Editor’s note. This appeared at Right to Life of Michigan’s “Real Life Stories” series.
“One day it just hit me that they are dead serious about taking over the healthcare system.”
That was the thought that inspired Mark Blocher to begin his latest venture, a nonprofit prolife clinic offering direct primary healthcare.
Mark has had a diverse list of adventures. He’s founded an inner-city medical clinic. He’s founded pregnancy help centers. He’s been a university professor. He’s been a chaplain with the state police. He’s a bioethicist who has written a book about end of the life care.
Mark’s latest adventure truly began when he was starting out as a pastor in Montana one day in the early 1980s. One of the members of Mark’s church stormed into his office. The member had found a business card for an abortion facility tucked in her daughter’s jeans. Her daughter had been escorted across state lines by her school counselor to Washington, where she had an abortion. If the business card hadn’t been left in the laundry, her parents would never have known.
It became clear to Mark that abortion was not being addressed by laws, churches, or by society in general. Rather than simply wish someone would do something about that, Mark decided to act.
Mark started local prolife groups in Montana, but it wasn’t long before he ended up moving back to the Grand Rapids area, where he grew up. He didn’t waste time making sure his fellow pastors were aware that there was a huge problem that wasn’t being addressed enough in their churches.
Mark said, “I asked those guys, ‘what are you going to do about abortion?’”
He continued beating the drums to get more people involved in directly addressing abortion as a crisis for young women. The result of his efforts was founding a prolife pregnancy help center in downtown Grand Rapids, Alpha Women’s Center. His original center is still helping women and men today, and additional independent pregnancy help centers in West Michigan have grown directly out of it.
Pregnancy help centers have saved many lives by reaching abortion-vulnerable women. At first, many offered pregnancy tests along with diapers, formula, clothing, etc. In recent years, many centers have been going “medical,” offering ultrasounds, sexually-transmitted disease testing, and other health services. Mark was at the forefront of that change, which he said was difficult because of fears that adding “medical” services would invite legal scrutiny from pro-abortion officials looking to squash abortion industry competitors.
Despite these important advances, Mark believes there is still an unaddressed gap.
“Too often, what happens is when that mom says she wants to continue her pregnancy, we send her off to a Medicaid provider or someone else who doesn’t share a life-affirming view,” he said.
Enter Mark’s “Healthy Tomorrows,” a program to help pregnancy centers provide client care. The program is part of his new direct primary care nonprofit, Christian Healthcare Centers. Mark foresees networks of prolife healthcare centers supporting pregnancy centers with full-service maternity care alongside well-woman and well-child medical care.
Direct primary care is an alternative model for offering basic medical services at a doctor’s office. Instead of going to your doctor’s office and billing the services to an insurance company, patients pay a small monthly fee to receive unlimited primary care services. Because most health insurance plans have high deductibles, most insured patients wind up paying for basic medical care out-of-pocket anyway. The direct primary care “subscription” is designed to reduce the overhead for the clinic, freeing doctors and nurses from insurance paperwork to devote more time to seeing patients, and ultimately reduce the overall cost to the patient.
Mark began thinking about creating specifically prolife medical clinics after the 1993 “Hillarycare” effort. Mark said it dawned on him that the Clinton Administration’s efforts to reform healthcare would place politicians and bureaucrats eager to support abortion in control of the entire industry, from the insurance companies right down to your doctor’s office.
At the time, Mark said his idea didn’t have much traction; hospitals weren’t consolidating as often as they do today, and health insurance costs weren’t as much of an issue. The situation changed when Obamacare was being debated and eventually passed into law. Mark said he began kicking the idea around, even hiring a lawyer to determine if direct primary care was feasible under current laws and regulations.
“It was that proverbial restaurant napkin idea,” he said.
Mark said they were unaware of other experiments around the country in the direct primary care model, which is growing in popularity. Mark believes what separates Christian Healthcare Centers from existing primary care clinics is a focus on the patient’s spiritual and emotional wellbeing. He said his organization starts from the principle of each patient is made in the image of God. For him, that means they don’t turn patients away. They pray with and for their patients, many of whom do not attend church. They incorporate counseling services into their practice, seeking to treat the mind and the body together.
