WASHINGTON — Pro-life pregnancy centers focused on helping women through unplanned pregnancies have had to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, while continuing to serve women in need.

Local centers and national pregnancy-center networks have switched to virtual resources and found creative ways to ensure that expectant moms get resources while following social-distancing guidelines.

The Northwest Center, a nonprofit founded in 1981 by Georgetown University students and alumni, operates both a maternity home and a pregnancy center in Washington, D.C. Susan Gallucci, the executive director of Northwest, told the Register how the center has continued to serve their clients in this pandemic.

“We have been more virtual; mainly phone calls, some emails,” she said. “Maria Meli, the pregnancy-center director, goes in once or twice a week. She will have material assistance — diapers, wipes, formula, baby food; she’ll know when people are coming and then step outside and do a hand-off on the sidewalk, or no contact, if they prefer that, with families.”

“Normally, clients would come in as often as once a month; and during that appointment, we’d talk about their next prenatal appointment, the baby, where the baby’s sleeping, any other needs,” Gallucci said. “They’re doing those over the phone, and some people are calling us; but we’re also reaching out to clients to check in, and Maria said they’ve been extremely appreciative.”

 

Adapting to Help Quarantined Moms

Due to the combination of coronavirus restrictions and some clients’ limited transportation access, the center has had to think outside the box.

“We’ve been daily saying, ‘Okay, where else can they get diapers? Where can they get other things?’” Gallucci said. “One family I know, the doctor didn’t want anybody in the household going out during the mom’s pregnancy. We were working really hard to say, ‘Okay, where can you get food delivered so that you can minimize that risk?’”

The center has seen an increase in calls from both new and old clients who need diapers and other material resources.

And it has had to update information on its resources continually, “because they change daily.” They provide their clients with “food resources, housing resources about evictions and rent and what cannot happen during those times, and domestic-violence resources.”

Gallucci said that, during the quarantine domestic violence has increased, and many of the center's clients experience domestic violence. So sheand her colleagues have been “talking as much as we can with them about safety planning.”

Northwest’s maternity home has remained open to the mothers who reside there and the live-in staff, who are following stay-at-home rules.

"We try to keep everybody there," Galluci said. "We have two infants and one due next month, so there are some vital doctor's appointments." She said the home has taken activities like movie and game nights to "be mutual supports for each other."

The center is still helping the new moms and expectant moms with “working on their goals, obviously not getting jobs right now, but whether that be job training or looking to apply for daycares for the future, still trying to move forward but at the same time realizing that’s limited.”

Galluccci said the center’s volunteers have also found new ways to help with one volunteer picking up groceries and others sewing masks for the women in the maternity home. She also has been checking on former residents of the home, emphasizing that “our mission is always to be supportive to families from pregnancy, and as long as they need us, because we know that stress doesn’t end when you give birth.”

 

National Efforts to Provide Virtual Help

Other pro-life organizations have also adapted their ministries to help women amid the new rules of the pandemic. Embrace Grace, a nonprofit that equips churches to help women in crisis pregnancies, found a way to bring their baby showers to expectant mothers despite social distancing. The group has been sending baby-shower packages to the homes of mothers in need. They are also continuing to meet virtually with moms. Churches in the program are responding to women’s needs through Amazon registries.

Save the Storks, a group that provides mobile medical units known as "Stork buses" to pregnancy centers, has been posting online updates with specific needs of their affiliated pregnancy centers. Their buses have been used by some of the centers to deliver supplies. 

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a national nonprofit that provides legal counsel, education and training for more than 1,500 pro-life pregnancy centers nationwide, is focusing on helping their affiliated pregnancy centers continue to serve women.

“As Planned Parenthood and abortion-industry advocates sue to keep their doors open for elective abortions, pro-life pregnancy centers and medical clinics continue to provide lifesaving services to women and children in their communities,” NIFLA President Thomas Glessner said in a statement. “We are helping our network of more than 1,500 centers nationwide to pivot and meet essential needs during the difficult conditions brought on by the coronavirus.”

“While advising our members to follow federal and CDC guidelines and reduce exposure risks,” he continued, “NIFLA is hosting weekly online training with updates, policies and procedures designed to help centers operate during the rapidly-evolving crisis without shutting down.”

 

Virtual Clinics

While pregnancy centers adapt to using virtual tools, the Human Coalition, a pro-life nonprofit, had a relatively smooth transition, as it has featured virtual resources since its 2009 founding, including call centers and clinics.

Brian Fisher, president of the Human Coalition, told the Register that the group “had already been operating what we call a virtual clinic for a couple of years.” The staff of about 160 employees nationwide have all gone virtual, and their seven brick-and-mortar clinics were converted into telehealth clinics within 72 hours.

“The demand for our services is going up because COVID-19 is causing an increase in anxiety, but also the telehealth environment for us means that a woman gets to be connected to a qualified health professional, in our case a nurse, faster than scheduling an appointment and coming into a physical clinic,” Fisher said. “That speed to care in this environment has actually increased; and that means we’re serving more women, saving more children, and providing a full breadth of services without missing a beat. It’s a testament to Human Coalition staff.”

Fisher said that the only area that has been more difficult is “medical services that require on-site work. Where our physical offices are closed, we might be working with a pregnancy center or in most cases an OB-GYN’s office to get an ultrasound done or a pregnancy test.”

He said that the group has been hearing from “an increased number of women because they have economic hardship or potential hardship. The unemployment rate is skyrocketing, and we have some real economic suffering going. Normally, that’s an anxiety anyhow; but during a time when the economy is basically stalled, women are feeling that.”

“Our job is to come alongside and connect them with the right resources to make sure that they don’t have some sort of economic event that is a stressor for them,” Fisher said. The group is still supporting as many affiliated pregnancy centers as they can, but a number of the 30 locations they normally assist have paused or have shut down.

In some states, he said, the group is “providing educational curricula. In other states, we’re providing various tangible services: drop shipping diapers, formula or supplies to somebody’s house; or we are the bridge for a woman to get help that they need that we don’t provide, such as government services, Medicaid, WIC and SNAP, or maternity services, housing, rent assistance.”

“The entire world’s attention is on COVID-19, and the pro-life movement is appropriately saying, ‘Look, we are as concerned, but we also can’t forget babies in the womb who have the same value,’” he said. “We all recognize that COVID will most likely result — and I think our data has validated it — in an increase in unplanned pregnancy, which means you have a higher risk for abortion than normal. Let’s just make sure that we treat those lives in the womb with the same intensity that we’re treating potential victims of COVID.”

Lauretta Brown is a Register staff writer based in Washington.