A life-affirming choice for women: The important role of maternity homes after Roe’s reversal

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(Washington Examiner) The June 2022 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has only increased the intensity surrounding the abortion debate. The ruling did not create a life-affirming culture overnight. But this was not the goal. Righting a legal and moral wrong was necessary. The abortion question is now in the hands of state legislatures and voters. Still, we view it through a large, nationwide lens. The discourse is broad and evenly divided along party lines. The real work takes place beyond the reach of fierce, angry discussion. It is the kind of work that matters far more than viral clips, protests, or interviews with enraged politicians. 

At the heart of it, the pro-life movement has always been a grassroots operation. Perhaps this has been forgotten in some ways over the years. The major focus has always been on Roe v. Wade or Casey v. Planned Parenthood and whether they would survive a Supreme Court challenge. There is nothing wrong with that priority. Legal battles are a main component of the cause. But the work to minister to women and reach them in local communities across the nation existed under Roe. The same work continues now, with an uncertain future ahead for both the country and individual states. 

Pregnancy is overwhelming. This is true no matter the circumstances surrounding conception. Even in stable environments, pregnancy can and does cause anxiety. Carrying, delivering, and raising a new life is the ultimate of responsibilities. In the event of an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy, worries compound to an enormous degree. Far too often, a woman’s partner is less than enthusiastic about having a child or, worse, will pressure her to get an abortion. Those who are pro-life are desperate to save the lives of the unborn. This is a beautiful goal. But saving the life of the woman, allowing her to realize she is capable, and providing tangible resources and hope for the present and the future are equally important. 

When standing outside the stories of turmoil, it is easy to wonder why and how any woman could consider abortion. These reactions often come from those without lives marked by abuse, drug addiction, or unsupportive partners, parents, or families. It does little good to wonder why abortion continues to be in demand. It will always be presented as an alternative to scared women. This is the reality. A better use of time is spent meeting women where they are and journeying with them to a better life for them and their precious babies. It is in this vein that maternity homes soldier on. They are generally outside the spotlight. In some ways, this is good. The work is key and demands focus. But in other ways, the spotlight needs to be on them. They are transforming and saving lives, one by one. The lives saved now are also an investment in the next generation. Maternity homes do more to shift our nation slowly to a life-affirming culture than the most intense online disagreement could ever hope to achieve. 

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Maternity homes are different from crisis pregnancy centers and similar clinics. Those clinics are essential and stand in direct contrast to Planned Parenthood. Pro-life clinic services include things such as ultrasounds (usually in limited scope), education regarding reproduction and sexual health, counseling, parenting classes for both mothers and fathers, life skill classes, adoption referrals, and clothing and other supplies for mother and baby. These clinics exist to provide compassionate care and direction to overwhelmed women. While abortion clinics offer targeted killing of the unborn, pro-life pregnancy centers do the opposite. As of 2020, there were approximately 3,000 pro-life pregnancy centers. Maternity homes are fewer in number. 

There are around 400 registered maternity homes in the United States, according to the Maternity Housing Coalition. Two of these homes are Road 2 Hope Maternity Home in Beaverton, Oregon, and St. Raymond’s Society in Columbia, Missouri, and Jefferson City, Missouri. For Leona Bicknese, president and CEO of Road 2 Hope, and Steve Smith, co-founder of St. Raymond’s, the mission is focused as much on the mothers as the babies. And each home offers the kind of holistic, practical approach so needed in the pro-life movement. I had the great privilege of connecting with them and learning about their work. 

Road 2 Hope is located in a troubled corner of the country. According to Bicknese, “We are countercultural. We exist in a strongly pro-abortion, anti-Christian environment. We are in Oregon just south of Washington state. Both states have pledged millions of dollars to pay for abortions, including abortions from out of state. In Oregon, there is no restriction on abortion even up to the moment of birth.” This is as difficult a mission field as it gets. It is also an area that desperately needs the kind of compassion and care Road 2 Hope offers. In Missouri, where St. Raymond’s is located, Smith said state policy has helped make it a more welcoming place: “In Missouri, any donation over $100 to pregnancy resource center or maternity home gets 70% state tax credit. If a benefactor itemizes at federal level, they also may deduct the other 30% from their federal income. The administration of this policy is simple with no added bureaucracy required from the state. It is the one instance I’ve seen the state, business community, nonprofits work together so that everyone wins. This policy is one of the main reasons St. Raymond’s has been able to add a preschool to serve the community and meet operational costs. The whole community benefits from this policy because the state doesn’t have to provide resources to care for homeless persons, and when women leave St. Raymond’s, they become taxpaying citizens. Everyone benefits when we invest in moms.”

The differences between blue and red states can be vast. These disparities affect the conditions in which maternity homes operate. But regardless of the larger political climate, there are countless women in every state, blue and red, who need help and hope to choose life instead of abortion. 

At Road 2 Hope, the mission is “to provide housing, help, and hope to pregnant women and their children. We envision every pregnant woman safe, secure, and supported, prepared for the birth of her baby, and equipped for the future. We exist as an alternative to abortion. Our advocacy for the unborn begins with advocacy for their mothers and a commitment to walk alongside them before delivery, during delivery, and after delivery of their babies.” St. Raymond’s has similar goals: “As a maternity home, we help mothers who chose life for their children and need support for a season of life. Women come with a variety of backgrounds and circumstances,” the home’s mission statement said. “We aren’t here to judge any of the past experiences or choices but rather to help women get free from their past so that they can have a joyful future.” For the women interested in either home, there must be a serious commitment made. At Road 2 Hope and St. Raymond’s, the passion to assist women during a crucial season in life is strong. These homes aren’t here to criticize a woman’s decisions or convert her to a certain faith. But the applicants must bring with them their own sense of dedication to the program. It is vital to their own success and their family’s flourishment. 