“If you ask a person what they need help changing in their life, they never say, ‘if you could just fix my blood pressure…,” Mark said.
Mark believes the doctor/patient relationship has been eroded in part because doctors spend a lot of time dealing with insurance paperwork and administration. He believes improving the doctor-patient relationship is an important factor in helping women choose life. While pregnancy help centers see many patients and save many lives, there are still hundreds of thousands of women who have abortions who don’t set foot in them.
“Women are not abortion vulnerable only when they are pregnant,” he said.
While providing a prolife continuum of care option for pregnancy help centers is important, Mark’s long-term goal is to reach young women before they even deal with a crisis pregnancy. He hopes the more patient-centered focus of the direct primary care model translates into doctors having meaningful trust and a long-term relationship with a woman who might have a crisis pregnancy.
Mark said, “Do you want her to call the campus health center, which will just ship her off to the abortion clinic? Or do you want her to talk to her doctor, who she’s known all of her life?”
The rise of the abortion pill, RU-496, is one reason Mark believes it’s critically important for the prolife movement to reach women as early as possible. When abortion supporters say, “abortion should be between a woman and her doctor,” they don’t really mean it. Only 1.8% of women who had abortions in 2018 were referred to the abortion facility by their doctor, according to 2018 Michigan abortion statistics. Recently, some abortion supporters have conducted studies looking into selling RU-486 over the counter, with the false promise that abortion is as simple as heading to the pharmacy in your supermarket.
Opening a direct primary care nonprofit clinic can be complicated, but Mark said they have been successful and now have a gameplan others can follow. Christian Healthcare Centers opened in 2017 and has more than 2000 patients as members. They are looking to create additional centers in West Michigan. Mark said it takes some start-up funding and about 1,000 members to start a new clinic, but it becomes self-funding after that. Adding more members allows more free services to be given to those in need. Mark added that he has no shortage of doctors and nurses willing to work under the direct primary care model.
Currently, Christian Healthcare Centers offers pediatrics, family medicine, and OB-GYN care. They can provide X-rays, routine lab tests, ultrasounds, and dispense some medication on site. Mark said backing these services is their mental health counseling and spiritual care.
Mark’s vision extends beyond primary care, though his dreams exceed his current resources. His next step is adding outpatient surgical services. He believes even prolife birthing centers and hospitals could be possible. In many ways, developing a specifically prolife health care system is comparable to the original creation of hospitals in the Middle Ages as Christian centers of charity and health care.
Mark also hopes he can address another problem related to abortion through building an alternative system: if abortion supporters completely take over the current system, where will prolife doctors practice medicine? The question of conscience rights involves not only abortion, but end-of-life issues as well. Besides the benefit of not having to put up with insurance paperwork, Mark believes expressly prolife healthcare clinics will provide a sanctuary for doctors and nurses from being asked—or forced—to take part in destroying human life.
“We wouldn’t have to beg people to work in them,” Mark said.
Rebuilding our entire medical system from the ground up may be Mark’s long-term dream, but he’s always focused on a successful next step. His current goal is providing pregnancy help centers with the complementary prolife doctors and services to compete directly with Planned Parenthood, which often refers to pregnancy help centers as “fake clinics.”
Planned Parenthood and abortion supporters have been successful in driving a wedge between young girls and their parents. They succeeded in convincing that teen girl in Montana to have an abortion more than 30 years ago; if anything, Planned Parenthood’s support for abortion has become more extreme. As evidence, Mark points to the firing of Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen for her naïve belief that her organization meant it when they talked about providing comprehensive life-saving care to women.
Mark wants every city with an abortion facility in it to also have a full-service prolife medical clinic there, connected to the local pregnancy help centers, churches, adoption agencies and other nonprofits. He said the best argument for elected officials wanting to defund Planned Parenthood is being able to point to an alternative that doesn’t cost a taxpayer dime.
Mark believes that when the prolife movement can provide women with a complete care path—from the pregnancy center to the doctor and the counselor—Planned Parenthood can’t compete.
“We want to do to Planned Parenthood what Netflix did to Blockbuster,” Mark said.
Based on Mark Blocher’s long list of past successes, he may just be able to do it.