Pro-life groups open own clinics to offer alternatives to abortion

Family Planning Inc. and Aid to Women are at opposite extremes of the abortion issue -- but they operate in offices just 25 feet apart in Tempe, Ariz. Competition for clientele is so heated that Family Planning even employs escorts for its abortion clients, so they won't be stolen away by Aid to Women, an anti-abortion pregnancy service. Family Planning has obtained a court injunction that restrains the zeal with which the anti-abortion group can operate.

Even so, the counterpoint the two groups represent is a more welcome one than that of the abortion-clinic bombings last year by extremist anti-abortion activists.

Aid to Women is part of a new action-oriented, less-political movement within the ``pro-life'' community to offer alternatives to abortion.

An extensive network of ``emergency pregnancy services'' has cropped up across the country since 1980. Typically, such organizations operate in a less controversial manner than Aid to Women, but their goal is the same -- to offer women with unplanned pregnancies information, counseling, and even refuge and financial help in hopes of steering them away from choosing abortion.

Since 1973, when the United States Supreme Court upheld a woman's right to have an abortion, the total number of abortions has doubled, from 744,600 (19.3 percent of all pregnancies) to 1,553,900 (30 percent of all pregnancies), according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research affiliate of Planned Parenthood. The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court Monday to overturn its landmark decision on grounds it infringes on the states' interest in controlling abortions.

After years of debate over abortion, those who oppose it now are giving heavy emphasis to providing alternatives for pregnant women in need.

``More maternity-service programs have been started in the last three years than in the previous 15 years -- at least 30 more,'' says Bill Pierce, president of the National Committee for Adoption. He refers specifically to maternity homes, but emergency pregnancy services -- which offer a wider range of services -- have increased, too.

Birthright, a nonsectarian Toronto-based group, is the oldest and largest emergency pregnancy service, with 630 locations in North America. It has been increasing by about 40 locations a year -- four in the past year were started in southern California alone.

The Christian Action Council, an evangelical pro-life group, says it has doubled the number of its locations annually and expects to have 240 centers by year's end.

Since 1982, 209 US locations of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Save-A-Baby pregnancy centers have opened. And the nondenominational Alternatives to Abortion International has 350 affiliate pregnancy services nationwide and publishes a listing of 1,500 similar services.

``There has been a tremendous influx in the service area in the last couple of years. [The services that did exist] were not high-profile-type services in the past. . . . They're more sophisticated now,'' says Janet Carroll, associate legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

Birthright founder Louise Summerhill says the rapid growth of such centers indicates that public awareness and disapproval of abortion are finally taking hold.

Although many centers are formed by national umbrella anti-abortion groups, others arise locally -- and spontaneously. A program complete with hot lines, counseling, pregnancy testing, financial aid, and housing referrals requires $25,000 to $50,000 annually, says Curtis Young, executive director of the Christian Action Council. Dozens of volunteers are needed, he adds.

``Our purpose is to make sure a girl is not making the decision to have an abortion out of fear,'' says Kathy Conner, president of the Sacramento Right to Life. ``We're definitely pro-life, but there's no pushing or cajoling,'' she says of the group's pregnancy center in California's capital, which helps 500 women a year. ``We're criticized because we will not give a referral for abortion.''

Counselors do discuss abortion as an option for clients, Ms. Conner says. But the opportunity to bear the child and to receive finanical or emotional support -- if given equal emphasis -- is an attractive choice, she adds.

To Marsha Neimann, program director for the National Abortion Rights Action League, emergency pregnancy services or pregnancy crisis centers ``are a red flag to me. . . . Almost every group I've ever seen using that [term]to describe themselves is anti-choice.''

``We believe women who are pregnant and trying to make a decision should be aware of all the options. I know some of these [centers] will not discuss abortion as an option,'' she says, adding that abortion clinics, too, should inform clients of all options.

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