by Marc and Julie Anderson
KANSAS CITY, Kan — Fear.
It seemed to be everywhere this spring.
While fear is common for clients seen at area pregnancy resource centers, staff said COVID-19 brought it to epic proportions.
“The reasons for most of them wanting an abortion are the same reasons they always say,” said Ruth Tisdale, executive director of Advice & Aid Pregnancy Center in Overland Park.
“But I think what coronavirus did is put an extra measure of fear on all of us,” she continued. “These women thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I’ve got to take care of this right away.’”
Leah Conner, executive director of the Wyandotte County Pregnancy Clinic, agreed.
“I think we all felt some of that [fear],” she said, “but then for them to be facing an unplanned pregnancy and those things they were experiencing just made everything more intense.”
During the first two weeks of March, Advice & Aid saw nine clients. During the second half of March, however, the center saw 31 clients. In April, the number increased to 42.
Conner said her staff noticed an increase in calls as well.
Because Advice & Aid is located directly across from an abortion clinic, sometimes clients mistakenly walk through the center’s doors.
“We have multiple women who were scheduled for abortions that ended up at our clinic during that time frame,” Tisdale said.
Staff members always gently remind clients that Advice & Aid doesn’t perform abortions. But sometimes, Tisdale said, clients are too stressed out to process the information.
For example, one recent client kept asking about the abortion while staff administered an ultrasound. Later, through a routine follow-up call, they learned she’d changed her mind.
“She said she was so thankful that she had been here because it gave her time to think and process the whole thing,” said Tisdale. “She had decided she didn’t want to pursue an abortion anymore.”
Getting clients to slow down their decision-making process, Conner said, is crucial to helping them choose life. Although her staff worked remotely for much of the spring, they helped women in all kinds of different situations.
“Our phones were busier,” she said, “but we were still able to walk with people.”
Staff made referrals to Advice & Aid and/or other medical providers for ultrasounds. They also made referrals to adoption agencies.
“We were still able to make those connections. People were still experiencing the same forms of crisis that they always do,” Conner said.
Additionally, staff at both clinics now have to make arrangements upon request for clients to pick up diapers, formula or baby wipes.
Both directors said they now feel the added responsibility of ensuring everyone (staff and clients alike) remains safe. That means extra safety protocols.
For example, Advice & Aid decreased its on-site staff from 24 to 10. They then divided the remaining into two teams, taking turns on-site. Temperature checks became routine, too.
“At first, we weren’t letting anybody in unless it was the client. But then, we got some advice from one of our national affiliates and . . . went to letting the significant other come in during the sonogram,” Tisdale said.
After every client visit or ultrasound, staff members disinfect the rooms thoroughly, noting the time and date on clipboards outside the rooms.
Kelly Carter, director of the center’s Awakenings program, said the precautions meant extra work, but she’s grateful the center could stay open.
“Sometimes,” she said, “we were seeing seven or eight clients in a day.
“We were seeing ladies that were really early on [in their pregnancies], and I think that, even though they walked in our doors and they may have had an appointment next door, we were able to slow them down a little bit.”
Like Carter, Melody Herren found herself counseling clients, too. It’s not necessarily what she signed on for when she joined the staff last December as special events and outreach coordinator. In fact, she had barely finished client advocacy training when the pandemic hit.
“A lot of the women were on the fence about their pregnancy, but their partners or boyfriends really wanted them to have an abortion,” Herren said.
In one instance, she asked a young woman as to her wishes.
“She said, ‘I don’t know, but my boyfriend really wants me to have an abortion.’
“I asked her what she wanted, and she started crying.”
After seeing her baby’s heartbeat during an ultrasound, Herren said the client became even more emotional. She agreed to take abortion information, but not for the reason she expected.
“She said, ‘I want to hear about it just because I want to tell my boyfriend why I’m not getting one.’”
Earlier this year, Holly, a client served by Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic, realized she, too, couldn’t go through with an abortion.
Even though she had taken a home pregnancy test, she hoped the result was wrong for one specific reason. She had been raped.
Then she met Kathy Shea, a counselor at the clinic.
After talking with Shea and much prayer, Holly realized she wanted to keep her child and is choosing to focus on the good that can come from her pregnancy.
“It’s OK. I’ve gotten past the hard part,” she said. “I don’t think abortion should be the answer. Even if it was rape . . . it’s not the baby’s fault.
“And honestly, it could be for a reason. I truly believe I need her more than she needs me.”