Hope on Wheels
Peter Starbuck started promoting a culture of life before he was even born. Two years ago, 50 teenagers gathered at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Tucson, Ariz., to witness an ultrasound firsthand, and they saw Peter in utero on a large screen. Andrew and Susana Starbuck, Peter’s mother and father, say this has had a lasting impact on the teens. Andrew is an associate youth leader at the parish, and Peter, now 17 months old, often sits in on confirmation programs. His presence is an ongoing reminder to the teens of the personhood of the unborn.
“We’re getting the word out about the culture of life,” Andrew said. “The thing that’s going to change their minds is if they can see a real person in there. And the ultrasound is one way to help them do that.”
It was while preparing for a pro-life march that Andrew and Susana, who was pregnant with their first son, decided to share the ultrasound with the teens. They called Kelly and Barbara Copeland, the husband-and-wife founders of Fatima Women’s Center in Tucson, for help. The Copelands offered use of a mobile ultrasound machine that was made possible through the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative.
Since it was launched Jan. 22, 2009, the initiative has, through the Order’s Culture of Life Fund, provided matching funds raised by local councils to purchase ultrasound units for qualifying pregnancy centers. In less than five years, Knights have placed more than 400 ultrasound machines valued at more than $20 million throughout the country, including at least one in every state. This includes supplying machines for a growing number of mobile medical units, like those used by Fatima Women’s Center and others, as pregnancy care centers seek creative ways to reach women in need.
TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
Kelly Copeland, a member of Deacon Raphael Longpré Council 10441 in Tucson, and his wife, Barbara, founded Fatima Women’s Center in 2009. A year later, while on stage at a fund-raiser, Kelly joked about how much they needed to try a new approach and get Fatima Women’s Center out on the road. That very night, a couple who had personal experience with abortion donated their $75,000 recreational vehicle.
Getting the RV, though, was only half the battle; the center also needed an ultrasound machine. Our Lady of the Valley Council 6842 in Green Valley, Ariz., stepped in to raise the necessary money through breakfasts and other fund-raisers.
“They say once a woman hears her child’s actual heartbeat, they change their mind about abortion,” noted Past Grand Knight James Acitelli.
The fully equipped mobile unit, named the Hope Mobile, soon enabled Fatima Women’s Center to reach out to women in crisis pregnancies, rather than waiting for the women to come to them.
“Timing can be everything,” said Barbara, who serves as executive director of the center. “We need to get to them before it’s too late. Once you have an abortion, you can’t change that.”
This critical aspect of timing isn’t lost on New York-based Expectant Mother Care, which has operated pregnancy centers for nearly 30 years and has 12 locations in New York City. Founded by Chris Slattery of Cardinal Hayes Council 3995 in Yonkers, N.Y., Expectant Mother Care has received three ultrasound machines through the Ultrasound Initiative, including one that is used in a full-time mobile clinic.
K of C councils have also provided ultrasound machines for pregnancy centers collaborating with organizations that specialize in mobile medical vehicles.
ICU Mobile, for example, is one of the pioneers in the custom design and manufacture of mobile ultrasound vehicles. Founded in 2003, the Akron, Ohio-based organization has created a fleet of more than 43 mobile medical units nationwide. Five of them have been outfitted with ultrasound machines provided by K of C councils in San Diego, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Wake Forrest, N.C.
Knights have also partnered with Save the Storks, a Colorado Springs-based group founded in 2011 to deploy its own brand of ultrasound-equipped vehicles. Originally inspired by the work of Expectant Mother Care, Save the Storks was founded on the belief that providing information through its compact Stork Buses will “empower abortion-minded women to choose life.”
Joe Baker, founder and president of Save the Storks, said that pregnancy care centers cannot simply rely on traditional means like the Yellow Pages to reach mothers facing difficult pregnancies. “Pregnancy centers need to become creative and innovative to meet the needs of pregnant mothers,” he said. “Going mobile is the future. It’s how we meet these women in the first place.”
A San Diego-based initiative called Light and Life 70x7 Mobile Ultrasound is helping southern California pregnancy care centers that are looking to expand their outreach. Founded in 2012 by Greg Anthony of St. Pius X Council 3487 in La Jolla, Calif., and Steve Beuerle of Point Loma Council 3947 in San Diego, the group has placed ultrasound machines in two ICU Mobile units so far, and is working on placing a third machine in cooperation with Save the Storks.
According to Beuerle, mobile units allow pregnancy care centers to reach many women who may not otherwise get an ultrasound. “It’s about getting to women early in the process,” he said. “The average woman, if she has to travel more than eight miles to get to a pregnancy center, won’t make the trip.”
WALKING WITH WOMEN IN NEED
From the mobile units come stories of life-saving changes of heart: a woman who said that hearing her baby’s heartbeat made a difference; an abortion-minded couple, both in the military, who changed their mind after seeing the ultrasound; a woman, 20 weeks pregnant, who chose life and left with pictures of her unborn daughter.
According to Beuerle, the majority of women who see ultrasound images of their unborn children choose life. Meanwhile, people take notice of who’s responsible for this life-saving work. “It helps people see the Knights are men of action,” he said. “We don’t just make pancakes.”
Beuerle and others noted that cultivating a culture of life requires being present early in the process and working to address the needs of women facing unplanned pregnancies.
“The pro-life movement isn’t just about praying in front of abortion clinics,” Kelly Copeland said. “It’s walking with mothers all the way through.”
Barbara Copeland emphasized how important it is to “sit, listen, and make an emotional connection.” It can take more than one visit for an abortion-minded mother to change her mind, she said, recalling a high-school student she met on the Hope Mobile. After several visits, the young woman eventually revealed that her boyfriend, who was leaving for college, was pressuring her to have the abortion and threatened to break up with her if she didn’t go through with it. Barbara helped her realize that the father would not be a part of her life, with or without the pregnancy. That realization allowed the woman to do what she knew was right to choose life.
In addition to pressure from parents, boyfriends, husbands and others, Kelly said that financial burdens are also a strong factor for women considering abortion. The majority of women who come to Fatima Women’s Center do not have health insurance, he added.
“Making pregnancy affordable is key to helping pregnant mothers choose life,” said Dr. John Graziano, who volunteers at the center.
Fatima Women’s Center now operates two mobile units, though they only have one mobile ultrasound so far. The Hope Mobile often makes successful journeys to the University of Arizona in Tucson, as well as to 40 Days for Life and Justice for All events. Mothers in need are then referred to Tucson-area pregnancy resource centers Catholic or not depending on their location.
The center also works with Catholic Social Services to make sure adoption is always part of the conversation. And it offers classes on natural family planning, Kelly said, recognizing that an education in chastity plays an essential role in both avoiding unwanted pregnancy and affirming dignity.
As pregnancy care centers strive to provide comprehensive support for women in need, the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative continues to play a significant role in their life-saving work. Whether in medical buildings or out on the streets, ultrasound technology is an essential tool, helping staff to give hope to mothers and empowering them to choose life.
“A lot of women feel they’re alone,” Barbara said. “They’re not. We don’t turn anyone away. We want people to see Christ through the care we give.”
J.D. LONG-GARCÍA is the former editor of The Catholic Sun, the newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix.