Just before Kerri Williams’ last day on staff at Hands of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center in Tucson, Ariz., a woman about her own age came into the center looking for help in the aftermath of aborting her unborn child.
After participating in a post-abortion support group, the woman shared that if she’d known about Hands of Hope before she resorted to abortion, she felt that she would have chosen life for her baby.
That got Williams thinking, even as she was leaving the center’s staff to become a stay-at-home mom with her first baby: How many women near her were likewise unaware of the help available in an unexpected pregnancy?
“What really got me was, being pregnant, it made the situation feel so much more real,” Williams said. “So I just felt really burdened for that and I had a couple of other friends who are also stay-at-home moms who were feeling the same thing.”
As she prepared to give birth to her baby and transition into her new role at home in early 2016, the client’s statement haunted Williams. So did the absence of a woman-centered pro-life presence outside of Tucson Women’s Center—a Planned Parenthood affiliate that lists only two services on its website: abortion and the abortifacient morning-after pill.
One pro-life group of sidewalk counselors, “Life Tucson,” prays outside the clinic on a regular basis, but free speech challenges have hindered the effort in the past. Roy Spears, a member of Life Tucson, challenged this push back in court in December 2014 and ultimately confirmed that the sidewalks surrounding the abortion clinic were public property.
The clinic itself is tucked into a medical complex, creating another obstacle to on-site intervention.
“When we found out it was legal for us to stand on the sidewalk, the gears started turning in my mind,” Williams said. “I was thinking about it a lot more, and then one of my co-workers and I actually attended a rally on the sidewalk in front of the clinic. I just thought ‘It's so easy to stand here. It's so easy to be out here.’ We wondered why we hadn’t done it sooner!”
That initial visit to the abortion clinic marked the unofficial launch of Pro-Love Tucson, which is now made up of a number of stay-at-home moms and other volunteers who commit time each week to take a compassionate stand for life in front of the abortion clinic.
Rather than holding signs with graphic images, Williams is incorporating principles she learned on staff with Hands of Hope, addressing the needs of the women who feel abortion is their only choice. Williams and her team prepare gift bags to hand to the women going into the abortion facility that include love letters and jewelry inscribed with words like “Courageous.”
“We are pro-woman… our desire is to meet each client’s emotional needs in a relational and personal way, because we genuinely care about her and what she is going through. We don’t judge her for considering abortion; our hope is just to listen to her and love her through the decision making process and beyond, no matter what she decides.” They also offer gift bags for post-abortive women as well as Fathers.
Partnering with “And Then There Were None”—founded by former Planned Parenthood manager Abby Johnson that helps abortion workers leave the industry—another goal of Pro-Love Tucson is to reach out to Planned Parenthood employees, offering friendship and a place to turn.
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“We’re not out there to argue or protest,” Williams said. “We’re out there to offer compassionate peer counseling. We don’t want to ever force our convictions on somebody, but it’s our convictions that tell us to provide compassionate support for them.”
Even in its beginning stages, Pro-Love Tucson’s outreach is already making a difference, says John Tabor, president and executive director for Hands of Hope.
Early in 2017, two young women on their way into Planned Parenthood stopped and talked with Pro-Love volunteers. When one of the young women said she hadn’t decided what to do if she was pregnant, a volunteer invited her to Hands of Hope for a free ultrasound—which Planned Parenthood likely would have refused to give without aborting her child.
The young woman canceled her appointment at Planned Parenthood and drove to Hands of Hope, which has been serving the community since 1981 and reaches 2,000 clients every year.
“She arrived at Hands of Hope and was able to see and hear the baby’s heartbeat,” Tabor wrote in an email to supporters. “She fell in love. Before leaving her appointment, she picked out a pair of yellow baby booties because they would be, ‘a good color for either a boy or a girl.’
“Love is powerful. When our clients see their baby for the very first time, squirming and full of life, on that ultrasound screen… love happens.”