WACO, Texas Largely run by conservative Christians, the centers say they offer what Roland Warren, head of Care Net, one of the largest pregnancy center organizations, described as a compassionate approach to this issue.
As they expand, they are adding on-call or on-site medical personnel and employing sophisticated strategies to attract women, including Internet search optimization and mobile units near Planned Parenthood clinics.
Theyre really the darlings of the pro-life movement, said Jeanneane Maxon, vice president for external affairs at Americans United for Life, a group that opposes abortions. That ground level, one-on-one, reaching-the-woman-where-shes-at approach.
Pregnancy centers, while not new, now number about 2,500, compared with about 1,800 abortion providers. Maxon estimated that the centers see about 1 million clients annually, with another million attending abstinence and other programs.
Abortion rights advocates have long called some of their approaches deceptive, and medical experts say some dispense scientifically flawed information.
The centers defend their practices and information.
Women who come in are constantly telling us, Abortion seems to be my only alternative, and I think thats the best thing to do, said Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, which she described as a Christ-centered organization with 1,100 affiliates. Centers provide women with the whole choice.
One pregnant woman, Nasya Dotie, 21, single, worried about finishing college and disappointing her parents, said she was almost positive I was going to have an abortion.
A friend at her Christian university suggested visiting Care Net of Central Texas. She met with a counselor, went home and considered her options. She returned for an ultrasound, and although planning not to look at the screen, when a clinician offered, she agreed. Then, I was like, Thats my baby. I cant not have him.
Thirteen states now provide some direct financing; 27 offer Choose Life license plates, which help fund aid centers. With largely volunteer staffs and donations from mostly Christian sources, centers offer advice about baby-rearing or adoption and give technical descriptions of abortion and fetal development. Many offer prayer and Bible study.
Amanda Hall, 25, met Care Net of Central Texas definition of abortion-vulnerable. Pregnant with her second child, her husband in jail, she was facing eviction. Care Net let her stay in a house its chief executive owns, found her a job and negotiated debt payment plans. She gave birth in March.
Everybody here, she said, was like a different family.