Heartbeat International, its Option Line contact center and the Abortion Pill Rescue Network, along with thousands of Heartbeat affiliate pregnancy help organizations, stepped up to the plate at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and despite the challenges they have maintained exceptional life-affirming service for women and families in need.
As many areas are lifting pandemic restrictions and others extending or reinstating them, pregnancy help organizations continue to persevere in serving clients and Heartbeat remains ready to support them in their work.
“Women still need help and our network remains ready and willing to serve”
“While the pandemic crisis continues, the work of the pregnancy help movement advances as well,” Heartbeat’s Director of Communications and Marketing Andrea Trudden said. “Women still need help and our network remains ready and willing to serve.”
“Since the outbreak, Heartbeat has taken the lead in providing the pregnancy help movement the resources it needs during an uncertain time,” Trudden said.
Starting in mid-March, Heartbeat’s on-line Academy produced and hosted more than a half-dozen pandemic-related webinar trainings, reaching more than 2,000 individuals. These webinars addressed the virus’s impact in communities and how the pregnancy centers could adapt, equipping the centers to continue serving women and families in need.
Some 1,500 pregnancy help staff, board members and volunteers were trained at Heartbeat’s virtual Annual Conference in April.
The multi-day conference, a leading event in the pregnancy help movement, had been planned in its usual live, in-person format, but was converted to a virtual format on short notice as initial pandemic restrictions unfolded. Heartbeat was ultimately able to deliver its perennial event offering valuable pregnancy help information and inspiration to significantly more attendees.
Between the Academy webinars and its annual conference alone Heartbeat has reached more than 3,300 individuals working on the frontlines of the pregnancy help network with education and resources.
While a handful of pregnancy help organizations closed temporarily at the pandemic’s start due to individual situations of need, almost all pregnancy help organizations throughout the United States and in 64 countries worldwide have been open during the pandemic in one form or another, adapting, converting classes and meetings to go virtual and finding ways to serve clients that observe current health directives.
Life-affirming pregnancy help is “essential”
Heartbeat International President Jor-El Godsey lauded the servants in the pregnancy help movement, whom he said, “realized their "essential-ness" - both in legal terms, relative to governors’ orders, and in practical, community terms, and ultimately, spiritually.”
Pregnancy help centers “pressed in and pressed on,” he said, adjusting, adapting and “embracing the life-affirming mission in new ways of thinking in using new technology skills to maintain, even increase, impact.”
Tweet This: Pregnancy help centers “pressed in and pressed on” during the pandemic
“Heartbeat is more important than ever as the networking hub for learning together and multiplying that learning back to the network,” said Godsey. “We’re better together.”
Godsey also lauded Heartbeat staff for identifying the changing dynamic, clarifying concerns, maintaining a broad view, shifting resources and meeting needs.
This was especially true of Option Line, Heartbeat’s 24/7 bi-lingual pregnancy help contact center, he said.
“With not having enough time to hire for the huge bump in calls, our team shouldered the load, altered shifts and adjusted protocols to help pregnancy help centers as they found their footing in the crisis,” Godsey said.
As centers closed temporarily or shortened hours early on and fear became prevalent during the pandemic, Option Line contacts had increased 30-50% in the first month and a half of the outbreak, with consultants answering 1,500 to 2,000 contacts each day with lifesaving pregnancy help. Option Line consultants answer immediate needs and then connect callers to their local pregnancy help organization.
Option Line added shifts and training to ensure clients were served and staff members were prepared.
The overall number of contacts to the call center rose further in April before leveling of slightly in May, though remaining higher than normal for a time.
Heartbeat International’s Director of Option Line Nafisa Kennedy said the numbers began trending back toward pre-pandemic numbers in the latter half of May.
“We're grateful pregnancy help centers reopened,” she said, “and so are our callers.”
“We are helping centers with information of how to best serve the families of their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated Christa Brown, Heartbeat International’s Director of Medical Impact. “Some essential services can only be offered at the center but much of the patient education, support services, and classes can be offered remotely.”
Some of the care offered by centers requires close contact between the client and the healthcare provider, she said, but there are ways centers can continue to help clients and maintain safety with special considerations for medical pregnancy centers for staff, clients and other visitors. This includes disinfection, pre-screening of clients, PPE, universal precautions, proper handwashing, rotating staff and physical distancing.
