Abria-North Side merger bolsters help for women in north Minneapolis

| November 27, 2018 | 0 Comments

From left, Naomi Terlouw, Cindy Koeppl and Nancy Utoft stand outside of the Abria Northside Clinic in Minneapolis Nov. 26, which recently opened to serve women in the area who are facing unexpected pregnancies. Utoft is the outgoing executive director, Koeppl will take on the role March 1, and Terlouw is the associate director. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

When executive director Naomi Terlouw of North Side Pregnancy Options in north Minneapolis attended a presentation by Abria Pregnancy Resources in 2016, she was inspired by what the new pro-life pregnancy clinic had to offer and the research that went into its development.

“In my mind, I’m like, ‘Why are we doing this separate?” said Terlouw, now the associate director of Abria. “Let’s bring these two strengths that we have together and make it better.”

It led to North Side and Abria combining resources in 2017. In November, Abria opened a clinic, Abria Northside, at 2232 West Broadway Ave. in north Minneapolis, replacing North Side’s old site on Thomas Avenue. Together, the Abria clinics are situated near the four largest abortion providers in the state, in addition to being in an area with high abortion rates.

“The ZIP Code that we’re sitting in now has the highest percentage of abortions, women who have abortions, in Hennepin County,” said retiring Abria executive director Nancy Utoft. “There are a lot of women in this area who choose abortion, and many don’t know they have other choices.”

Utoft has worked with Abria from the beginning at its University Avenue clinic in St. Paul, to expanding the organization to a pair of clinics in the heart of the metro. Cindy Koeppl will become the new executive director March 1.

“We need to meet women where they are [and] reach them when they are faced with a decision and before they may even recognize themselves as a mother,” said Koeppl, who will be working with Utoft in the leadership transition process. 

Abria offers women-centered support services for women facing unexpected pregnancies in order to make informed decisions and help them choose life. With the merger of two LifeCare centers, Abria’s first clinic opened on University Avenue in St. Paul in 2015. Utoft and founding leaders created a rigorous strategic plan, which included research on how to best reach women with unexpected pregnancies. Abria shared its findings with other pregnancy resource centers around the Twin Cities.

“Walking into their center and just how beautiful it was, that stood out to me just immediately,” Terlouw said of Abria’s University Avenue location.

She envisioned how North Side, which had been serving women in north Minneapolis since 1978, could improve its services by collaborating or merging with Abria. Finding a new site for North Side’s clinic had been on the radar, too.

“They knew there was a greater need in reaching as many women who might be contemplating abortion,” Utoft said. “They had already started looking around at another area to look at.”

A task force formed to explore past trends in clients, finances and services of the two centers. That task force brought forward recommendations to both boards, including a merger.

“We looked at everything, so that we could understand who they are, and they had the opportunity to look at Abria too, so it really was the process of us sharing information with them and them sharing information with us,” Utoft said. “And actually, what was really wonderful in the merger is that we both brought some unique things to the table.” 

North Side had a prenatal program through a partnership with Fairview Riverside Midwives, something Abria hadn’t done yet. Abria has counseling and life coaching services for women, something North Side didn’t have. 

Leadership later identified a new office development on Broadway Avenue for the new clinic.

“In this work, it’s really important to be visible,” Utoft said. “Of course on University Avenue, we’re visible, and we’re visible because that’s where a lot of women who are considering abortion come into that area. And the same thing in north Minneapolis. To find a really visible location in the heart of this neighborhood was really important.”

The center consists of an ultrasound room, nurses’ offices, counseling rooms, a lab, rooms for social services and a boutique where patients can buy baby items at low cost. The boutique is about the only place anything baby-related is seen at the clinic as Abria markets itself toward the woman, recognizing the emotions and fears many women face in unexpected pregnancies.  

“For us to meet a woman at a moment of decision is really the core to who we are,” Utoft said.

Abria’s St. Paul location is across the street from the state’s largest Planned Parenthood center, which is also Minnesota’s largest abortion provider.  The Minneapolis location is two miles from Robbinsdale Clinic, the state’s third largest abortion provider. The other two largest abortion providers in the state are in Minneapolis, according to Minnesota Department of Health data.

With the merger, Utoft said that both clinics follow “the Abria model” for services, and each serves a diverse clientele. The University Avenue location is near a majority of the Twin Cities’ universities, but it is also situated in an area with a variety of ethnicities and economic levels. 

“You get to north Minneapolis, and there’s very much concentrated poverty here,” Utoft said.

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