APPLE VALLEY, Minn. — “When I first found out I was pregnant I didn't want the baby,” says the pre-recorded message on the Her Choice telephone system.
“I went to the Robbinsdale Women's Center by mistake. (The women's center is across the street from an abortion clinic.) They helped calm me down and bombarded me with options other than abortion. I was able to see what a beautiful baby I had through their ultrasound machine. Well, to make a long story short, I didn't have an abortion.”
The voice continues, crying now. “After Hannah was born she was brought to my room. It hurt me to think that I could have made the decision to kill her, my perfect little girl wouldn't be here if I had gone to the other side of the street where there was an abortion clinic. If I hurt that badly over something I could have done, I can't imagine how other women must feel who actually go through with it.”
That story, and more than a dozen others like it, is part of a grassroots pro-life effort that has now spread to four cities across the country. If founder Paul Laursen has his way it will spread to every diocese in the country.
The innovative telephone information system allows the caller to select any of many choices simply by pressing a number on the telephone keypad.
Callers can listen to a variety of pre-recorded testimonies, including those by women who have chosen abortion, those who have chosen to give birth to their babies, testimonies from men, abortion facts and related talks such as Mother Teresa's presentation at the National Prayer Breakfast several years ago.
Following the testimonies, a 24-hour hot-line number for the Alpha Women's Center is provided for those women who desire to talk to a live counselor or have more specific needs.
“Over the past three years,” says Laursen, “the Twin Cities system has received an average of 175 calls per month. The system provides a forum where post-abortive women can talk to pre-abortive women anonymously. This has not existed since Roe vs. Wade.”
What is now an effective pro-life telephone information system originally started out six years ago as The Catholic Connection, a 24-hour-a-day telephone information system that provided homilies from local priests, information about upcoming events, abortion testimonies, daily confession times, perpetual Eucharistic chapels and other information of interest to Catholics.
Laursen received generous support from his local Knights of Columbus council and the pastor of his parish, Father George Welzbacher, to start the system and begin advertising it.
“When Paul first came up with the idea, I described it in some detail to Archbishop Harry Flynn. He was very enthusiastic and gave permission to use his name to endorsement it,” explained Father Welzbacher of St. Nicholas Catholic Church in New Market, Minn. The parish contributes $100 a month towards the telephone service. “We support it because it gives the real picture from people who know tragically from the inside what abortion does,” commented Father Welzbacher.
The New Market, Minn., Knights of Columbus council, of which Laursen is a member, recently donated $15,000 from the sale of its “House for Life” — a home built through the voluntary efforts of the council to raise money for various pro-life organizations — to support the system.
“Two or three years ago I received a call from the Archbishop of Atlanta inquiring about the program. I gave it the strongest recommendation I could,” added Father Welzbacher.
Phones Ringing in Atlanta
With the support of Archbishop John F. Donoghue and Msgr. Hugh Marren, Patty Steele, executive director of the Human Development Resource Council, set to work getting a similar system established in the Atlanta archdiocese.
“The program appealed to me very much because it places no pressure upon a person, said Monsignor Hugh Marren, of St. Benedict Catholic Church in Duluth, Ga. “It is merely people sharing their experiences. Those contemplating abortion are free to call the number and listen to the joys and regrets of others sharing their experiences. It's completely anonymous.”
“The Archbishop gave it his blessing,” Msgr. Marren continued, “and so we went ahead with it. We didn't know whether we would receive 1 call or 10 calls.” Since it began, two years ago, the Atlanta Her Choice system has received between 300-500 calls per month.
“We do not know how women decide,” added Msgr. Marren, “but we do know of one woman who thanked us for helping her make her choice to give birth to her child. I feel the system was worth it for that call alone.”
Whereas the Twin Cities system routes calls to one local pregnancy center, Her Choice Atlanta has customized the system so that it provides information on 35 different area pregnancy centers, and routes interested callers to whatever center has mentors available.
The information system in Atlanta has been supported by the Knights of Columbus as well. The council in Atlanta recently donated $3,000 from a Christmas tree fundraiser to support the system.
Both Laursen and Steele said that the system requires little to operate. “The cost to run the system is pretty nominal. Two incoming lines cost about $100 per month and the initial setup is about $400. The program runs in the background on any Windows computer,” explained Steele.
The program is also being used in Flint, Mich., and Boise, Idaho — and will soon be in Des Moines, Iowa.
Both the original Her Choice and the Atlanta system advertise in the Yellow Pages under abortion alternatives, and also through billboards and fliers. “There are 14,000 abortions in Minneapolis annually,” said Laursen. “We don't know what women who are calling into the line are deciding, but we do know that we reach 175 each month.”
Laursen knows of at least two women who gave their babies the gift of life. They later contacted the Alpha Women's Center to express their thanks for the system.
“One out of four women in this country have had an abortion, they are the key to winning this battle, they have not been heard” said Laursen. “If post-abortive women, who cannot be stigmatized, can come forward in large numbers, abortion laws can be overturned. People know there have been millions of abortions during the past 28 years, but they don't hear the pain caused by abortion. That pain comes through dramatically in these testimonies.”