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 option.
“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 depression.
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 abortion businesses.
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 1-800-SUICIDE permanent.
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 1-800 number?
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 public hearings.
“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 said.
“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 owner.”
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 quickly.”
Sue Ellin Browder is based in Willits, California.