As a first-time traveler to Heartbeat’s Annual Pregnancy Help Conference this year, I was not prepared for the experience.
I worked at the 2021 Conference in Heartbeat’s headquarter city, Columbus, Ohio. But since I also live there and did not have to travel to the destination city, as a matter of course I was not on-site at the Conference from the crack of dawn to late evening every day.
At this year’s Jacksonville Conference, I was.
What struck me most right away was the number of people present!
The hotel seemed full of conference-goers, the vendor booths seemed more numerous than the year before, and the registration line was huge. But, I thought, perhaps it was just my perception. I thought with the previous year, maybe attendance was a little lower than normal due to many COVID-19 restrictions in place, and that this year was just a normal year. I was wrong.
This year was a record-breaking year for attendance.
There were nearly 1500 people present at the in-person conference, with about another 400 people who were registered for the concurrent virtual conference.
While many things could have contributed to this high number of participants, what I heard from attendees was that there were two major factors.
The first was the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions from many states so travel to and from Jacksonville, Fla. was not as big of an issue and the in-person restrictions were not as severe either.
The second was that people were ready to be in community again after not being able to attend for one or two years in a row. People were ready to learn, to be encouraged, and to share with each other. There was an air of joy and excitement that was magnified compared to my 2021 Conference experience.
Tweet This: People were ready to learn, be encouraged & share w/each other @ Heartbeat's 2022 Conference. There was a magnified air of joy & excitement
While I worked at the Option Line exhibitor booth, I was able to see other Heartbeat services booths, like Extend Web Services, Next Level CMS, and the Abortion Pill Rescue® Network (APRN), as well as vendors from many other pro-life organizations.
Our booth saw an amazing turnout this year, completely surpassing what I had experienced in 2021.
While the Director of Option Line, Nafisa Kennedy, would be talking to one person, I would be talking to another, and a line several-people deep with Conference attendees who were patiently waiting for their chance to speak with us trailed in front of the table.
Our conversations would last several minutes, although a few people did come by just to say thank you and encourage us in our work - which Nafisa and I very much appreciated hearing and sharing with our team.
And this was not just our experience; the other Heartbeat booths and indeed, other vendors, mentioned similar situations at their booths all day.
It seemed people were eager to make connections and learn about what was available for them in the pregnancy help movement.
At the end of each day, my throat felt like gravel, but for the best possible reason — talking to pregnancy help organization staff and volunteers about the work they are doing and how Option Line can partner with them in that work. It was such a blessing to see many people with whom I had only ever emailed or talked with on the phone, too!
The theme for this year was “Onward.”
How do we move forward in our work in a rapidly changing world? How do we adapt to new situations? How can we come together to better serve the women and families who need our help? The theme was hopeful but practical.
I noticed a few topics in this “Onward” theme that were especially popular with Conference attendees throughout the week.
As telemedicine for this type of abortion becomes more popular and illegal online pill-buying becomes more common, the landscape of abortion access is changing rapidly from what has been the norm for years.
People in the pregnancy help movement want to be better prepared to address these new, unique avenues of abortion and the repercussions more women may find themselves facing after this type of abortion. Are pregnancy help centers able to help the women who need after-abortion support? Are they ready to assist in the APR process?
Another topic that seemed to be of high interest was how to best reach out to women who are abortion minded. How to market the center to reach these women, how to convert a caller to an in-person client, and how to best address her needs holistically so abortion becomes unthinkable and unwanted for her, were all topics covered.
As a part of the Onward theme, many of the keynote talks were about how to prepare for a post-Roe world.
Even if Roe is overturned in part or in whole, our job does not stop.
Tweet This: Even if Roe is overturned in part or in whole, pregnancy help does not stop.
In fact, in some states, it could become harder as they work “abortion rights” into their constitution and block off funding resources from life-affirming pregnancy help organizations.
But no matter what, women will still have unplanned, unexpected pregnancies and need help — even in states with strong pro-life laws and resources.
Tweet This: No matter what happens w/Dobbs women will have unplanned pregnancies & need pregnancy help even in states w/strong pro-life laws & resources
Oh, and just as a side note, it was absolutely wild to notice the number of women in the pregnancy help movement versus men who were present. I’m not saying men were not at the Conference, but it would be nice to see more men at this Conference. They were quite few and far between.
We know fathers need support for unplanned pregnancy and even need after-abortion support, too, and having men in the pregnancy help movement helps fathers get the support and education they need.
But take it from someone who has seen the presence of over a thousand women uniting for a single cause — the pregnancy help movement is not controlled by old white men! Women in the pregnancy help movement are the majority, and they are a powerful force to reckon with. I wish the mainstream media could recognize how amazing the women of the pregnancy help movement are.
Overall, I found the conference this year to be a wellspring of hope, encouragement, and collaborative spirit. I can’t wait to see what next year brings as we move Onward.
Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages the Abortion Pill Rescue® Network (APRN) and Pregnancy Help News.