Maternity homes are not places where a woman will hear a lecture, receive pamphlets, and be sent on her way. Instead, women are given shelter, food, and clothing. They are educated in the form of life skills and cooking classes. Financial education is a big part of creating a good future, as Bicknese shared: “We set our clients up for future success and independence, starting with comprehensive financial education. In addition, all of the women set goals and establish individual plans for the future with support, encouragement, and guidance from staff. Part of this is removing obstacles, which often required clearing up debt and legal issues.” Education is another major milestone. At St. Raymond’s, the goals vary: “education including a GED if needed, professional certifications (one resident just obtained her medical coding certificate, landed job at a medical facility, and her employer is now paying for her nursing degree), higher education (one resident is graduating with nursing degree this May), child care/preschool, driver’s license (one current resident just got her driver’s license [and] bought her first car).” The same goals exist at Road 2 Hope: “Completion of high school education comes first. After that, women have the opportunity for vocational education or college. Some women choose to participate in our in-house internships. Through these, women learn to create a resume, apply for and interview for a job. Then, the internship can provide on-the-job training to build employment skills and strengthen their resumes.” 

Tweet This: Maternity homes will not give a woman a lecture and pamphlets and send on her way. Instead, women are given shelter, food, and clothing.

At both homes, a resident’s commitment is what can and will carry her through the program to success. But beyond personal motivation, the biggest hurdles for providing care have to do with forces outside an immediate situation. As Bicknese said, “The greatest hurdles are capacity and culture.” For Road 2 Hope and St. Raymond’s, the needs are numerous. For each woman, there is a long list of physical, emotional, and often mental health concerns to address. The ability to provide assistance and resources is directly affected by the funding. An ongoing need in pro-life ministry will always be financial. Even when the desire to help or the ability to change exists, there must be monetary resources in order to meet those needs. Without question, pro-lifers should invest in their local pregnancy care clinics and maternity homes by giving as they can. Giving money and time to help women move beyond despair is where real change starts. 

For both Bicknese and Smith, the political climate, fraught with continued tension over abortion, affects neither their missions nor their mindsets. It is quite refreshing and humbling to hear of pro-life passion that is unencumbered by political pressure. They are not in it for political gain, prestige, or recognition from spotlight-craving politicians. Quite the opposite, in fact. “As I look into the faces of the moms, babies, and children, I am not thinking about politics,” Bicknese said. “I’m thinking about how we can love these moms well. I’m thinking about how we can serve them so they can experience true hope, how we can pray for them, and how we can help them overcome lies with truth. I’m busy thinking a lot about how to build and grow our organization. This includes considering what needs to happen on the board level and how staff can be better equipped to serve our precious clients, as well as what message do I need to share with donors. When speaking to churches, training staff of our home or others, I think in terms of worldview versus politics. Political views are a byproduct of worldviews.”

Smith feels the same: “St. Raymond’s life-affirming mission transcends the political debate. Our goal is to help mothers and, in doing so, help their children — that is uncontroversial and something everyone can get behind.” If anything, the pure focus of these front-line heroes is a reminder that all of us who have a passion for mothers and babies should set politics aside as much as possible. 

I asked both Bicknese and Smith about their reaction to the Dobbs decision and any noticeable changes as a result. “A few people asked to be removed from our mailing list right after the Dobbs decision. This wasn’t that big of a change,” Bicknese said. “The biggest change was regarding the impact that the Dobbs decision had on me. That day and the days immediately following, I was very emotional. I would cry at the drop of a hat.”

“Just the fact that it was publicly and officially acknowledged what a bad idea the Roe v. Wade decision was. I didn’t expect to see this in my lifetime. I hoped and prayed for it, and it happened,” she continued. “I knew that this wasn’t the end of the battle but a new starting point. I knew the response to the decision in the Pacific Northwest would be to rally the troops and put more money into abortion. My response was we need to get out there and talk to churches more. We need to be out there telling the people in the pews that they can make a difference, that they can and should speak up and stand firm.”

For Smith, the overall mission hasn’t changed at all: “Women needed help before Dobbs and still need help now. They always will.”  

Without a doubt, both Bicknese and Smith have one goal in mind as they look toward the future: to help more women, babies, and even fathers and do it all with excellence. It’s not about appealing to a certain ideological demographic or even getting involved in the political aspects of abortion. The goal is saving lives, helping families, and walking alongside women as they establish strong foundations on which to build successful futures. Period. 

Maternity homes are an overlooked or even unknown but crucial part of the pro-life movement. These homes are nonjudgmental, nonpartisan, and truly life-changing. If anything, we need more of this and less of the fleeting activism that relies on temporary slogans or shaming. Working in the trenches, encouraging women toward life goals and achievements, and showing them they can do it is where the real cultural transformation begins. One by one. 

Pro-life people eager to help have a long list of opportunities in front of them. Financially supporting maternity homes and other pro-life clinics tops that list. It is imperative that these bastions of healing and hope not only continue to operate but also thrive. We need more of them. And we need them now more than ever. 

Editor's note: This article was published by the Washington Examiner and is reprinted with permission.  

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