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500 and Counting

1/1/2015

Andrew J. Matt

A nurse gives a pregnant woman an ultrasound

Megan Kerr, a registered nurse and manager of Birth Choice Health Clinic in Orange, Calif., points to the image of a woman’s unborn baby on one of the five ultrasound machines funded by Msgr. Paul Martin Council 7519 in San Juan Capistrano. (Photo by Slav Zatoka Images)

On Nov. 2, 2014, when the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns received a new portable ultrasound machine to assist with its lifesaving work, it was a milestone event: the 500th time an ultrasound machine was funded through the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative.

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson joined Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore at a presentation and blessing of the machine for the center’s Dundalk, Md., facility.

“When we began this program five years ago, we hoped to put a machine in every state,” said the supreme knight. “Not only has this program saved the lives of countless unborn children, but it has also saved many mothers — and fathers — from a lifetime of regret.”

Since the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative launched Jan. 22, 2009 — the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — state and local councils have assisted qualified pregnancy centers in their areas by raising half the cost of ultrasound machines. Through the Order’s Culture of Life Fund, and in collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Supreme Council then matches those dollars toward the purchase price of the machines, which start at about $20,000.

Since the initiative began with the funding of 13 machines that first year, Knights have placed more than 500 ultrasound machines — valued at more than $26 million — in all 50 U.S. states.

VISIBLE IMPACT

Many of the machines funded through the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative include features such as a Doppler monitor for hearing the baby’s heartbeat, 3D/4D imaging and/or the ability to sync with a large monitor and speakers — all in real time. Such features open a “window into the womb,” conveying detailed images and sounds of an unborn baby’s growth and activity.

In the past several years, the program has also begun funding laptop-sized ultrasound machines for a growing number of mobile medical units that reach out to more women in need: outside abortion facilities, at college campuses, near military bases and in poor urban and rural areas. The greater availability of ultrasound technology has enhanced the work of organizations dedicated to helping women keep and care for their babies.

“It is amazing to see such great detail with our 3D/4D machine,” said Christine Accurso, executive director of First Way Pregnancy Center, which has received two ultrasound machines with the help of St. Bridget Council 9800 in Mesa, Ariz.

“One might not think that seeing the lens of an eye or a fingernail bed would be important, but it really is,” Accurso explained. “I have seen women change their hearts when they see the detail. Even more so, I have seen fathers revel in the detail of what they are seeing and become stronger men for their families.”

Pregnancy centers routinely report that a very large percentage of women who are considering abortion choose life after witnessing their baby’s physical activity during an ultrasound scan.

“On many scans we have caught the baby sucking a thumb, jumping and twisting around, even what looks like waving,” noted Nancy Shaffer, director of North Jefferson Women’s Center in Fultondale, Ala.

But seeing and hearing the baby’s heartbeat is often the deciding factor, she said.

“A 25-year-old woman came in who wanted an abortion,” Shaffer recalled. “She was hard and would not make eye contact. But during the ultrasound she saw and heard her baby’s heartbeat. She burst into tears, going from hard to broken, and decided for life.”

There is no doubt that the ultrasound imagery has a powerful impact, but the technology comes with a high price tag.

“The centers can’t afford to buy a machine on their own,” said Patrick Klasing, culture of life director of San Antonio Council 786. “That’s why I really appreciate the Supreme Council working with us and matching our funds, because that’s what makes it possible.”

Klasing noted that since Council 786 placed its first ultrasound machine in San Antonio’s Life Choices Medical Clinic in 2012, the number of lives that the clinic has been able to save has increased dramatically.

“In 2011, Life Choices saved eight babies,” he said. “With the arrival of the first ultrasound machine, that number jumped to 453. In 2013, they saved 703. … With the second ultrasound we donated this past October, the number will likely rise even higher.”

Like Council 786, many local councils have donated multiple machines, including five that have purchased three or more.

In southern California, Birth Choice Health Clinics has received eight machines through the Ultrasound Initiative, including five donated by Msgr. Paul Martin Council 7519 in San Juan Capistrano. A growing network of state-licensed medical clinics founded by Kathleen Eaton Bravo, Birth Choice has also benefited greatly from ultrasound technology.

“Before receiving the ultrasounds, we were saving 42 percent of the babies whose moms were abortion minded,” Eaton said. “But since the Ultrasound Initiative, it’s jumped to 82 percent. And just recently we passed the 6,000 mark — 6,001 babies with names have been saved in five years. That’s what the Knights have done.”

Eaton, who received the 2010 Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award from Legatus, noted that when she is invited to speak at a church or after Mass, she tells people about how many babies have been saved. She then adds, “If there’s any Knights in the church I’d like you to stand, and thank you.”

Brandi Swindell stands with the Mobile ultrasound clinic

Brandi Swindell, founder of Stanton Healthcare International, stands in front of the Stanton Mobile Medical Clinic, which is equipped with a portable ultrasound machine. The Idaho State Council funded both the mobile clinic and the machine. (Photos by Chad Case Photography)

GAME CHANGER

While the persuasive power of ultrasound technology is felt most tangibly inside the growing number of pro-life medical clinics, it is also affecting the public debate about the sanctity of life.

Brandi Swindell is the founder of Stanton Healthcare International, a medical clinic based in Boise, Idaho, with affiliates in California and Ireland. After receiving two machines in 2010 through state council efforts in Idaho, she said that the effect has been palpable.

“Providing women with an ultrasound scan at no charge elevated our presence in the community, and we got more and more women,” Swindell said. “The availability of the ultrasound was key — it’s the game changer in the woman’s heart and in the public debate.”

As a result of her clinic’s success, Swindell began a campaign to make ultrasound technology more widely known. Titled “Voices from the Womb,” the 2011 campaign went to legislative chambers across the country, including the Congressional Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

“We took our K of C portable machine to D.C., and for the first time in the U.S. Capitol Building a live ultrasound demonstration took place,” Swindell explained. “We invited congressmen and senators and staffers, and what was so powerful was that the babies themselves were lobbying on Capitol Hill. They were speaking to lawmakers — from the womb.”

The legislative impact of this campaign, like other pro-life advocacy efforts, is difficult to gauge, especially in the face of what Swindell calls the well-funded “Goliath” of the abortion industry. Nevertheless, she knows that the growing availability of ultrasound machines has given life-affirming medical clinics great hope.

“The backing of the Knights of Columbus is so huge because it helps get us on a competitive level with the abortion industry,” Swindell said. “And the real game changer is this: With our ultrasounds, the girls come away transformed.”

Such transformation is something the staff at pro-life resource centers and medical clinics see time and time again.

“This is what it’s all about,” Eaton said, describing a recent experience at her clinic in Long Beach, Calif. “We had a young mom come in with a friend, and she was very angry. ‘I’m having an abortion,’ she insisted. And she almost wouldn’t get up on the table, but her friend got her to do it. So we did the ultrasound and discovered she was having twins.

“When she saw them she just started weeping,” Eaton continued. “And here’s the beautiful thing: When she walked out she was pumping her fist in the air, saying, ‘I’m going to be a mom. I’ve saved these babies and you’ve helped me — thank you so much!’

“Her fist was in the air,” repeated Eaton. “That’s transformation.”

Andrew J. Matt is managing editor of Columbia.