen the pregnancy help orgs grow and become more creative in this COVID season, so have we!” McDowell said. “COVID has made us better, more effective, more efficient and more dependent on God. No place we would rather be.”
Maternity homes are open and "doing" life
Maternity housing has its own set of unique circumstances amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the homes have continued to serve women, Heartbeat’s Housing Special Mary Peterson said.
“Homes are open and doing life!” she told Pregnancy Help News.
The big immediate challenge was that many homes opted not to accept new clients as a protective measure for the current clients, she said.
“In order to continue to serve, some interesting options have popped up,” Peterson said.
One home has parked an RV in the driveway -- after 14 days of quarantine in the RV, non-symptomatic moms can move in. A few homes and at least one shelter have also negotiated long-term stays with hotels in order to welcome new women, she said.
There are also some efforts to begin to serve moms with food or other supplies in their current living, even if a home is not able to provide housing.
“We are watching with interest to see if reduced abortion access or increased economic instability results in increased need for housing,” said Peterson.
Like many households, homes talk about all the down time for residents as increased potential for restlessness or boredom, she added, so there is a lot more attention given to activities
Peterson said that Heartbeat is also planning a series of Zoom "Power Conversation" around the issues that are arising.
Heartbeat's Mission Advancement team is reaching out to folks more than ever, said Cindi Boston-Bilotta, Vice President of this Heartbeat division, increasing written and personal contacts.
“People need to know the mission continues,” Boston-Bilotta said, pointing out that both Abortion Pill Reversals and Option Line contacts are up.
“We are also asking donors to let us know their prayer needs,” she said. “We have a running prayer sheet that we use to pray from every morning. Donors are touched by our interest.”
"It's been inspiring to witness our Life Launch centers respond to this season of great change with faith and compassion”
As Heartbeat International’s Life Launch Grant Program Specialist, Sara Littlefield assists pregnancy help center start-ups in under-served parts of the U.S. Littlefield said those new centers that were currently operating at the outset of the pandemic have continued to serve their clients with modified services.
“We’ve even had one center open their doors for the first time in the midst of the global pandemic,” she said.
"It's been inspiring to witness our Life Launch centers respond to this season of great change with faith and compassion,” said Littlefield. “Life Choices Resource Center of Roane County, TN, has even gone so far as to open its doors for the first time, showing their community that they are there to help - season in and season out.”
The center’s director told Pregnancy Help News that opening day was quiet, “but God gets all the glory!”
Throughout all that is occurring in the pregnancy help movement during the pandemic is the common thread of prayer and dependence on God.
"We love serving up some hope in the midst of it all"
“We have some incredible things God is doing in and through this time,” Valerie Millsapps Executive Director for Pregnancy Resource Center in Maryville, TN, told Pregnancy Help News.
The center is seeing clients by appointment only, its Embrace Grace Bible study has been moved to Zoom virtual meetings, and its mobile medical unit is being used for diaper/wipes giveaways as they have supplies.
Millsapps said they’ve had ministry partners drop off diapers and snacks, and new givers join the center.
A couple gifted a car to one of the center’s moms who is about to have her baby, after she’d been praying for God to come through on her car situation.
Millsaps’ center posted a photo of its key staff; executive director, client volunteer coordinator, nurse manager, advancement specialist, and the administrative assistant/bookkeeper – all in masks – on all of its social media platforms.
The caption for the posts read:
We may have to mask up, wear gloves, take temps, and more when serving our brave mommas right now. We know that one thing is for sure and that is nothing changes our mission. We love serving up some hope in the midst of it all. Thanks to incredible ministry partners for making masks for us!
“I am extremely thankful for what God is doing despite COVID-19,” Millsapps told Pregnancy Help News. “The news can be doom and gloom, but God is at work despite anything we go through, or as I say grow through, in life.”
“We can use these times as setbacks or we can use these times as opportunities,” she said. “What a great reminder during this Easter season. We need to remind ourselves that, “’Not my will but yours be done during this time.’ And really, anytime.”
Tweet This: “We can use these times as setbacks or we can use these times as opportunities”
“We can see God’s hand everywhere we just have to trust Him and His plans that He has for His ministry,” added Millsapps.
Internationally, Vesna Radeka, executive director for Choose Life Center, Serbia, wrote to supporters in an email that the center was taking part in distribution of food to clients, driving clients to doctor appointments, and providing on-line counseling.
“For Choose Life Center this is the time in which we had to consider the ways to help our clients, in the context of police curfew, and declared state of the emergency,” she explained.
“We have prepared many parcels of food and diapers packages in the last two weeks, and we have delivered them to their homes,” Radeka said. “They are so grateful!”
“We as a team need to be very flexible, and open for change in how we do things,” she said. “We are using skype and phone calls to talk to our clients, and we do text them a lot.”
“We believe that this situation has brought new opportunities as it deepened our relationships with our clients,” said Radeka.
Tweet This: “We believe that this situation has brought new opportunities as it deepened our relationships with our clients”
Pregnancy Help Australia President Lara Wyngard commended her organization’s center leaders who have sought “innovative and creative ways to continue supporting clients online utilizing technology.
“Many of us (myself included) throughout the years have been slow to embrace technology,” Wyngard said. “But, right now, we are called to step up swiftly into a newness! We are called to be flexible, to bend and embrace the new (learn how to use new technologies), rather than hold on to old ways and run the risk of breaking service provision completely.”
"What keeps us going is a deep sense of calling"
Heartbeat International’s Director of Option Line Nafisa Kennedy said OL’s role has become even more critical during the pandemic.
“We are standing in the gap in a different way,” she said. “Our consultants are doing more in-depth peer counseling than is typically required for our calls.”
Many among the staff for the 24/7 bilingual contact center have faced hardship due to COVID-19, including loss of a family member, lost jobs or income.
“But what keeps us going is a deep sense of calling,” Kennedy said. “Now more than ever, we realize what a precious gift life is, and we count it a privilege to help our callers make life-giving decisions.”
OL has adapted as hundreds of pregnancy help centers across the globe have been affected in some way, providing extra compassion.
“We have increased shifts, and those additional needs have been met by part-time consultants temporarily filling in to support our efforts,” said Kennedy.
Amid higher contact volume, some extra time with callers and additional training, OL has been able to maintain its high answer rate.
“I am extremely proud of the enthusiasm and prowess with which Option Line consultants continue serving clients during these uncertain times,” she said. “God knew this was coming, and He put together this group of servants for such a time as this. We are grateful to be used by Him.”
Editor's note: Heartbeat Intentional, which manages Option Line and the Abortion Pill Rescue Network, also manages Pregnancy Help News.