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The Future of Abortion, Part 4: Keeping It

Episode Summary

Pregnancy centers have grown in numbers with the backing of antiabortion religious organizations. What's their future like in a post-Roe vs. Wade world?

Episode Notes

Pregnancy centers offer services like free pregnancy tests, and sometimes resources like diapers or baby clothes — even classes and counseling. Their main focus, though, is to persuade women not to have abortions — and support those who continue their pregnancies.

Today, how religious organizations and state funding have led to the rise of these pregnancy centers, as abortion rights fall nationwide. 

Read the full transcript here.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times Houston bureau chief Molly Hennessy-Fiske

More reading:

The antiabortion movement fuels a growth industry: Pregnancy centers

Read and listen to the rest of the L.A. Times “The Future of Abortion” series here

Even with Roe vs. Wade in place, low-income women struggle to get abortions in Texas

Episode Transcription



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Gustavo: Aaron Fowler and Ronda Kay Moreland run an organization called Birth Choice…

It’s a pregnancy resource center in Dallas, Texas.  


Sometimes called crisis pregnancy centers, these facilities offer services like free pregnancy tests…and sometimes resources like diapers or baby clothes…even classes and counseling. 

Their main focus, though…is to persuade women to not have abortions…and support those who continue their pregnancies. 


Gustavo: As states have restricted abortion access in recent years, these facilities have gotten more attention…and a lot more clients…



Gustavo: I’m Gustavo Arellano. You’re listening to THE TIMES, daily news from the LA Times. It’s Wednesday, June 15 , 2022. Today…with Roe versus Wade expected to be overturned…can pregnancy centers offer enough support to women with unplanned pregnancies? 

And will that stop them from getting an abortion…even if it’s illegal?

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Gustavo: Here to talk with me about this is my LA Times colleague and Houston bureau chief… Molly Hennessy-Fiske. Molly, welcome to the Times

Molly: Thanks for having me. 

Gustavo: So you hear the term “pregnancy center,” and most folks probably think, “Oh, Planned Parenthood, or some local clinic.” But they have a very specific purpose — what are they, what do they offer, and…where can you find them? 

Molly: So pregnancy centers are nonprofits. // They provide a bunch of different resources to women who are pregnant or think they might be pregnant. Things like pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling, information about adoption, maternity homes. And a lot of these services like the testing and the ultrasound are all free. But they are not providing any kind of, abortion referrals or abortions. And they're pretty clear about that. 

Gustavo: Are there a lot of them? How many of them are there in the United States?

Molly: So in total, there are about 2,500 of these pregnancy centers across the country. So there are a lot of them in there at the proportion of pregnancy centers to abortion clinics has grown over time. There's about three times as many pregnancy centers as abortion clinics, and that's even higher in states like Texas where I am, because a lot of abortion clinics have been forced to close because the state has passed pretty restrictive laws.  So it's a lot more likely that a woman who's looking for services who think she might be pregnant or knows she's pregnant will go into a pregnancy center rather than an abortion clinic. 

Gustavo: And you went to Dallas to a place called Birth Choice and you met there Ronda and Aaron. What’s Birth Choice like and how many people use its services?

Molly: So birth choice is one of these pregnancy centers. It actually opened in 2009. 

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Molly: Ronda chairs the board of it. She has been involved since 2009, since the founding of it. 

Tape: I want you to get the full experience of it…what it’s like for someone to just walk up… 

Molly: Aaron is the executive director, so he runs the day-to-day operations, working with their staff. They have about nine staff members, two of whom are registered nurses.

Tape: So this is kind of where their journey begins with the opportunity that they have here for counseling or free services of any kind.

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Molly: They serve about 1,000 people a year. And many of the people that they see are in crisis, they're overwhelmed, feel like they don't have a lot of choices either because they have financial limitations. They have housing issues. They might be coming out of a domestic violence situation. Some are very young, youths like 12, 14 years old. 

