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For Kathleen Eaton, founder and CEO of Birth Choice Health Clinics, a regretted abortion prompted her to be a voice for life.
BY Jim Graves
40 Days for Life is under way through Oct. 31 in 238 locations in the U.S., Canada, Australia, England, Northern Ireland and Denmark. Witnesses to life are many, including Kathleen Eaton, founder and CEO of Birth Choice Health Clinics, a faith-based, pro-life organization that provides free medical services and education to pregnant women and their families. Eaton received the 2010 Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award from Legatus, an organization for Catholic CEOs, last February. Fellow award recipients included President George W. Bush and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.
“It was a great opportunity to tell President Bush about how funding we received through his faith-based initiatives helped our clinics,” recalled Eaton, who has been a Legatus member since 2007.
Kathleen currently oversees six Birth Choice clinics (BirthChoice.com) in Southern California, including a new mobile clinic. Since their founding in 1985, the staff of the clinics has led thousands of abortion-minded women to choose life. She knows firsthand the tragic consequences abortion can have on women’s lives, as she herself had one in 1981, a decision she deeply regrets.
“I was told it was a blob of tissue and believed that once I had the abortion life would go back to normal,” she said. Now Eaton strives “to uncover the darkness of the abortion industry.”
Her mission in life is “to compete for the lives of women and their children — both born and preborn.” Birth Choice’s role is to tell women in a supportive, loving way that they have options and provide resources to help them choose life.
Eaton grew up Catholic. She worked for AT&T, married at 19, and had a son. She enjoyed financial success; by 28, she had already bought her third house. Her Catholic faith was not important to her. She remembered, “I was wrapped up in my job and making money. I was on a fast track to a lucrative promotion.”
But her marriage struggled, and she separated from her husband. While separated, she became pregnant by another man. She thought abortion was her only choice: “I couldn’t bear the thought of telling my parents I was pregnant by another man.”
She sought help from two organizations her Birth Choice clinics now are in competition with: She took a pregnancy test at Planned Parenthood and had her abortion at Family Planning Associates. The only information she received was a quick presentation on what the abortion entailed, with no counseling about the option of keeping her child.
She scheduled her abortion one morning at a clinic located near her work, planning to return to work that afternoon. The father of the child drove her to the clinic, but that was the last time she ever saw him. Nearly 30 years later, she has vivid memories of the clinic: a big room with dirty mattresses where women were taken to recover after they had their abortions. Many of the women were crying. She remembers exiting the facility, sitting in the parking lot and crying.
Recovery Leads to Outreach
Her recovery included going to confession and taking part in a naming ceremony for her aborted child. Believing she had a boy, she named him Toby. Years later, she opened Toby’s House, which provides women in crisis pregnancies with temporary housing while they have their babies (TobysHouse.org), in his memory.
Then came Birth Choice. She took over direction of a Birthright Pregnancy Resource Center in Mission Viejo, Calif., and renamed it Birth Choice.
Today, Birth Choice’s clinics offer free pregnancy testing, STD testing, ultrasounds and parenting services. Two clinics offer prenatal care. Each clinic is strategically located near an abortion clinic.
In 2009, Birth Choice received more than 11,000 patient visits; many of those were from abortion-minded women. In its 29 years of existence, Birth Choice has served 50,000 women.
Jennifer Borba, director of program services, explained, “Our goal is to offer women a safe, loving environment and let them know they have options other than abortion.”
Volunteer Carol Walsh noted, “We’re there because we care. To some girls who come from unloving backgrounds it’s unbelievable to them that anyone cares about them. But we assure them we do.”
Crucial to Birth Choice’s success has been the addition of ultrasound technology, including four new 4-D ultrasound machines put into use this year, which allow women to see life-like images of their children in the womb.
When the clinics were merely pregnancy-resource centers and did not offer medical services, about 10% of the abortion-minded women were persuaded to choose life. With the ultrasound equipment, that number has increased to 75%. The ultrasound machines were a gift from the Knights of Columbus.
Birth Choice does not promote the use of contraceptives. Eaton stressed, “We’re an abstinence-only organization. It always works. And for those single women who have had sex before marriage, we encourage them to embrace a second virginity.”
The clinics are funded mostly by private donations. In the last two years, donations have dropped 40%, so fundraising is ongoing. As Eaton noted, “I believe in miracles. I manage to pay my bills every month.”
Now widowed with grown children, Eaton devotes herself full time to her apostolate. “It’s my job to go out and be a voice for the unborn. Before every time I speak, I say a simple prayer, ‘Thy loving will be done, Lord.’ I love what I do.”
Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.