ALISO VIEJO, Calif. — After years working for a major telecom corporation and then running her own packaging and labeling firm, Kathleen Eaton Bravo decided to put her business acumen to work in a new arena: the pro-life movement.
“I realized we had to compete with the abortion industry,” said Eaton Bravo.
She launched Birth Choice as a pregnancy-resource center in 1986, but 21 years later converted the three existing sites into fully licensed medical clinics that provided — in addition to pregnancy tests and some prenatal care — screening for cervical cancer and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
“When I started doing that, a lot of people said, ‘She’s lost her vision,’” said the Orange County, Calif., resident. “But I knew we had to look upstream and figure out what is the root cause of these kids who are broken and sick and in a crisis pregnancy [or who] have an STD.
“By serving the young couple coming into the clinic, we will also save more babies. And it has proven true.”
In Birth Choice’s five Southern California clinics and one mobile clinic, 11,682 pregnancy tests, 7,066 ultrasounds and 7,707 STD tests were administered from 2006 through June 2014. In that same period, 5,817 babies were saved from abortion.
Now, Eaton Bravo is taking Birth Choice Health Clinics to the next level, and a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is helping her do it.
Her vision is to partner with faith-based health clinics to form collaborative primary-care clinics that will serve the poor — and offer an alternative to abortion. The grant from CCHD — $500,000 per year, renewable for up to five years — is making that shift possible.
Birth Choice’s grant is part of a set of strategic national grants that allow CCHD to fund projects on a broader geographic level, said Ralph McCloud, CCHD director. This type of grant is a new initiative emerging from the U.S. bishops’ in-depth 2010 review of CCHD, a department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
“It was born because they wanted to approach poverty and some of their priorities in a broader geographic area, look at dynamics affecting the family and how poverty affects families,” said McCloud.
The Catholic Challenge
Begun in 1969 as the National Catholic Crusade Against Poverty, CCHD has provided nearly $332 million in grants to more than 10,000 groups across the country since 1971. Its funding is nearly all received from an annual collection in Catholic parishes across the United States and is distributed to low-income community organizations working in areas including immigration reform, economic justice and access to health care and education.
Selecting grantees whose programs are worthy of funding, and whose work falls squarely within the parameters of the teachings of the Catholic Church, is “a challenge,” McCloud admitted.
Many screening mechanisms are in place to help ensure that recipients of CCHD grants are not working against — or involved with organizations that work against — the teachings of the Church. Would-be grantees must submit a pre-application, for instance, in order to receive an invitation to apply. Prior to applying for a grant, each applicant must be approved by the bishop of the diocese in which the organization serves.
For Eaton Bravo, a strong relationship with Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange has been key to moving forward with the next iteration of Birth Choice. “If it was not for Bishop Vann, we would not have gotten the CCHD grant,” she said. “He endorsed it all the way up to the bishops on the committee.”
Bishop Vann, who last month became the first member of Birth Choice’s national advisory board, has assisted Eaton Bravo in scheduling meetings with other area bishops into whose dioceses she hopes to expand. “I am truly blessed to join the National Advisory Board of Birth Choice as its founding member,” Bishop Vann said in a July 28 press release. “I am inspired by the work of this organization in addressing the social, economic and health-care access issues that have contributed to a culture and environment where the sanctity of human life is often not cherished.”
This close involvement with the local Church is another factor behind what could add up to $2.5 million in CCHD grant money for Birth Choice.
“We rely extremely heavily on the local Church, the local folks who understand a whole lot better what’s going on,” said McCloud.
Still, problems with CCHD-funded organizations, or with those organizations’ affiliations, do crop up.
In 2010, for example, a Maine social-service center was asked to return $17,400 in CCHD funding because of its support for same-sex “marriage.” And this summer, CCHD cut off funding to Oregon’s Voz Workers’ Rights Education, which had received CCHD grants since 1994, because the group refused to sever formal ties with La Raza, a national organization endorsing marriage redefinition.
In 2010, the USCCB undertook a thorough “review and renewal” of the CCHD, a process beginning “with its Gospel mission and ... deeply rooted in its Catholic identity, especially traditional Catholic principles of respect for human life and dignity, priority for the poor and participation, subsidiarity and solidarity and strengthening family and building community,” the executive summary of the review-and-renewal report explains.
Resulting from the process were the "Ten Commitments for CCHD’s Future," which include better ensuring that “CCHD funds will not be used to support any activity which conflicts with fundamental Catholic moral and social teaching.” Another commitment is to give priority to the Catholic parishioners, parishes, CCHD directors and grantees that participate in CCHD’s mission, and another is for the CCHD to "link its activities more directly to the priorities of our bishops’ conference, specifically defending human life and dignity, strengthening marriage and family life and reflecting and celebrating the diversity of our Church and nation.”
Birth Choice’s grant application checked a lot of requirements and desirable elements for CCHD, from its heavy involvement with the local Church and its pro-life mission to its focus on expanding services to low-income areas and the Catholicity of its founder.
“CCHD wants to help [at-risk] communities do better. Birth Choice saw that and made a change in what they were doing to accommodate that,” said Kathleen Domingo, life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where Eaton Bravo hopes Birth Choice will serve. “As a [pro-life] movement, we need to recognize that we’ve not been meeting the needs of women as well as we should have been, and we’ve not been promoting ourselves as well as we should have been.”
Summed up Domingo, “I think they’re onto something.”
Register correspondent Elisabeth Deffner writes from Orange, California.