Helping pregnant women with nowhere else to turn

September 15, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

IF YOU'RE driving down the 2400 block of St. Paul St. and blink as you go by the offices of the Greater Baltimore Crisis Pregnancy Center, you just might miss it.

"Very few people know we're here," said Carol Clews, the director of development for the center, which has been in existence since 1981. "This is a wonderful, wonderful institution. It's a mission that's grounded in Christianity. We feel strongly that the word needs to get out."

The word Clews and GBCPC Executive Director Albert Kimball want to get out is that the organization's "Christian mission" in no way approves of abortion. GBCPC workers will give visitors information about all options involving pregnancy, including abortion. But while the center will provide women with the numbers to adoption agencies, Clews and Kimball were clear: They will not provide numbers to places that provide abortions to women who ask.

Ah, abortion. Few topics have been more divisive in America for the past 31 years, when the Supreme Court ruled, in Roe v. Wade, that a woman's constitutional right to privacy allowed her to abort the fetus. That such privacy isn't mentioned in the Constitution's enumerated rights didn't deter the justices. They went rooting around in the penumbra of the Constitution's unenumerated rights and yanked out a right to privacy that implied a right to abortion.

The folks at GBCPC try to steer clear of such debates.

"There's nothing political about us," Kimball said, while conceding that, at times, center representatives do have to say, forthrightly, that they have Christian values.

Kimball recalled one of the rare times he gave a speech at a Baltimore public school. (He doesn't get invited often, not with his mentioning the "G" word and all.)

"We gave a Christian presentation," Kimball said, " which must be a no-no."

The no-no Kimball committed was not mentioning the dreaded "G" word, but the dreaded "a" one: abstinence.

"After I was done, an angry teacher walked up to me and said, `This is a value-free school. How dare you shove your values down our throats?' I had to suppress the urge to say, `Another word for value-free is worthless.'" Kimball is an ordained Christian minister. Whatever has the country come to when ordained Christian ministers dare talk about values?

Most of the schools Kimball talks to these days are private or religious institutions. (He could recall visiting only three public schools, one of them after a middle school counselor called when she discovered a pregnant 11-year-old girl among the student body.) It just might be a more receptive audience to the part of his message that says to young folks that abstaining from sex is the one sure way to avoid pregnancy.

That's part of the "abstinence education" some liberals have derided with scorn. But I challenge them to find, outside of the Blessed Virgin Mary or artificial insemination, one woman who's become pregnant by not having sex.

But for all their talk of values and abstinence, Kimball and Clews feel the strongest services GBCPC provides are the counseling sessions for its clients and the baby formula, diapers, clothes and furniture for new mothers. The latter items -- which staffers call Hannah's Closet -- are supplied by donations. The counseling is done by staffers trained in the GBCPC curriculum, which was written by two women with degrees in social work and counseling.

GBCPC's eight staffers -- three full-time and five part-time -- and 60 volunteers attend training sessions for three days before they're allowed to counsel clients.

"The training sessions show staffers and volunteers how to connect with a client through active listening skills," Clews said. "We learn her reasons for coming and tell her about fetal development, abortion risks and procedures and contraceptives. It's not our goal to make a woman's decision for her. We want her to make a fully informed decision."

Counselors provide women with questionnaires asking if they intend to carry the baby to term, place the child for adoption or abort the fetus. (Abortion rights groups have contended for years that organizations like GBCPC don't really inform women about abortion as an alternative, but these would be the same folks who yank privacy rights out of thin air.)

The center staff say they see 1,400 to 1,500 women a year who come in for pregnancy tests and talk to many more on the GBCPC hot line. Most are poor women who range in age from 15 to 24. The overwhelming majority of the ones who come to the Charles Village office on St. Paul Street are black. A more diverse racial and ethnic mix -- black, white, Hispanic -- frequents the Highlandtown office.

With all those bodies coming through, you'd think Clews and Kimball would have some pretty good stories. They do.

Both recount meeting the homeless mother of 8-month-old twin boys who came in for another pregnancy test. The center gave her a sonogram that revealed two heartbeats. Despite being homeless, the mother decided to have the babies. After the twin boy and girl were delivered and the mother's plight published in the GBCPC newsletter, a church held a baby shower for her. (Clews and Kimball said that when a woman gets a sonogram at their center, the licensed practical nurse on hand makes sure she sees the child's heart beat.)

Then there was the woman whose parents turned her away after she became pregnant. They say she came to GBCPC determined to get an abortion. That is until she saw the baby's heart beat on the sonogram.

"She stopped talking about `my abortion,'" Kimball remembered. "And started talking about `my child.'"

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