Tape: The number one thing that clients come here is to find out if they're pregnant. And so we have pregnancy tests that are approved by the nurses,

Molly: Their services are free. They do offer pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, counseling. 

Tape:  This is a place where we stage a lot of the supplies. 

Molly: The baby boutique, it says, oh my gosh, there's a lot of stuff in here. 
Tape: A lot of categories of things…

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Molly: And they work with other members of what they call the pregnancy help movement. So places that handle adoption, maternity homes that provide places for women to stay when they're pregnant and even afterwards. 

Gustavo: You mentioned that they tend to be religious, and as a Catholic I remember hearing a lot about, you know, throughout my entire life, but do these places have specific relationships with denominations or with churches? 

Molly: Yeah. So the pregnancy centers have religious affiliation, some or non-denominational Christians, some are evangelical, but many historically have been Catholic. And that's what Birth Choice is. They have a Catholic chapel at the center. 

Molly:  So now I see Pope John Paul down here a little bit. But I also see, it, there's a Saint up here is that…? 

Tape: She's a fantastic story. So that's the St. Gianna Molla . She was a doctor and, uh, she is the patron of, um, the pro-life movement because she was a medical professional that had a complication for pregnancy. And this is, you know, quite a while back before we have several  advancements, but she chose to, um, allow her child to be born and brought into this world. But unfortunately, she died. 

Molly: And staff go there. Some pray after they meet with women. Others just come for the afternoon prayer.

Tape: For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and the whole world. 


Molly:  And some of the prayers that they say are about working for an end to abortion. 

Tape: Help all to realize that the right to life bestowed on us by you, oh God, cannot be removed or diminished by a court. 

Molly: So the work that they do, sort of their feelings about abortion are really rooted in religion. 

Tape: And in these days, set our nation on a course of rejecting the violence of aboriton and treating children in the womb with equal justice under law. 

Gustavo: Many of thse pregnancy centers get a lot of money from the state and you mentioned Texas specifically, how reliant are they on state funding? Or funding from the government?

Molly: That’s right. So the Associated Press recently found that 13 states have spent $495 million since 2010 to help fund the centers, including at least $89 million this fiscal year. Texas funds them, it's up to $100 million, uh, over this year and next. Now that funding has increased over the years, not only in Texas, but in other states and it's expected to increase more if Roe gets overturned, and states grow these networks of pregnancy centers as this alternative or a safety net for women who don't have the option of getting abortions. Birth choice, for them, the state funding is just a fraction of their overall funding. So they got about $116,000 out of that $100 million. And their overall budget is about $600 to $700,000. So  the rest of that money comes from private donors and from grants.

Gustavo: The people who run these pregnancy centers, what role do they see themselves in the fight over abortion? 

Molly: The way they described it to me is that they see themselves as a support network for women to really give them the ability to make the choice they want to make without concerns about things like // finances and housing and job and all these other factors in their life that stress them out and make them feel like they need or have to get an abortion.

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Tape: All of the clients are seeking answers. There's either a lack of clarity, a lack of confidence  in making a decision one way or another. Uh, and so that is primary, uh, focus for us is to provide clarity and context to the challenges that they're experiencing. 

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Molly: Originally in the pregnancy help movement, folks were really targeting what they called abortion minded women, women who were determined to get abortions, and tried to change their minds and get them into the pregnancy centers to, to kind of make their pitch to them. Now, a lot of places like Birth Choice are reaching out and trying to reach women who are determined to have abortions, but they’re also trying to help with what they call the service seeking women or the parenting-minded women who really want to not have an abortion but they have all these other factors in play in their lives.

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Tape: Any stage of the journey is different for everyone. Some make a tremendous leap of, you know, courage going from the challenges they experience regarding an unplanned pregnancy, to what they do afterwards. And we want to provide the opportunities for them to continue to succeed because sometimes that journey changes.

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Gustavo: Coming up after the break…one woman's journey to Birth Choice.

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Gustavo: Molly, while you were at birth choice in Dallas, you met a few women who were seeking help from them. And one of them wants to be identified by the first letter of her middle name, L. What's L story? 

