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A national suicide hotline, 1-800-SUICIDE, is in danger of being placed permanently in the hands of a center that refers pregnant girls to abortion businesses.
BY SUE ELLIN BROWDERREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON — A toll-free suicide hotline was founded to
honor a woman who committed suicide after an abortion. Now the phone number is
in the hands of a New York City agency that helps channel young pregnant
mothers in crisis to Planned Parenthood’s abortion businesses.
The story is as disturbing as it is heartbreaking.
Kristin Brooks, 28, suffered from bipolar and borderline
personality disorders. When she became pregnant in 1998, her moods stabilized.
She was so happy she was able to go off her medications.
Tragically, the unborn baby was diagnosed as having 20
serious birth defects. The doctor offered an immediate abortion as the only
“I wish she’d had more time and more options presented, but
that was not the case,” H. Reese Butler, Kristin’s husband, recalled.
They were sitting in a restaurant when Kristin felt the baby
stop moving. She told her husband, “Our baby just died.”
For months after the abortion, Kristin’s moods seesawed from
depression to mania. Back on her medication, she ended up in a psychiatric
ward, where she committed suicide by hanging herself with an electrical cord.
Butler was left grief-stricken, begging God to help him
understand why his beloved wife and baby were dead and he was alive.
One day he received his answer. He felt called to honor
Kristin’s memory by starting a toll-free hotline devoted to preventing suicide,
particularly among women battling post-abortion depression and post-partum
With funds from his late wife’s life insurance and the sale
of their home, he set up 1-800-SUICIDE, the first national suicide hotline in
the United States.
Owned and operated by the Kristin Brooks Hope Center, the
hotline served as a central switchboard to connect callers to crisis centers
all across the country.
1-800-SUICIDE met a deep need. Today the hotline receives
and routes 400,000 to 500,000 calls a year, with no advertising.
But Butler no longer runs it.
In 2001, he made the mistake of accepting a federal grant
set up specifically for 1-800-SUICIDE through legislation sponsored by Sen. Ted
Kennedy, D-Mass. From day one, the federal government grabbed for control.
Last year, the federal government confiscated 1-800-SUICIDE
and gave it to the Mental Health Association of New York City, through which
pregnancy-related calls are routed almost solely to Planned Parenthood’s
An estimated 10% of the calls pouring into 1-800-SUICIDE
come from girls and women struggling with crisis pregnancies. This means that,
thanks to Uncle Sam, approximately 40,000 to 50,000 pregnant young mothers a
year are now being routed to abortion businesses as their sole resource.
New York City is known as “the abortion capital of America.”
The federal government’s confiscation and transfer of
1-800-SUICIDE to a New York City agency was done with no public hearings and no
due process. And in meetings starting this week (March 3-7), the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) may be about to decide to make the transfer of
Concerned citizens watching the situation warn that if the
taking of 1-800-SUICIDE becomes final, the decision could set a dangerous
precedent and threaten other non-profit 800 numbers.
“The confiscation of 1-800-SUICIDE is a terrible precedent
for organizations that are providing a care line,” said Peggy Hartshorn,
president of Heartbeat International, the world’s most expansive network of
pro-life pregnancy resource centers.
“If the federal government begins to take ownership of some
of these missions — and would even confiscate a 1-800 number — that just cannot
be allowed to happen,” Hartshorn said. “It’s urgent that the government’s
illegal confiscation and transfer of this 1-800 number be stopped.”
Why would the federal government confiscate a nonprofit’s
In documents obtained by the Register, officials at the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration (SAMHSA) told the FCC they needed to take over the line
on an “emergency” basis to serve the public interest because Butler could not
pay his phone bills.
1-800-SUICIDE was not already disconnected. Rather, SAMHSA
argued there was a risk of it being disconnected. This risk alone was said to
constitute a danger to desperate callers seeking help. SAMHSA claimed it was
“urgent” for them to take control of the line immediately, with no time for
“In fact, the hotline was about to be discontinued on a number
of occasions, and the federal government stepped up to the plate to make sure
those phones were answered for the public good,” said Mark Weber, SAMHSA
director of communications. Weber referred to the situation at the time as “a
public crisis in the making.”
On Jan. 22, 2007, FCC gave SAMHSA temporary control of the
line for one year. That period has now been extended to April 20.
But Butler says the people at SAMHSA misrepresented the
facts. He claims to have documented evidence his phone bill was being paid, but
neither SAMHSA nor the FCC looked at his financial records.
“The hotline was in no danger of being disconnected,” he
“This is not just any number. It’s a very valuable number,”
Hartshorn said. “People thinking about suicide or who know someone
contemplating suicide wonder if maybe there’s a suicide 800 number. They dial
1-800-SUICIDE, and bingo! — there it is. As long as SAMHSA controls this
number, they can have 400,000 calls a year coming into their mental health
network with no advertising. That may explain why they want it.”
In reply, Weber stated: “That must be Ms. Hartshorn’s
opinion. I would suggest that she go to the FCC’s website,” where many pages on
this case are posted. “It seems to me her opinion is not totally informed by
all the information that’s available.”
Butler said the Brooks Hope Center is financially stable.
Butler is about to close a deal to operate 1-800-SUICIDE for a reasonable
1.8-cents per minute. A private donor has also pledged $100,000 — to be paid
directly to the telephone provider — which will prepay the hotline’s phone bill
for a year.
“We can go into SAMHSA and the FCC today with a prepaid
phone bill for the next 12 months. There is absolutely zero risk of that line
being shut off,” Butler said.
Nonetheless, SAMHSA has petitioned the FCC to assign the
number to them permanently.
“The FCC should not rule on SAMHSA’s motion for permanent
reassignment until they’ve first ruled on our motion to give us back our
lines,” Butler said. “The law is totally on our side. There is no precedent for
what SAMHSA is doing.”
An FCC official familiar with the case who asked to remain
anonymous said, “We cannot comment on when the commission might act on this
except to note that the temporary reassignment is set to expire April 21.”
A grassroots movement has sprung up to urge the FCC to make
a timely and just decision.
“We’re asking everyone who cares about life to call the FCC
this week to protest the federal government’s unjust confiscation of this
hotline,” Hartshorn said.
Chris Slattery, founder and president of Expectant Mother
Care pro-life pregnancy centers in New York City, said, “I think it’s great
news the pro-life movement is trying to restore this 800 number to its rightful
Butler has been under fire to save 1-800-SUICIDE for nearly
eight years. The battle has drained his energy, time and money.
Stressing the urgency of the need for the FCC to act now,
Hartshorn added, “This administration is ostensibly pro-life. An Obama or
Clinton administration won’t be. This needs to be resolved and resolved very
Sue Ellin Browder is based in Willits, California.