When Peggy Hartshorn heard the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision announced on the radio on January 22, 1973, she thought this can’t be happening.
“I just felt the Lord say, ‘You’ve got to do something,” Hartshorn said.
That was the beginning of a journey that would lead to the creation of the largest pregnancy help network 50 years ago.
Heartbeat International is celebrating 50 years of supporting pregnancy help organizations in 2021, with special observance of the anniversary at its Annual Conference.
Hartshorn, former Heartbeat president and long-time Board president, addressed the crowd assembled for the Annual Conference Thursday with a look back over the last 50 years.
“Despite all the ups and downs, it's been a wonderful experience,” said Hartshorn.
“It is a phenomenal 50 years of what God has done when ordinary people answer His call,” she said. “And, you know the old saying that He doesn't call the equipped, he equips the call - that's the story of our history.”
Hartshorn talked about what has and has not changed in the pregnancy help movement in the last half-century, what is essential, and imminent challenges.
“Essential” was the theme for the 2021 Annual Pregnancy Help Conference.
Heartbeat had converted its 2020 Conference to completely virtual when the coronavirus hit last year. The 2021 event was featured both a virtual conference and a return of the signature in-person event, the theme drawing on the term often used during the pandemic to describe certain types of workers while also conveying the critical nature of pregnancy help.
"God has truly blessed our network"
Hartshorn ran down how the first USA-based pregnancy help center association was formed with Heartbeat founders Dr. John Hillabrand and Lore Maier, joined by Sister Paula Vandegaer. Then named Alternatives to Abortion Incorporated (AAI), Heartbeat’s formation began amid liberalizing abortion laws in 1971.
OB-GYN Hillabrand having said that he had delivered 10,000 babies and never lost a mother illustrated the pregnancy help community’s care for pregnant moms, Hartshorn said, underscoring the spirit of the pregnancy help movement - offering support and care for both mothers and babies.
“We were founded by the people on the ground that were already doing pregnancy help,” she said.
Things ran on a mostly-volunteer basis for Heartbeat at first, with Hartshorn in charge and the sole employee for years. Training materials were sent to affiliate centers in boxes in the early days via the U.S. mail.
Hartshorn discussed adapting again and again over the decades as the two political parties, friendly to pregnancy help and not, would gain and then lose the White House.
The organization’s office was housed in the office of Pregnancy Decision Health Centers (PDHC), founded by Hartshorn and her husband Mike, who had housed young women in need in their home.
As staff was added over the years, Heartbeat International President Jor-El Godsey would join the organization in 2006 as vice president, Hartshorn calling him, “a phenomenal addition” to the staff.
From there Hartshorn explained how Heartbeat modernized along with technology, medicalized, the ongoing trend of pregnancy help centers becoming medical clinics, and mobilized, taking pregnancy help out of the brick and mortar.
“So, we modernized, we medicalized we mobilized,” she said, “and we are serving the marginalized in even better ways.”
“We’re also optimized at Heartbeat,” Hartshorn added, listing varied Heartbeat products.
“And this is all because God has truly blessed our network,” she said, also lauding the work of Abortion Pill Rescue®, Heartbeat’s on-line Academy and 24/7 pro-life contact center Option Line.
“It’s just phenomenal what God has done,” said Hartshorn.
Tweet This: “It’s just phenomenal what God has done" -Peggy Hartshorn on the life-affirming success of the pregnancy help movement over the last 50 yrs
While optimizing, Heartbeat was also internationalizing as well.
“Now we've got 2,900 affiliates in 79 countries,” she said.
When Heartbeat’s founders published the first worldwide pregnancy help directory in 1972 there were 100 locations listed, she recalled, and half of those were people saying they were going to start a center.
“There were, I believe, five or six in Canada and one in New Zealand,” said Hartshorn. “So, looking at the growth, it's absolutely amazing.”
Hartshorn asked audience members to stand as she asked how long they had been serving in pregnancy help, going through separate decades from the 70s through the 2010s.
Noting the difference in the technology of record-keeping, instruction, advertising, and pregnancy testing from the beginning to now, Hartshorn said of the past, “it was very interesting.”
Many things have changed in the last 50 years, she said, but what has not changed is what is essential.
“First of all,” Hartshorn said, “the vision is essential and has not changed.”
God's power is essential, she said, because Heartbeat’s founders did not do what they did out of their own power.
“So, remember, the power is not in the latest technology,” Hartshorn said. “See how our technologies become obsolete. So don't place your trust in iPads, ultrasounds, data analysis, and Google ads. Those too will pass.”
“God is the power behind what we do,” she stated. “So, remember, God is the power, you are essential.”
“You are essential” she continued. “Whether you're the person working with a client, administering or leading the ministry, the person raising the funds, the person giving the funds, a support person for someone, whatever role you are playing - You are essential. Servant leadership is essential.”
“Remember, Jesus is our model, never lording over anyone,” Hartshorn told the Conference. “If your Savior and Lord has done this for you, He said, you are to do likewise when you wash the feet of His disciples.”
“So, servant leadership is essential, and Heartbeat is essential,” she said. “Heartbeat is our network - that's you - and lots of other people who are not here today that are part of our network. It's absolutely essential.”
“Heartbeat is essential too,” she added, “because we're helping with the collaborating, so that we can come together, so we can learn, so we can encourage - despite our different names and models and ways of doing things.”
“And even though there are other affiliations that we have,” Hartshorn said, “Heartbeat is a home for every organization that provides life-affirming alternatives to abortion… So, being unified, linking arms, suffering together, celebrating together Christians of all expressions - better together.”
Amazing, fast-changing, volatile, unpredictable
Hartshorn offered that now is the most amazing, fast-changing, volatile, unpredictable period of the pro-life movement she had lived through; with chemical abortion, the flip-flops in Washington, the NIFLA v. Becerra case, attacks on abortion pill reversal, losing the battle of public opinion on marriage, gender issues and more people identifying with no religion.
“America seems to be losing our core values,” she said, “reverting into a more violent and even pagan culture.”
And her reaction is the same, she said, as when she saw the Roe v. Wade verdict come down - not believing what is taking place in her country.
“But to me, it's so crucial what's happening in our country,” Hartshorn said.
This is because the number of abortions is down significantly, she said, the number of abortion facilities is also down considerably, and the number of pregnancy help organizations is larger than ever before.
PHOs are giving women a vision of who they are as women, she said, helping them to envision their sexuality, their relationships, and changing families.
“We're changing the culture,” said Hartshorn. “And we're building a culture of life when we are doing that.”
Hartshorn said she believed the challenges in the world today are bringing Christians together, making the pro-life movement more effective, and people are “getting it” about abortion. Will they then get it about marriage between one man and one woman? she asked, and how God created us male and female?
“So, pregnancy help is bigger and better than ever before,” Hartshorn said. “Let us persevere and keep going. Let us raise up the next generation of leaders. So when the time is right, we pass the baton on to them.”
“Let's not become weary in doing good or at a proper time,” she told those gathered for the Conference. “The proper time is God's time. We will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Amen. Good. And let us do this together.”