Molly: So L is 27-years-old. 

Tape: You don’t want us to use your name right?

Tape: Correct.

Molly: She's, um, from the Dallas area. And when I met her, she already had three kids. One is a toddler, the youngest one. 

Tape: Hey…oh good job…you did it. 

Molly: Her older kids are 8 and 6. And she has this baby that's on the way, she's quite pregnant. She's due very soon. So she really had her hands full with a lot of kids. 

Tape: Want to kiss him? Go take it to your sister. 

Molly: And the reason she didn't want us to use her name is because she’s a survivor of domestic abuse. 


Tape: The reason that you don't want to be identified is because you're concerned about your safety, right? Yes ma'am. 

Molly: She and her partner had some financial problems during the pandemic. He was working in construction and his work slowed down.

Tape: We pretty much ended up having the downsize. So we left our place and moved to his mom's…

Molly: She had been working in bookkeeping and had to stop working because she got really sick with her pregnancy. And, they were in the process of moving in with his mom when  he kind of lost it. She said, and  attacked her and started choking her until she passed out. 

Tape: It was a little girl from the neighborhood. She was trying to wake me up.

Molly: So she fled with her youngest little girl. 

Tape: I knew there was a park close by…but I knew there was a park nearby and I just tried to find my way to the park. And I did. Um, and I went into the girl's bathroom and I locked the door and I pushed this heavy metal trashcan in front of the door. And I called my sister and she came like immediately.

Molly: So then she's separated from her older boys and trying to figure out what she wants to do going forward, how she's going to support herself. 


Gustavo: After L was picked up by her sister she made an appointment at a nearby abortion clinic.. How did that go?

Molly: That's right. L had decided that she needed to have an abortion. Um, she went to the clinic  to get an ultrasound. She was unaware that Texas had, just the month before, passed a new law that restricted abortion to before there was any kind of fetal cardiac activity, it was called the heartbeat law. And that was usually at about six weeks. So she had the ultrasound and the staff at the abortion clinic told her you're too far along. You're too many weeks pregnant. We can't help you.

Tape: Once they told me they couldn't help me, um, they gave me a form and they circled for me to go to New Mexico. And I'm thinking, how am I going to go to New Mexico?

Molly: She had never traveled out of state. 

Tape: I've never gotten a train or plane or boat. And mind ya’ll, I left everything behind. My car, clothes, car seat, anything you could think of was, I didn't have, besides me and my phone and my daughter. 

Molly: So she just couldn't fathom how she was going to do that.

Tape: And I just soaked it all in and I was trying not to go to the car and cry. and I just took a breath and I walked out. 

Molly: So, she's leaving the clinic and in the parking lot, when she encountered some anti-abortion activists who approached her and told her that she wasn't alone and referred her over to Birth Choice, which is in the same office complex as the abortion clinic. 

Tape: She gave me the brochure and she tells me to read it. And she, she verbally tells me, you know, what all they offer. And at this point, I was thinking this is too good to be true, like who helps pregnant women with tutoring and has all these outlets, you know, like, is it that easy? 

Gustavo: Wow, L walked out of the abortion clinic and ran into Birch Choice. 

Molly:  Yeah. And this often happens. People will either come to go to the abortion clinic or they'll be leaving, and these folks who Birth Choice staff referred to as sidewalk counselors, they're Catholic volunteers, will give them pamphlets about birth choice, refer them, even walk them over and take them into the birth choice office. 

Gustavo: So when L ended up going to Birth Choice, what was her experience there like?

Molly: So overall it was positive. 

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Tape: They called me back there and it was like a relief. It was like my turn, you know what I mean? It was my turn. 

Molly: She went in, she felt like she was treated with respect. She went through a counseling session where a staffer tried to figure out what she wanted, what she needed in order to not have an abortion. 


Molly: And the main thing was housing. Being able to reunite with her sons and also some sort of a job to support herself independently.

