Post-Roe Preview? Texas Pro-Life Centers Serving More Women with Heartbeat Bill in Effect
‘There’s going to be more babies born, and because of that, there’s a need for more ongoing support for moms,’ said the director of one center.
AUSTIN, Texas — Three weeks after Texas passed the most restrictive abortion law in the nation, local pro-life centers say they’re seeing a significant increase in the number of women seeking their services — a development for which they’ve been hoping and preparing for years.
At the Loreto House in Denton, a Catholic non-profit that provides pregnancy services and ongoing support through a child’s first three years of life, executive director Randy Bollig says the increase has been noticeable. The organizations is currently seeing 45 women a day, over 10 more than they typically did before SB 8 went into effect, barring abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually at the six-week mark.
“I think the need for our type of facility and mission is even greater now because, thank God, there’s going to be more babies born, and because of that, there’s a need for more ongoing support for moms,” Bollig said.
Heather Gardner, executive director of the Central Texas Coalition for Life, also reports a rise in clients at pro-life centers in her network in the past few weeks. Additionally, she says there has been a “significant increase” in the number of people seeking post-abortion counseling and healing, perhaps in response to abortion being so heavily featured in local and national news in recent weeks.
SB 8 has certainly contributed to a rise in volume at pro-life centers, but in many ways the increase is part of a larger trend of women seeking alternatives to abortion that’s unfolded throughout 2021.
At Austin’s JPII Life Center and Vitae Clinic, a separate pregnancy resource center and licensed OBGYN operating at the same location, Deacon Mark Fair says the rate of clients served so far this year is two times higher than in 2020. In addition to SB 8, he points to two additional factors contributing to the increase: economic instability created by COVID-19, and an increase in immigrants passing north through Texas after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. For instance, Deacon Fair says that over 40% of the women served so far this year have been immigrants, more than 10% higher the typical rate.
Serving such a high volume of women presents challenges, but Deacon Fair says the organizations he leads are up for it.
“I feel good about that. That’s our mission."
SB 8’s Impact
Texas was thrust into the national spotlight at the beginning of the month, after the Supreme Court declined to intervene and prevent SB 8, also known as “the heartbeat bill,” from coming into effect.
But despite the law being on the books, some have questioned its effectiveness. For instance, even after it went into effect, some reports indicated that abortions were still being provided at normal volumes by clinics. Gardner, whose organization includes sidewalk advocates outside of abortion clinics, says she “did not see evidence” that these clinics were doing less abortions in the days after Sept. 1, as they still received a high volume of women on the designated days when abortions are scheduled to take place.
Others have also questioned whether the law’s unique enforcement mechanism — which calls for private citizens to effectively take those providing abortions to court — is the right approach, and whether it, or at least the media’s portrayal of it as a “bounty,” might set back the pro-life movement long term.
Additionally, SB 8 doesn’t do anything to restrict Texas women from seeking abortions of children with unborn in places where the practice is still legal. The abortion industry is actually funding travel for Texas residents to seek abortions in other states, and are aided and abetted by corporate partners like traveling-services Uber and Lyft and dating apps Bumble and Match. Pro-life advocates in other states, especially in bordering New Mexico, have reported an increase in Texas women seeking out-of-state abortions.
But despite its limitations, pro-life advocates who spoke with the Register say SB 8 will and is already having a big impact — if for no other reason than making abortions more difficult to obtain, and therefore giving women more space and time to consider their options.
“Abortion for many years has been a convenience,” said Gardner, also adding that many women are coerced into seeking abortions by parents or the father of their unborn child, and often don’t necessarily want one. “If abortion’s not convenient anymore, a lot of women are going to take a second look around and say, ‘OK, I’m going to go to this pregnancy center because they say they can help me.’”
Deacon Fair says he’s seen a “shift in mindset” with some of the women who come into the JPII Life Center. Many have accepted that they’ll give birth to their child and explore options around pregnancy, adoption, and childcare. The same change is being noted by other pro-life providers in Texas.
“I think that’s what we’re seeing,” said Bollig at the Loreto House. “Women are pausing now and may be seeking alternatives to abortion more so than they would have in the past.”
Texas’s law continues to face vociferous opposition from abortion rights advocates, including President Joe Biden. Shortly after the law went into effect, Biden announced a “whole of government” response to mitigate its impact. Under his leadership, the Department of Justice is suing Texas over the six-week abortion ban. A federal judge has set an Oct. 1 hearing to consider the request.
But whether or not the law stands, Texas pro-lifers are embracing the opportunity to serve women and children — and to provide the nation with a preview of what a world in which abortion is eliminated or at least seriously restricted — could look like.
In some cases, that requires identifying and addressing “gaps in service” to women, children, and families in the pro-life movement.
With respect to a potential post-Roe reality, “This is going to be a real moment of truth for some groups to find out, ‘Are you actually equipped?” said Gardner.
In anticipation of the need for more and better-coordinated services to women and children, Gardner and the Central Texas Coalition for Life have established Pregnancy Central Texas, billed as “a one-stop directory of life-affirming resources related to pregnancy, women, and families in Central Texas,” from counseling to housing and material support.
All of the services listed in the directory have been vetted by Central Texas Coalition for Life. Gardner says many women facing unexpected pregnancies face a significant deal of difficulty in navigating and accessing state and federal support systems, so “at least the pro-life pocket can have our stuff together.” She also adds that many women pursue abortion because they feel isolated and unsupported.
“If they just knew that someone was there for them, that someone could help them with whatever it is — financial struggles, childcare, and all the other understandable concerns — then they would gladly have their baby.”
Deacon Fair says that requests for support with “real life living expenses” — like rent and food — have always been there, but “are becoming more visible” to the pro-life movement now.
Bollig says the Loreto House has long prioritized the Walking with Moms model, a pro-life approach advocated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that emphasizes addressing some of the reasons why women might feel abortion is an option for them, and providing ongoing support through and well after pregnancy. Loreto House provides counseling, parenting and pregnancy classes, and considerable material assistance: clothing, food, baby formula, and 25,000 diapers a month.
“The stuff comes in, and it just out,” said Bollig. “I mean, we’re like a grocery store.”
‘Show Compassionate Love’
Many pro-life advocates believe the goal of “making abortion unthinkable” also means expanding and coordinating government services to better support women facing difficult pregnancies or who carry their pregnancy to term. For instance, the Texas bishops supported a measure to triple the amount of time mothers could remain on Medicaid after giving birth. The measure passed in late May, but has been almost ignored in mainstream coverage of the Texas abortion law and the efforts of the pro-life movement.
Texas pro-lifers are used to these kinds of media distortions, but say now is the time to correct false narratives that the movement is only really “pro-birth,” which Gardner says is “just a lazy response.”
“Because we’re in the spotlight, because we have more eyes on us, just keep sharing about all these services, because it’s going to be harder to ignore,” she said, adding that people unsure of their stance on legalized abortion can be won over by demonstrating how committed the pro-life movement is to helping women, children, and families.
The stakes are high and the spotlight is bright, but Deacon Fair believes the pro-life movement is ready for the challenge.
“I certainly hope that we can demonstrate that we love the mother and the child and that we can show compassionate love with real material assistance.”