“Stacy” nervously sat in the lobby of a Chicago-area abortion clinic. The wait was longer than she expected, and the more she waited, the more anxious she felt. She started scrolling through her phone, looking for other options, and came across the website for Caring Network Illinois. She made a phone call.
“She was feeling vulnerable (sitting at the abortion clinic),” said Barbara Singer, president emerita for Caring Network. “One of our counselors advised her to come to the center – it was a six-minute drive – and told her, ‘I’ll be here waiting for you.’ When she arrived, she talked with the counselor and had an ultrasound … and she chose life!”
Caring Network Illinois consists of six pregnancy centers in the Chicago area which offer a variety of services.
Those include, though are not limited to, providing pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and material goods assistance, sharing the Gospel of Christ with women and connecting them with local churches, and offering after-abortion care.
The mission to help women in the western suburbs of Chicago who experience unplanned pregnancies started nearly 40 years ago.
What began as one center in 1981 expanded to two in 2000, three the following year, and four more during the past ten years. Number six opened just last year. That growth has helped alleviate a large obstacle.
“We saw there was a 10-mile travel barrier, and we didn’t want women traveling more than ten miles,” said Singer, who led the organization as president for 20 years. “We’re determined to see a dramatic decrease in abortion in DuPage County.”
Nearly 1,500 abortions take place in the county annually, according to the Network’s website. With a population of nearly 923,000, DuPage County has ranked in the top five for the number of abortions in Illinois.
“Abortion destination of the Midwest”
Abortions in the state take the lives of nearly 40,000 unborn babies every year.
In 2019, the state legislature passed, and the governor signed a sweeping pro-abortion law. In part, the measure says a pregnant woman has a “fundamental right” to an abortion and that a "fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights." It also repealed the state’s ban on partial birth abortion. Abortion advocates hailed the law.
“It overturned 40 years of abortion law,” Singer said.
The response from Caring Network Illinois?
“We just continued to grow,” said Singer.
Another aspect of the law, according to Singer, allowed the reporting of state abortion statistics to cease. Therefore, the last report from the Illinois Department of Public Health is from 2018. That report shows more than 5,600 abortions of the more than 42,400 abortions reported in the state that year were performed on non-residents.
“States around us are keeping their abortion restrictions … even before the expansion (in Illinois), so we see a lot of out-of-staters,” Singer said. “We’ve become the abortion destination of the Midwest.”
Comparatively, more than 38,400 abortions were performed in Illinois in 2014 with just under 3,000 done on out-of-state residents. However, the report also shows the resident status of more than 2,200 women was unknown, compared with only 60 unknown in 2018.
Making an impact amid COVID
Caring Network Illinois’ location expansions reach more women in the area who are vulnerable to abortion. The offering of ultrasound, which began in 2002, also makes an impact.
“Diana” was being pressured to abort when she came into a Caring Network Illinois center.
“The ultrasound image impacted her so much, she put the image on her phone as a screen saver,” Singer said. “She stood strong and carried her baby to term.”
The network’s pregnancy help endeavors have been supported by the organization’s board, staff, and donors.
“Our financial partners are absolutely amazing!” Singer said. “They’re so excited and in love about what God is doing – they are true partners. We couldn’t do this without them.”
Despite the onslaught of COVID-19 this year, Caring Network Illinois continued diligently serving mothers in need.
“We remained ministry-minded, and we remained open during COVID,” Singer said. “Everyone cooperated; we pulled together as a team.”
Medical services continued to conducted done in-person, and pregnancy counseling went virtual.
“We looked for ways to meet the needs of women,” she said. “We did not see a drop-in pregnancy counseling on Zoom. In fact, it’s allowed us to serve in-state and out-of-state women. It’s helping us expand to underserved areas.”
Envisioning the future
As Caring Network Illinois rolls into its 40th anniversary, plans are underway to celebrate, including a banquet next fall. The scheduled keynote speaker is former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Open houses throughout the year are also planned, Singer said.
“We’re going to be celebrating what God has done, and we’re going to celebrate early,” she said.
An endeavor to find a new leader for Caring Network Illinois is happening as well. Singer serves part-time as president emerita; pastor and former board member Kirt Wiggins currently serves as interim director.
Singer believes her work in the pregnancy help movement was destined by God.
“It was God’s calling on my life,” she said. “When I see a baby on a mom’s hip, that makes it all worthwhile. The gentle love of our counselors leading someone to Christ makes it all worthwhile. We are missionaries, including our medical staff – they are medical missionaries.”
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That missionary mindset helped the staff meet the COVID crisis and pushes them toward another future goal.
“We are looking to move into suburban Cook County, an area with thousands of abortions each year,” Singer said.
Although there are no concrete plans for this additional expansion, she said it’s a vision the organization holds onto.
“The growth is not done – we’re looking to take the next hill,” Singer said.
* Photos are courtesy of Cara Jung of the Caring Network, except the photo of Barb Singer, which was provided by Singer.