Pat Burns has been with Project Life for 12 years and served as director for two years. (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Beginning Oct. 1, as many as 70,000 cars will pass by Options for Women in St. Croix Valley every day.

That’s when Project Life, a pregnancy care center celebrating its 30th anniversary, hopes to move into its new location on Highway 36 in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Re-branded as Options for Women, the center will be visible from the new St. Croix River bridge connecting Minnesota to Wisconsin, which just opened Aug. 2.

About 60 percent of clients are from Minnesota and 40 percent are from Wisconsin, said executive director Pat Burns, who has been with the organization for 12 years and served as director for two years.

“With this new location, we are also expecting an increase of 30 percent in unplanned pregnancy clients reaching out to us on an annual basis,” she said.

The targeted demographic is women between 18 and 24 years old.

“This area will be very visible to that age group,” she added.

Thirty years ago, the center was little more than a place for women to get pregnancy tests; back in August 1987, the director “was operating from her own kitchen table,” Burns explained.

Over the years, they’ve grown and developed, always in response to the needs of their Twin Cities clients. Much of their success Burns attributes to 15 years of volunteer work from their medical director, Dr. Mark Druffner.

“I started when it was called the St. Croix Valley Life Care Center, and that was before they had ultrasound,” Druffner said. With the help of the Hudson Knights of Columbus, the center obtained an ultrasound machine and training to use it; under Dr. Druffner’s guidance, their medical services have continually expanded.

Project Life offers free, confidential and truly comprehensive care. Its objective is to remove any impediments to choosing life, and it also provides support for mothers until their children reach age 2.
Women who enter have access to pregnancy and STD testing, but also many other resources – affordable housing; spiritual, emotional and material support; pregnancy and parenting classes; free onsite prenatal care; referrals for addiction treatment; medicine, even if they can’t afford it and help securing insurance coverage in time for delivery.

“We used to think they just need some baby clothes, and it’s so much more than that,” Burns said. “Everything that’s been placed in front of us, we’ve tried to address. That’s just what has really inspired me just to meet all of those needs – and certainly there are some things that we can’t provide, but what we can provide is the emotional support and the referrals.”

Sometimes barriers to life “are as simple as, ‘I come from a Catholic family, and I can’t tell my parents,’” Burns said. “We’ll help you tell your parents.”

Recently, the center has offered another service for vulnerable women; Dr. Druffner is one of the first doctors in the Midwest to provide abortion pill reversals. Women who go to Planned Parenthood, for example, and take an abortion pill to end their pregnancies can, if they have a change of heart, go to Dr. Druffner for help.

Abortion pills block progesterone receptors between the mother and the baby, Dr. Druffner explained. Without progesterone, the baby is aborted. But, if within 12 to 24 hours the mother changes her mind and takes high-dose progesterone, it can block the effects and save the pregnancy.

Progesterone can be administered by either injection or tablet; Dr. Druffner has been using tablets. Reversals aren’t always successful, he said, but it is a chance to prevent an abortion.

For a pregnancy care center, one challenge of straddling the state line is the law.

“It’s really been important for us to stay on top of both the Minnesota laws and the Wisconsin laws, and to just be that St. Croix Valley voice to serve all the demographics that we work with,” Burns said.

Another, greater challenge – a difficulty for a number of pro-life resource centers across the Twin Cities metro area – is finding medical help. Burns knows of four centers searching for nurses; one vacancy has been open for more than a year.

“It’s time to step out of our comfort zones and be bold for the Lord and for the unborn,” she added. “If you have that passion and you are pro-life … get involved.”

“I would like to encourage and challenge pro-life physicians to get involved as medical directors and not be afraid of it,” Druffner said. “That’s the main limitation, if our doctors aren’t willing to volunteer their time and be available.”

Access to medical care “is the backbone of what we’re doing here,” Burns commented. No matter how many programs and curriculums she buys, they would simply not be able to provide the services they do without Dr. Druffner’s expertise.

Project Life is celebrating their 30th anniversary at their annual fundraising banquet Thursday, Sept. 28, at Envision Event Center in Oakdale, Minnesota. Social time begins at 6 p.m. Kirk Walden, author of “The Wall,” a book on building pro-life culture and ending abortion, is the keynote speaker.

Right now, financial support is one of the center’s greatest needs, according to Burns. They’ve launched a capital campaign to fund the move. Anyone interested in donating can contact Burns, (651) 439-5964, or .

“We’re just so, so excited about this move,” she said.

It’s the next step in the progression of their pro-life ministry, Burns added.

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re stagnant,” she said. “We have had a continuum of growth, and we’re excited about the next 30 years, just continuing the legacy.”