Tape:  She comes back in and she was like, I found you a place it’s perfect…

Molly: And so they connected her with // Blue Haven Ranch, which is a maternity home that provided her with an apartment. 

Tape: And she was like, they, they accept kids. And now I just started crying because at that moment I was like, I can get my sons, you know? Cause I pretty much just vanished…. 



Molly: She was able to reunite with her older sons. They're now attending school there. And the maternity ranch, um, did a bunch of other things for her. Like threw her a baby shower, took her to get, um, a 3D ultrasound of her baby, which, uh, it turns out is a boy.

Tape: Do you have a name picked out yet? I do…his name's going to be Casin.

Molly:How do I spell that? K?

Tape: C 

Molly: She's allowed to stay there rent-free and they also provided furniture while she's pregnant. And then  like up to 18 months afterwards. 


Gustavo: Blue Haven Ranch. What’s its relationship with Birth Choice? 

Molly: So they're part of this // sort of unofficial network of pregnancy help groups. Like I mentioned before, like // adoption agencies, // places that provide supplies to // pregnant women or counseling. 

Tape: My name is Aubrey Schlackman and I am the founder and executive director of Blue Haven Ranch. 

Molly: Aubrey Schlackman and her husband are evangelical Christians who live outside of Dallas. And last year they decided that they wanted to help women by opening this maternity ranch, where they would provide free housing. 

Tape: We pay for their apartments and their utilities associated with that. 

Molly: And other resources to help expectant mothers.  

Tape: Oh yeah. I think it's about being pro-mom, like hands down. 

Molly: She feels strongly that being anti-abortion is about more than just abortion bans. It's about helping women and supporting women so that they can make choices for themselves.

Tape: I think the focus has been so long on the, the issue of the baby. Whereas personally, I don't think the baby, it's not, it's not a problem. You know, because yeah, okay, if the abortion solves the baby issue, well, you haven't done anything to actually help the mom. 

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Molly: So they have about five women who are there now. And they have a waiting list of seven, and she said if Roe does get overturned, they're going to need a lot more, um, organizations like hers networks like this, because there's going to be a lot more need. 

Tape: If you're gonna restrict it, even though I think it's the right direction, there has to be more that comes along beside that restriction to support the repercussions. 

Gustavo: So collaborations like blue Haven ranch and Birth Choice. That's a bigger strategy for the anti-abortion movement right now.

Molly: Exactly. 

Gustavo: But with abortion becoming more difficult to access across the country…are pregancy centers and their networks going to offer enough? And are they going to keep up demand? That’s after the break. 

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Gustavo: Molly, as demand for the pregnancy centers soar across the country, and they're getting more popular, at least numerous, what’s the picture going to look like nationwide if Roe–as expected–is going to be overturned? 

Molly: So pregnancy centers are advocating that they can fill these gaps in a post-Roe world. They're saying that they're a piece of the puzzle in overturning it, but that then going forward, they're going to be looking for an infusion of resources so that they can meet the needs of women who will increasingly be turning to them. But the critics say that there's no way that they can address the more complicated long-term needs, for instance, medical, financial, of not just these women, but also their children. 

Gustavo: Because place like Planned Parenthood, it's not just about giving abortions, it's about health and all these other things. But at the moment, right now, it seems like a lot of these pregnancy centers don't have all those other services, medical services that Planned Parenthood has? 

Molly: That's right. And it's even beyond Planned Parenthood it's, you know, after a woman has a baby, those babies then need, you know, pediatric doctors and the women may need follow-up care or have follow-up conditions that develop as a result of having kids or multiple kids. And those are not things that pregnancy centers can really address. These are broader problems with the healthcare systems, particularly, in the states that have very restrictive laws or a poised to outlaw abortion altogether like Texas. 

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Molly: The other thing about pregnancy centers is that they have increasingly medicalized, is what critics, say that they present themselves as clinics with even the word clinic, uh, in their name. They have staff who wear white doctors, coats or scrubs. 

