LOS ANGELES — As the pro-life movement looks for positive responses in the wake of the Planned Parenthood videos, two national pro-life organizations have combined efforts to provide women a cutting-edge and holistic health-care alternative to the abortion giant.

Both The Guiding Star Project and Obria Medical Clinics announced a partnership that would broaden each other’s reach and ability to serve women (and even men) during their fertile years. Both nonprofit organizations have complementary models — completely in line with Catholic teaching on life and the dignity of the person — for how pregnancy-resource centers can expand the services they offer to their clients and save many more lives.

“We need real, comprehensive care for women, and we need them in pro-life centers across the country,” said Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood director-turned-pro-life advocate, who serves on both Guiding Star’s board and Obria’s national advisory board.

Guiding Star Centers are meant to be a “one-stop shop” where a woman can find the services she needs for her fertile years in one convenient location. From the different approved organizations located in a Guiding Star center, a woman can find her well-woman care, OB/GYN and birthing services, pregnancy-support resources, natural family planning education and fertility care, pharmacy needs, counseling, grief support, adoption resources and even spiritual care with a chapel. The center also includes drop-off child care, so mothers can drop off their children, go to their appointments or have a few hours to themselves to socialize and relax.

But the challenge for Guiding Star’s expansion was finding doctors and nurses to provide the medical services in their centers whose practice and ethics would be in line with Catholic moral teaching.

“We need centers that feel more community-based and more medical,” said Leah Jacobson, president and founder of The Guiding Star Project. “We know women want this — they’re contacting us daily.”

The partnership with Obria now solves that problem. Obria Medical Clinics allow pregnancy-resource centers to expand their services by transitioning to a medical model offering fully accredited medical services (including pregnancy tests, STD treatment, RU-486 reversal, ultrasounds, prenatal care, cancer screening and natural family planning instruction), comprehensive programs both before and continuing five years after birth, and Obria’s business, marketing and technology support. Now, within every Guiding Star center, an Obria Medical Clinic will be there.

The first Guiding Star center to make the transition will be Guiding Star Tampa in January.

Kathleen Eaton Bravo, founder and CEO of Obria, said the partnership is a “dream come true” that brings together “the best of both worlds.”

 “We’re going to really make sure that people do not fall through the cracks,” said Bravo, explaining that this was a way of making good on the pro-life promise to accompany women and their families before, during and well after pregnancy.

Bravo told the Register that Obria has six medical clinics currently operating in Los Angeles and Orange County. The nonprofit is currently in serious discussion with 17 groups across the country about becoming Obria affiliates, and it anticipates opening another 10 to 15 more Obria Medical Clinics by the end of 2016.

“We actually are offering hope and an alternative, where a woman can come in and get what she’s looking for in terms of health care,” she said.

Under the agreement, Obria will work with each local Guiding Star affiliate to bring an Obria Medical Clinic inside each Guiding Star Center within two years or another agreed upon time frame.

Guiding Star currently has three affiliates, one of which currently has a fully operational center in Tampa. The next two centers will be opened soon in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth in Minnesota. The partnership removes a major obstacle for the Duluth and Twin Cities affiliates, which were held up establishing their Guiding Star Centers due to the lack of a provider for the medical services.

Jacobson told the Register they have a dozen other groups that have expressed high-level interest in becoming Guiding Star Centers and at least three dozen additional inquiries on top of that.

 

Need for Innovation

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit abortion research center associated with Planned Parenthood, 1.06 million women obtained abortions in 2011, with 89% of abortions happening in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and one-third of them happening in the first six weeks. Approximately 60% of women who have had an abortion already had one baby. According to Guiding Star and Obria, these statistics affirm their own experience that women need more sustained support than just ultrasounds alone to help them make the choice for their babies’ lives.

Johnson said that Planned Parenthood, which accounts for 40% of the abortion market, has a business model that builds relationships with its clients before they seek an abortion. Planned Parenthood reported 2.7 million clients in 2014 accessing services, including STD tests, contraception and well-woman care, with up to 12% of clients obtaining abortion services.

