During pandemic, pregnancy centers continue to help mothers and families

Pregnancy resource centers have made changes in how they reach people because of COVID-19, but they continue to help an increasing number of women who are seriously considering abortion during the crisis.

Almost every day a woman calls Pregnancy Choices in Apple Valley and says, ‘I need an abortion,’” said Becky Hanel, executive director. “Life got so much more intense. I think men and women are rushing into that decision because they’re so frightened.”

Along with clients who are pregnant, the families needing help face still greater needs because of unemployment, school closures and other problems brought on by efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Catholic Spirit contacted 23 pregnancy resource centers in the archdiocese to find out if they’re still open, if they have made any changes in how they serve clients and how the pandemic has affected their clients. All continue to operate, following COVID-19 guidelines, and are finding new ways to meet clients’ medical, material, educational and counseling needs as they prepare for a “baby boom” later this year.

Many of the centers are open by appointment for pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, and in some cases, one-on-one consultations. Some have modified their hours and, to practice social distancing, accept just one client at a time.
“We’re taking the opportunity to add fresh paint to the walls and refresh everything,” said Gina Little, executive director of Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center in Faribault.

Pregnancy care centers qualify as essential service organizations, said Vaunae Hansel, president of Elevate Life, a network of 30 Minnesota and Wisconsin pregnancy resource centers that offers training, marketing help and other assistance to its affiliates — many of them in the archdiocese. The organization sent a letter to member centers showing that because they are social service providers, they qualify as critically-needed businesses under Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order.
Since the pandemic began, an increasing number of abortion-minded women have crossed the street from Planned Parenthood’s St. Paul-Vandalia location to Abria Pregnancy Resources’ St. Paul clinic nearby, said Cindy Koeppl, CEO. Abria also has a clinic in Minneapolis.

“We’re focused on helping them through the crisis and after,” she said. “We answer their immediate need and help them see choices. …We’ll see the beautiful babies that will come out of COVID-19.”

Abria is providing transportation for clients at its Minneapolis location to receive same-day pregnancy tests and ultrasounds at their St. Paul clinic, said Koeppl. Other affiliated pregnancy centers also can send their clients to the St. Paul clinic for ultrasounds, she said.

Abria and many other centers continue to offer the same services they had before the pandemic, while Pregnancy Choices in Apple Valley has temporarily stopped testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Several centers are calling their clients weekly. The calls are revealing other problems in homes, such as mothers of older children who are stressed about homeschooling, Little said. “Clients are venting more now than in person,” she said. “There’s a little more desperation.”

Virtual life coaching and classes are — or soon will be — filling a gap for education at many of the centers that offer one-on-one meetings and group Zoom sessions.

The six certified life coaches at Pregnancy Choices in Apple Valley are finding clients have greater need at this time during virtual sessions, Hanel said.

Clients have other needs, as well. Many centers are offering curbside baby and emergency item pickup and a few are helping with food shelves. Abria has clients schedule times for pick up, and donors arrange drop offs, Koeppl said.
Pregnancy Choices in Apple Valley holds a “COVID-19 pick-up day” once a month, when clients can get items, Hanel said.
The COVID-19 crisis is itself like an unplanned pregnancy because of the uncertainty involved, and the centers are learning to respond to needs, Little said.

“What we’re living today is like a woman’s unplanned pregnancy,” she said. “We’re thrown into life with no owner’s manual.”

But the crisis also is offering opportunities.

Little said Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center in Faribault is thinking about staffing, hours and is redoing its website as it prepares for a possible increase in clients in the fall due to the pandemic.

When the crisis ends, Abria might continue to offer Zoom classes to supplement its in-person classes, Koeppl said.
Hanel said that there are new opportunities for using virtual means to reach a younger generation that wants to do as much as possible online.

“This crisis is providing an unbelievable opportunity to consider how we can reach more men and women who are considering abortion in a way that’s impactful to (help them) see it’s not their only choice,” she said.