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Molly: And so women who go there, they may think that they're at a clinic and that they're getting ultrasounds for instance from a trained medical professional, when it may just be a volunteer. 


Gustavo: So a lot of them don't even have medical training? 

Molly: Correct. And also, because they're not technically medical facilities, they're not subject to the same kind of monitoring oversight or required // training or guidelines that medical clinics are.

Gustavo: And some of the medical information these centers promote, like abortion reversals. . Is that even a thing?

Molly: Yeah. So they've been offering abortion reversal increasingly because pro-abortion folks in anticipation of Roe may be getting overturned have been trying to make abortion medication more available by mail, for instance, through groups like Aid Access that mail it from overseas into states that have // restricted access to medication abortion.

Tape: Well, there's been a push by the pro-abortion lobby to try to make that just a national platform that you could be anywhere in the country and we will mail you your abortion pill.

Molly: So in response to that, pregnancy centers are promoting this idea that if you take like there's a series of, of several pills, if you take the first pills and then change your mind, you can come in and they will refer you to a doctor who gives you progesterone // with the idea that that will stop the medication abortion or interfere.

Tape: That's a big thing, because if people don't know that there is an opportunity. They probably wouldn't consider doing anything about it. They might just kind of let it happen.

Molly: So when I was at Birth Choice, I asked Aaron Fowler about medication, abortion reversal and he said, that's something that they have // really tried to stay on top of, both because it's been something he sees the pro-abortion movement // stressing that the availability of medication abortion, but also because he said, there's this // narrow window of time where // they can offer it. And there are some studies that say that that's possible, but those studies have really been discredited and official organizations like the // American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have // said this is not something that's supported by science. 

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Molly: So while some of the services that pregnancy centers are providing are suspect from a medical or a scientific perspective, the pregnancy centers are providing things that women do need, things like car seats, diapers, and formula, which, you know, we're amidst a national shortage right now. So these are things that women want and that do help them.

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Gustavo: But do all of these services, legitimate or not, actually mean that women who have access to them would stop seeking abortions? 

Molly: Yeah, it's something that I asked L and she that if she could, she would’ve gotten an abortion, but remember she didn't qualify under the Texas law. 

Tape: This has been the hardest pregnancy I've ever had to go through. I'm grateful for it, um, I’m grateful for my baby and that I'm one of those women who could carry a baby. But in reality, if I would've had the option, um, to do at the time, what made me happy I would have done it. I didn't know what I was going to do. Um, and I felt alone and I also felt like I was going to have, I was going to be set back from what I really wanted to do. It's like a reset button, but not, not a full reset.


Gustavo: Finally Molly…what are L’s plans for the future? 

Molly: So she's at home with her kids and going to school online to become a certified bookkeeper.

Tape: I have my books over there. I have seven books. 

Molly: Oh, here's your little study seat. 

Tape: Yea, this is my workstation right there. Um, I sit there quite often, but I ended up getting distracted so easily.

Molly: She now lives in a Dallas suburb and she's hoping to stay there even after she moves out of the maternity ranch to find a place there, because she said her kids are doing really well in the schools there.

Tape: I liked it over here. My kids love it over here. The schools are amazing. I think that's really…

Molly: So overall she's in a good place.

Tape:  I am. I am. I really am. My kids are too. When we, when we go outside, it feels, it feels good to go outside. 

Gustavo: Molly, thank you so much for this conversation. 

Molly: Thanks for having me. 


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Gustavo: And that’s it for this episode of THE TIMES, daily news from the LA Times

Kasia Broussalian was the jefa on this episode and Mike Heflin mixed and mastered it.

Our show is produced by Shannon Lin, Denise Guerra, Kasia Brousalian, David Toledo, and Ashlea Brown. Our editorial assistant is  Madalyn Amato. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Jazmin Aguilera and Shani Hilton. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen. 

And if you have a chance, please take a minute and go to and answer a few questions about our show. What you like. What you don’t like. What you want to see more or less of. Your input, as always, is a gift. So gracias in advance. 

And I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back tomorrow with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.

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