Centers have been updating protocols and becoming innovative in how to assist the families of their communities with essential medical services in this challenging time, said Brown, “We are assisting them with guidelines to stay safe.”
“Resilient, creative, cheerful and blessed, despite hardships”
Heartbeat remained in contact with affiliates virtually to keep up on how they were doing and connect them with resources, said Betty McDowell, vice president of Ministry Services for Heartbeat, and continued to put out the latest news on COVID as it relates to pregnancy help policy and procedures.
McDowell remarked how pregnancy help organizations were staying the course on their mission and continuing to serve. Methods have changed, she said, procedures evaluated and improved, technology use is higher, but the mission remains.
“We are resilient, creative, cheerful and blessed, despite hardships,” she said. “I think the pandemic helped make us all, Heartbeat International and the pregnancy help community, smarter and more creative. We are more focused on our mission and calling.”
Heartbeat’s Vice President of Mission Advancement Cindi Boston-Bilotta concurred.
“We've seen our network use creative ways and meaningful ways of reaching women at their point of crisis and beyond,” she said, “delivering groceries and needed supplies to doorsteps, frequent wellness calls, virtual training and coaching, as well as regular support. Leaders, staff, and volunteers have developed new processes and utilized available tools.”
“The Heartbeat International Network rose to the occasion and continued serving vulnerable women well during this time,” she said. “Everything developed or strengthened in the pandemic environment will grow the operational excellence and methods used to connect and provide no-charge services to the vulnerable women they serve.”
Heartbeat’s Medical Impact team has also been assisting centers to meet the emotional and material needs of clients, Brown added.
Heartbeat sent guidance to centers on things to watch for in serving clients during the pandemic, including risk of domestic violence and human trafficking.
Pregnancy help organizations were urged to be available for clients, to actively listen and share hope and faith, and to also be prepared to provide support and have mental health resources ready to share. Heartbeat also provided information to affiliates on the coronavirus as it relates to pregnancy.
“We have been busy”
Heartbeat's Abortion Pill Rescue Network (APRN) serves women requesting reversal of chemical abortion, and its calls are answered through Option Line.
Consultants in the call center and network members have been working hard to meet the needs of these mothers, Brown told Pregnancy Help News. With a record number of reversals having been initiated since the start of the pandemic, that means more moms are grateful for the second chance for their babies, she said.
“We have been busy,” Brown said. “As abortion providers have converted to offering more chemical abortion during the pandemic, we are ready to serve those who have regret and want to reverse the effects of chemical abortion.”
Calls to the Abortion Pill Rescue Network increased by 72% in March 2020 from the previous year. These include both pregnancy inquiries and those seeking abortion pill reversal.
While consultants haven't seen a dramatic increase of calls to the Abortion Pill Rescue Network specifically during COVID-19, Brown added, they have noticed that 80% of the reversal calls coming in are starting the reversal process.
“These are women who regret taking the abortion pill and searching for a way to make that last choice for life,” she said. “Thankfully, they are finding AbortionPillReversal.com and are being connected to a network of healthcare providers who can help.”
Despite the pandemic and medical resources being stretched thin, Brown said, the APRN had a record month in March with 105 reversal starts, which was 81% of all mission critical contacts for that month.
"The APRN nursing team has absolutely risen to the challenge of meeting the needs of women from around the world during the present global crisis,” said Ashley Vance, Healthcare Team Manager. “The consultants have pulled together, worked harder, encouraged each other, offered prayer and have shown a strength that I know they can feel good about when they look back at this unprecedented time in their lives.”
“The Heartbeat International team has used this time to sharpen their skills, grow their imaginations and to look to uplift those on the front lines of the pregnancy help movement,” Vance added.
"You were a lifesaver today. Literally.”
A few recent abortion pill reversal client quotes illustrate the crucial nature of the life-saving work performed by the APRN and pregnancy help ministries overall:
"I am so thankful every day that I changed my mind and found the people that helped me bring a healthy baby into this world!"
"You were a lifesaver today. Literally. At the clinic I saw my baby for the first time. I also saw its heart beating. They did not tell me my child had a heartbeat at the abortion clinic. Thank you for saving me from such a traumatic experience... I will monitor my systems and keep in touch with the doctor’s office you connected me with today. God bless you."
Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News and the Abortion Pill Rescue Network.