In 1984, a college student approached her favorite professor at the University of Notre Dame with a concern greater than the grade on her latest exam. She had received the results of a different kind of test, and she feared what a baby would mean for her academic career and future.
When the professor, Dr. Janet Smith, set out to connect her student with local pregnancy resources, she found none. In response, Smith collaborated with the local Catholic hospital to open a pro-life pregnancy center next to an abortion facility in South Bend, Ind. In its first year, Women’s Care Center welcomed 300 pregnant women, offering them assistance such as counseling, financial aid, prenatal care and ongoing support after the birth of their children.
Smith, who now serves as the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, eventually passed the torch to long-time board member and current president Ann Manion. “I may have started the car back in 1984, but it’s Ann Manion who has driven us to become one of the largest pregnancy resource centers in the country,” Smith said.
Today, the initiative has expanded to 19 locations in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, with plans for more centers in the near future. Last year, the centers collectively served approximately 22,000 women, who accounted for more than 90,000 total visits.
In addition to counseling, staff members consider ultrasound machines to be one of their most effective tools in serving clients. They estimate that they will perform more than 6,500 ultrasounds this year.
After an unsettling visit to a nearby abortion clinic, 19-year-old Jessica came to Women’s Care Center in Fort Wayne, Ind., looking for a second opinion. What greeted her was everything she didn’t expect: a welcoming reception area filled with quiet music and soft furniture, and a warm counseling room. A smiling counselor who had been a teen mother herself 20 years prior didn’t judge Jessica, but instead took the time to understand her predicament. Jessica received counseling and education at the Care Center that allowed her to understand that there truly was a life within her a son whom she would eventually name Mason. Women’s Care Center staff even raised money to reimburse Jessica for the $200 deposit she had originally placed on her scheduled abortion.
This is just one example of how Women’s Care Center offers a unique and highly successful approach that is the hallmark of its life-saving work. Staff members recognize that if a young woman is armed with information, education and resources, and if she feels valued and loved, then she is empowered to choose life and love for herself and her baby.
“All of our programs take a non-judgmental counseling approach. The women make their own decisions,” said Manion. “We educate and empower, and they make good choices.”
Like many other women who visit Women’s Care Center, Jessica’s choice for life was affected by seeing an ultrasound image of her unborn child.
“From the first time I saw the ultrasound and heard the heartbeat that is what changed my mind,” she said.
An astounding 97 percent of clients choose life after receiving Women’s Care Center counseling and an ultrasound.
“[The woman] often comes in a little hardened, but the minute she hears the heartbeat she becomes like a different person. The baby does all the talking for me,” explained Barb Nichols, one of the center’s ultrasound technicians.
Nichols has seen many situations where a woman’s mother comes in advocating for her daughter to abort the child. But often, after seeing the ultrasound, she leaves as a proud and supportive grandmother, ready to grow through the coming challenges with her daughter.
In recent years, Knights of Columbus councils have been instrumental in purchasing seven ultrasound machines for Women’s Care Center facilities through the Order’s Ultrasound Initiative (see sidebar).
For instance, University of Notre Dame Council 1477 has raised matching funds for two ultrasound machines through the council’s popular steak sales, which have become a tradition at Notre Dame home football games. The council hopes to purchase a third machine with the profits from this season’s steak sales, which exceeded $75,000 and will be used for other charitable endeavors as well.
“As much work as we have done to help raise money for the ultrasound machines, the real heroes are the employees and volunteers of Women’s Care Center,” said Bobby Thompson, past grand knight of Council 1477. “Their daily work has saved more lives than many can imagine.”
On the road to embracing her role as a new mom, each Women’s Care Center client earns incentives for keeping her prenatal care appointments and for attending parenting classes. The incentives, which are designed to promote a strong work ethic and self-sufficiency, include coupons for the Women’s Care Center’s “Crib Club,” which distributes new baby outfits, cribs and car seats, as well as more than a half million diapers every year.
“We are going to help you earn these things so you can concentrate on what is most important: loving yourself as a woman and loving that precious unborn baby that just needs time to grow,” said Bobby Williams, director of the Women’s Care Center Foundation. “All of a sudden, some of the fear and anxiety and the hurdles to choosing life are taken.”
Women’s Care Center client surveys showed that mothers who made three or more visits to take advantage of the counseling, prenatal care opportunities and educational programs were 64 percent more likely to give birth to a baby with a healthy weight.
At the suggestion of one its volunteers, Women’s Care Center has also started a literacy program. After each weekly parenting class, families are invited to take two children’s books home to add to their library. With a goal of breaking down the literacy challenges of poor communities and setting children on the path to lifelong learning and success, more than 10,000 books were distributed from the Care Center’s reading rooms and book bins in the program’s first year.
Most of the women served by the center are single and have an income below the poverty line. Approximately three out of every four of them come because of word-of-mouth referral from former clients.
“They know this is a place where you will be loved, cherished, respected and taken care of,” said Williams.
If she were to encounter another woman in her situation, Jessica would advise them to “stick it out and get the support you need.”
She added, “Two and a half years ago I never thought my life would be where it is right now. I thought my life was over.” But thanks to the care and assistance they received at Women’s Care Center, Mason is now a toddler, and Jessica is preparing to graduate college and to marry Mason’s father.
You can learn more about the Women’s Care Center at
ALEXANDRA M. WRIGHT is a wife and mother to two toddlers. She writes from South Bend, Ind., and at HawthorneDiaries.com.
Knights Donate Life-Saving Ultrasound Machines Across the Map
A map of the United States depicts the placement of approximately 300 ultrasound machines donated by the Knights of Columbus to qualified pregnancy resource centers since 2009. Red dots represent a city to which multiple machines were donated.
Since its launch in January 2009, the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative has provided more than 300 ultrasound machines to qualified pregnancy resource centers around the United States. With matching funds from the Order’s Culture of Life Fund, local councils raise half the expense of ultrasound machines for qualified centers through a variety of ways, such as pancake breakfasts, golf outings, Life Saver sales, pro-life baby bottle drives and second collections at Mass.
“One of the greatest blessings the Knights of Columbus has given us is that they have helped to provide the latest and greatest technology,” said Bobby Williams, director of the Women’s Care Center Foundation.
Many of the ultrasound machines donated by the Knights include 3D/4D imaging, a Doppler feature for hearing the baby’s heartbeat, and/or the ability to sync with a large monitor, allowing others to experience viewing the baby.
For more information, visit kofc.org/ultrasound.