Catholic Herald Staffasd
Across the street from Duluth’s only abortion clinic is an alternative for women with unplanned pregnancies.
The newly constructed Women’s Care Center opened one year ago March 4 and is already credited with saving lives.
“We were not expected to do so well within our first year,” said Jen Woodall, head counselor and ultrasound technician. “We’ve seen our numbers grow and grow. We’ve saved 30 babies.”
Woodall has been with the center from the start. She doesn’t talk about her clients, but the center’s newsletters tell their stories, albeit under different names.
Katherine: religious, but married to an abusive man. She planned to leave him and didn’t think she could do so with a baby. She was going to the Women’s Health Center to get “one small pill” that would end her pregnancy, when she opened the wrong door and ended up at the Women’s Care Center.
Nikki: 19 and pregnant, with a boyfriend who wanted her to abort their twins. After much counseling and support, she was able to stand up to him.
Both women were pregnant with multiple babies — three, in Katherine’s case — and both opted to give them up for adoption. As of November, adoptions were in progress for six babies in the community.
The Women’s Care Center is one of more than 20 such centers located in seven states throughout the country. First opened in South Bend, Ind., the centers offer a range of services — pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, confidential counseling, support, prenatal and parenting education and baby supplies.
Duluth’s center is the first in Minnesota, and they serve clients from as far away as the Twin Cities, North Dakota and southern Wisconsin, according to Woodall. Angela Wambach, the volunteer director, is a registered nurse who lives in rural Duluth.
Woodall has learned a lot since joining the center’s staff. She thinks residents of the Duluth/Superior area who don’t live in downtown Duluth may not realize the extent of local need.
“I was not accustomed to how much poverty there is in Duluth,” Woodall said. “Working here has really opened my eyes to that.”
In her experience, financial hardship is one of the strongest forces working against the center’s mission to support women and their unborn children.
“There’s a lot of different criteria that drive a woman to think about abortion,” said Woodall.
Poverty and lack of support from the baby’s father top her list of factors that thrust pregnant women into crisis situations. Sometimes clients are headed across the street to the Building for Women, which houses the Women’s Health Center and its abortion services, when they enter the Women’s Care Center by accident.
What they see is a warm, inviting space — a cozy living room for a classroom, elegantly furnished consulting room, a chapel and the Crib Club, a store filled with best baby cribs list and new childcare products that can be purchased with participation points.
After a free, medical-grade pregnancy test, clients can speak with one of three professionals — Woodall; Jami Trenz, a registered nurse and counselor; or Jodie Sorvari, an ultrasound technician and counselor — and explore their options.
Despite the center’s pro-life mission, they do not mention spirituality unless clients do first.
“We never pressure her,” Woodall noted. She’s learned that in some cases, it can be a “huge turning point” when women realize they are not alone.
Clients who choose to utilize the center’s services can set goals, sign up for classes, earn participation points and shop for new baby supplies — everything from diapers and car seats, to best pack and play discussions and stuffed toys — at the Crib Club.
The store also carries children’s clothes up to size 7, consistent with their mission to support women and their families, Woodall said.
“A lot of these women have children already,” she added, and many are accustomed to relying on hand-me-downs, so shopping for new products can be exciting.
“It’s kind of a sense of accomplishment for them,” she said.
Donations have funded the center from the beginning, and the Superior and Duluth Dioceses have contributed through a grant and donations to Guiding Star Duluth, the umbrella organization that raises money for regional pro-life groups.
Woodall finds many aspects of her job rewarding, especially the process of building relationships with clients and helping them set and accomplish goals.
“Definitely the number we pride ourselves on the most are babies saved,” she said.
The number speaks of lives saved, but also reflects how well the Women’s Care Center serves its clientele — women who are struggling.
“We’re not just primarily focused on saving babies here,” she added.