By Eileen Haupt
For pro-life advocates, nothing is more rewarding than walking alongside a pregnant, abortion-minded mother, and having a role in her choosing to abandon the path toward abortion and, instead, choosing the path of giving birth to her unborn child. This is now possible both figuratively and literally at a new pregnancy center in Hartford, Connecticut, which shares a walkway with an abortion facility.
A pregnant mother can walk down the brick path between the two buildings, and turn right to enter Hartford GYN Center for an abortion, or turn left to enter the newly opened Hartford Women’s Center, where she will find support during her pregnancy and post-pregnancy from compassionate volunteers.
Hartford Women’s Center is the second location of its parent organization St. Gerard’s Center for Life, a Catholic pregnancy center, also in Hartford. Whereas St. Gerard’s focuses on providing support, once women have chosen life, the objective of the Hartford Women’s Center is to make itself visible to pregnant mothers visiting the abortion clinic, and to reach out to them, hopefully before they seek an abortion.
There they will receive counseling about life-giving options and help for the underlying crisis which caused them to seek an abortion, such as relationships, housing, and unemployment.
When Leticia Velasquez became director of St. Gerard’s a year ago, she sought to open an outreach of St. Gerard’s next to an abortion facility, so volunteers could actively persuade pregnant mothers away from abortion. When she saw that a renovated carriage house, adjacent to Hartford GYN, was for sale, she realized it was the perfect location to do just that, and approached the board about purchasing the carriage house.
Velasquez was further inspired while reading the book, Stopping Abortion at Death’s Door, a “how to” manual on reaching abortion-minded mothers, by locating pregnancy centers next door to abortion clinics. She met with the author, Rod Murphy, who became a mentor for her as St. Gerard’s went through the process of purchasing the building. His own center, Problem Pregnancy in Worcester, Massachusetts, has for 34 years offered women help in bringing their babies to term, saving an average of 200 lives a year!
Hartford Women’s Center offers free pregnancy tests, limited medical ultrasounds, and counseling—those things that are important during that critical time when pregnant moms are considering abortion. After choosing to keep her baby, she will be connected to St. Gerard’s Center for Life, where she will be provided with the many material items and services that will help her throughout the pregnancy, birth, and the first couple of years of her child’s life.
Moms receive as much counseling and financial help as they need to bring their babies to term, and form a close bond with St. Gerard volunteers. Velasquez tells the mothers, “We’ve got your back, you can do this!” She says that many times that is all they need to hear.
An important advantage of sharing the walkway with the abortion facility is that volunteers can be present on the grounds, rather than being restricted to the public sidewalks. It easier to approach women headed for the abortion facility, and to offer them alternatives. “We are met with extra ‘escorts’ from the abortion center but we are still able to engage women on the path to the abortion clinic,” says Velasquez.
There are also several unforeseen benefits of being in close proximity to the abortion facility. Surprisingly, there are post-abortive women who walk out of Hartford GYN where they have just had an abortion, and then walk directly into the Hartford Women’s Center. Fresh in their grief, they are welcomed and are offered post-abortive counseling and referrals to Rachel’s Vineyard.
Another unexpected benefit is that the youth are inspired by the boldness of the move. Velasquez had wondered how they would staff a new pregnancy center. But in the past year, over a dozen young volunteers in their teens through thirties have come forward to help, bringing many useful skills. They are on fire with enthusiasm for sharing the beauty of chastity and the “Gospel of Life.”
This enthusiasm, in turn, inspires St. Gerard’s moms. “We have many women deciding to live chaste lives thanks to their witness,” Velasquez says.
“The most unexpected result of opening Hartford Women’s Center next to an abortion facility,” she added, “has been the ability for dialogue with people who are pro-abortion.” Two pro-abortion websites recently approached the center for interviews. Volunteers at the pregnancy center are always looking to reach out in love to those who work in Hartford GYN.
The recent Open House of the Hartford Women’s Centers is an answer to prayer for Velasquez. She says that thanks to the access they have to the brick path between the abortion clinic and Hartford Women’s Center, they are now able to, ”Walk women towards Hope.”
Eileen Haupt (along with Leticia Velasquez) is co-founder of Keep Infants with Down Syndrome (KIDS). She is a board member of Vermont Right to Life, and is an alternate delegate from Vermont to the National Right to Life Committee Board of Directors.
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