“Our goal at Obria is to make sure that women come to us first, so they never darken the door of a Planned Parenthood facility,” Johnson said. “We want to be that first point of contact.”

She explained that Obria’s medical professionalism and excellent care are complemented by the Guiding Star model.

“At Guiding Star, we’re really experts in providing care outside of that medical model,” she said, referring to the emotional, physical, spiritual and financial support services from the center’s other providers. This continuum of care sustains the relationships they have with their clients.

The goal of both organizations is not to “replace” pregnancy-resource centers, but to expand the services they can offer and make it all available in a convenient location.

Guiding Star in turn receives Obria's technology platforms designed to increase patient traffic, its online telemedicine program, abortion-pill reversal services and best practices in electronic health records, medical service reimbursements and raising funds.

In addition to the comprehensive reproductive medical care, Guiding Star also benefits from having Obria’s new parenting classes (“Beginnings”), fatherhood initiatives (“The Dad’s Project”) and post-abortion healing support (“Abortion Changes You”). 

“We have the same heart and same kind of mind: We want to provide services not just at the time of crisis, but well before they even find themselves in a crisis pregnancy, so we can prevent that crisis from happening in the first place,” Johnson said.

Bravo added that the partnership brings added value to all parties involved: to Obria, to Guiding Star and to the pregnancy-resource centers that are at the heart of each Guiding Star center. As a result, Bravo said the combined efforts will attract more donors, who are hungry for positive change, to back the whole project for the benefit of all.

Bravo said since the brand change in February from BirthChoice to Obria, the number of patients served increased 42% — 12,000 patient services — with a 28.4% increase in new patients by Sept. 30. They saw an increase of 25% more babies saved over the past fiscal year — a number that Obria determines by verified births. More than 1,100 women are in the parenting program.

Now, an Obria clinic in a Guiding Star center will be able to do more for its clients by being able to send them across the hall to nutritionists if they are not eating right or to marriage and family therapists if they have relationship issues that need help.

“It’s the most beautiful next step that is coming from this new generation of young women who know what women are looking for,” Bravo said.

 

Research Points to Expansion

Both Guiding Star and Obria are among a number of pro-life organizations that have realized that pregnancy-resource centers have an opportunity to reach more women and families by providing the services and brand recognition that many women and men say they want.

Illuminating new research (available by request) from the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), “Turning Hearts Toward Life II: New Market Research for Pregnancy Help Centers,” provides insights into what women (and the men in their lives) are looking for.

Chuck Donovan, president of CLI, the pro-life research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the research shows a “strong desire for more medical services at pregnancy-help centers (PHCs).”

“Fifty-four percent of women, and almost as many men, indicated that having a doctor available to provide examinations was the most valued service PHCs can offer,” he said. “The next two services in importance were the availability of a nurse and diagnostic services.”

“This is a powerful endorsement of the trend among PHCs, generally, to pursue medicalization, and this trend can and should be accelerated,” he said.

Branding was also important to approximately three-quarters of the women and men surveyed in the research. While pregnancy-help centers had universal popularity, they had “very limited brand identification.”

“Marrying these two factors would be very beneficial in a mobile nation like ours,” Donovan said.

Donovan said the big picture for pregnancy-help centers is that the medical industry pressures cost-cutting by shortening the time patients spend with medical providers, which “flies in the face of what women and families want.”

“That’s why new efforts of all kinds to strengthen the medical resources of PHCs and expand on the existing options and networks are so exciting,” he said.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, agreed.

“For years, Planned Parenthood has posed as a trusted health-care provider for women and girls, while building up an abortion-centered enterprise. Obria and Guiding Star are providing a much-needed medical alternative,” she said. “It is encouraging to see them grow and complement the larger pregnancy-resource center network, which is the heart of the pro-life movement.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the Register.