New book dispels myths about Pregnancy Help Movement

Editor’s note. Now an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Laura S. Hussey, Ph.D., a one-time board member for NRLC and a research assistant for the NRL Education department, has written an excellent new book on the history, organization, and impact of the pregnancy help movement. The book, The Pro-Life Pregnancy Help Movement: Serving Women or Saving Babies, can by bought on Amazon or from the publisher, University Press of Kansas.

An extended review of Hussey’s book will run on the NRL News Today website over the next few days. The author sat down with NRL News to answer a few questions about her research and what it found. 

Laura S. Hussey, Ph.D.

NRL News: Tell us what got you interested in a research project on pregnancy care centers. 

Laura Hussey: The seeds were planted when I first learned about pregnancy centers through my college pro-life group in the 1990s. The women from the center near my campus talked about and acted on abortion differently from what I encountered before in my previous pro-life involvement, and that intrigued and inspired me. I eventually started volunteering there. 

The idea for the book came years later into my academic career. The more I read of others’ research on pro-life activism, the more I appreciated how little was known about pregnancy help.

NRL News: In your book, you talk about pregnancy care centers having to “compete” with abortion clinics. What did you mean by this, why is this the case and exactly how is this done?

Hussey: Pregnancy centers offer information, resources, and support that they hope will persuade women to choose life. The impact of this strategy on abortions depends on abortion-minded women being aware of pregnancy centers and willing to come through their doors. So pregnancy centers have expanded and innovated over the years. They’ve been working on how to offer services abortion-minded women value, in settings they’ll find inviting, and then to market that effectively.

NRL News: What did your research tell you about the location, staffing, and services of these centers?

Hussey: There are nearly 3,000 pregnancy centers, plus other pregnancy help service providers, in the U.S., and the movement has been growing worldwide. U.S. pregnancy centers are in all types of communities and greatly outnumber abortion clinics, but there is a mismatch in where pregnancy centers and abortion clinics are found. Abortion clinics are increasingly concentrating in urban areas, while pregnancy centers are sparser there. 

Pregnancy centers depend heavily on volunteers, but today most centers also have paid professionals on their staff. 

Virtually every center provides free baby-related goods like diapers and formula, and often much more. Most now offer free ultrasounds, in addition to pregnancy tests and options counseling. Other health services, like prenatal care, are becoming more common. Pregnancy centers run various classes and groups, and they do individualized referral work to connect people with community resources for just about any need that might arise, like housing, child care, or health care.

NRL News: What are some of the false impressions about pregnancy resource centers that you think your research enabled you to correct?

Hussey: One is that pregnancy centers are only about talking women out of abortions. Sure, there’s talk, but their scale of goods and services is substantial. My research found that the typical pregnancy center actually seems to spend more of its resources on families where the woman isn’t planning an abortion, or the baby has already been born. 

Another is the popular belief that pregnancy centers grew out of pro-life activists’ failures at politics and protest. But pregnancy centers have existed from the pro-life movement’s beginning. They seem to attract different people than politics and protest do; usually people who might be less comfortable with traditional “activism,” though my research found that many become more politically active as they continue in the pregnancy help movement.

NRL News: Is the effectiveness of a pregnancy care center simply a matter of how many abortion-minded women change their minds or is there more to it than that?

Hussey: Pregnancy centers want to save babies, of course, but most have a broader measure of success, judging themselves in terms of how staff has served the people in front of them. They care deeply about women considering abortion, but they also value helping women who aren’t abortion-minded. It’s part of a culture-change mission and they say it could prevent future abortions. 

NRL News: You mention a survey question you asked women at an abortion clinic where a large percentage said that they would abort even with access to a more generous European style safety net. Is there any way to change those women’s minds?

Hussey: I don’t know. Clues might come from thinking about how attitudes and plans about pregnancy and parenting, including men’s, develop, even before a pregnancy happens. This includes thinking about what daily life might look like for a woman who continues with an unintended pregnancy – at work, school, and home, and in key relationships like with the baby’s father. 

Her daily life will likely involve a lot of challenges even before adding economic insecurity, and while I find evidence that public benefits can help and I personally think they are worthwhile, it’s hard to disentangle the complex factors in millions of abortions to reach a single concrete solution.

While there are similarities, each woman’s individual situation and circumstances are different, which is why centers invest so much time in getting to know and build relationships with each woman who comes through their door.

NRL News. How do different state laws and federal policies impact the ability of pregnancy care centers to do their work?

Hussey: A recent wave of state laws has attempted to require pregnancy centers to refer for abortion-related resources, which centers see as violating their consciences and undermining their missions. Centers also say that specific disclaimers some state and local governments have tried to require them to advertise create logistical design problems, portray them as inferior service providers, and compel speech. 

So far, such policies have not fared well in court, but fighting them diverts resources from pregnancy centers’ work. 

On the other hand, several states fund pregnancy centers, and there is some federal grant money too. Some center leaders say government funds have helped them expand and professionalize, while others don’t want them.

NRL News. Ultimately, what role do pregnancy care centers play in the pro-life movement?

Hussey: They enable the movement to more fully express what it means to be “pro-life,” learn from the people its actions affect, and offer more ways in which people of different personalities, talents, and life situations can help the cause.