12/30/2010Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle
Faith was alone in a foreign land. She felt frightened, confused, angry and violated. Not knowing where to turn, she went to a local pregnancy center conveniently located near the university she attended. There, a positive pregnancy test confirmed her fears. An international college student studying for her master's degree, Faith didn't know how she could possibly continue her pregnancy and thought she had no other options than abortion.
"I just wanted to end everything when I found out that I had conceived," she recalled. "I don't have any relatives or family here — just me."
Jean Weston, a volunteer at Problem Pregnancy Center in Worcester, Mass., helped counsel Faith and asked her to return to the clinic to receive a free ultrasound screening.
For Faith, the experience of seeing the image of her unborn baby was enlightening. She said, "When I heard the heartbeat, I thought, this is a human being."
Feeling overwhelmed about how she would manage to cope with her pregnancy, Faith asked for time to be alone in the center's small chapel.
"I cried, and I knew that if God gave me life, I'm not in a position to take life," she said. "It's not up to me to decide who lives and who doesn't."
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
The state-of-the-art ultrasound machine that made the difference in Faith's decision was one of the first machines placed through the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative, which is made possible by the Order's Culture of Life Fund. The program matches funds raised by local and state K of C units with contributions from the Supreme Council to purchase ultrasound equipment for medically certified pro-life pregnancy resource centers. Since it was launched Jan. 22, 2009 — the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — more than 70 machines have been placed in centers throughout the United States.
The ultrasound machines that the initiative provides serve as an effective way for pregnant women, especially those in crisis, to witness the humanity of their unborn children. Faith is one of hundreds of women who have chosen life as a result.
"This machine is a life and death situation," said Weston. "If these women weren't seeing a picture of their baby, it would be easy for them to just disregard the life in them. But when they're confronted and know the truth that it's a real baby, they must make a decision."
When Richard Bosse suggested that his parish in Baton Rouge, La., raise funds to acquire a new ultrasound machine for a local pro-life pregnancy center, one of the busiest in Louisiana, "The Holy Spirit came into play," he said. Believing he should do more for the pro-life cause, Bosse had become involved with the respect life ministry at St. George Church and the work of Mother of Mercy Council 4030 in Baton Rouge.
Meanwhile, Ron Coco, then-grand knight of Council 4030, received a letter about the Ultrasound Initiative. The Knights were set in action by prayer, a passion for life and a sense of mission.
"We are Knights of Columbus. We are pro-life!" Coco said. "It's the way it has always been, ever since our founder, Father Michael McGivney, founded the Knights to protect women and children."
Through collections conducted before and after Masses, the council raised more than $23,000 — more than half the amount needed to purchase a new ultrasound machine for Care Pregnancy Center in Baton Rouge.
In addition to funds from the Supreme Council for half the price of a new machine, an anonymous donor also came forward to match the collections. It was decided to use the Supreme Council contribution toward the purchase of a new machine for a second clinic. Meanwhile, the $6,000 leftover from the collections and the anonymous donor was given to the Sanctuary of Life House, a home for unwed mothers in Baton Rouge.
With the assistance of local schools, a series of car washes supplemented the fund-raising efforts. "The purpose was to get high school and college students from the parish involved in doing something to save the unborn," Coco explained. "It gives them an eye into the future, you might say."
When Coco realized that the Supreme Council would match collections for multiple machines, one was purchased for the Woman's New Life Center in Metairie, La., a New Orleans suburb.
Angie Thomas, the center's executive director, expressed her gratitude for the Knights' support. "Most pregnancy centers operate with private donations. A new ultrasound machine is extremely expensive for them," she said. "The Ultrasound Initiative provides a tangible, practical way for this wonderful organization to make a huge impact."
With Thomas's help, Knights in Louisiana also identified pregnancy centers to receive the old ultrasound machines that had been replaced. But their efforts, which earned Council 4030 the Pro-Life Service Award at last year's Supreme Convention in Washington, D.C., were still far from complete.
In July, following additional collections, a third K of C-sponsored machine was placed at the Women's Center of Lafayette. And Bosse, Coco and their fellow Knights continue to raise money and research the needs of pro-life pregnancy centers in Louisiana and beyond.
Coco said, "Based on research from where we have donated the machines so far, approximately 1,000 lives will be saved each year."
DOING GOD'S WORK
Many of the machines purchased through the K of C Ultrasound Initiative use the latest 3/4D technology and feature ultra-clear images. (Click here for a video of the 3/4D technology.) Yet, even when an older ultrasound machine is used, the effect of seeing one's unborn baby is clear. Pregnancy resource centers report that most women who are considering abortion choose life after receiving an ultrasound screening. The mother's heart connects with her baby when she sees the remarkable images and hears the baby's heart beating, confirming the reality of human life.
In fact, the experience of witnessing an ultrasound image is often life-changing not only for mothers and babies, but for fathers as well.
Cheryl Connor, executive director of Tomorrow's Hope Center in Paris, Tenn., recalled one occasion when a husband and wife came to the center: "They had four children, no job, and were struggling. After seeing their baby on the screen, the husband, holding his wife's hand, burst out crying and said, 'We're going to make it somehow.'"
Working at the pro-life pregnancy centers is often challenging, Connor added. "Some days we are so mentally, emotionally and physically worn out and feel like we just can't do it anymore," she said. "Then, God always shows up during that time and shows us another miracle."
When lives are saved and women in crisis pregnancies choose life, the work of pregnancy resource centers has just begun.
Faith, for instance, received emotional support from the staff and volunteers in Worcester, as well as help with setting up appointments for prenatal care at the hospital. It was Faith's intention to give her baby up for adoption, but her plans changed when she gave birth.
"They put him in my hands, and I knew I didn't want to let him go," she said.
The pregnancy center then provided many items that Faith needed, including a changing table, stroller, bassinet and clothes. Lastly, several of the volunteers were present with Faith at a local parish to celebrate baby Israel's baptism.
"Pregnancy centers are on the frontlines of the battle, trying to give hope to women who have none," said Thomas. "In showing women the reality of their baby, they gain hope and an opportunity to choose life."
Thomas said she is thankful for having as allies the "outstanding, passionate, pro-life men" whom she has encountered in the Knights of Columbus.
"This machine has saved lives," she added, "and providing machines to other centers around the nation will continue to save mothers and their babies from the lies and horrors of abortion."
Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle is a Catholic wife, mother, speaker and author. She also hosts the EWTN program Everyday Blessings for Catholic Moms. Find her online at donnacooperoboyle.com.
For more information on the K of C Ultrasound Initiative, visit kofc.org/ultrasound or call 203-752-4403.