By: Joanna Duka
It was a chilly morning in early January when Maria walked in the doors of our North Phoenix pregnancy center. As she signed in at the window, I could tell something was wrong. She seemed anxious and upset. With her voice breaking and tears in her eyes, she told me she was pregnant with twins and had to get an abortion. But she didn't want one. I can't forget the look of resigned misery I saw in her eyes.
Settled in a comfortable chair in the consultation room with a client advocate, her story came out. Maria was a hard-working single mom trying to make ends meet and give her three kids the best life she could. The pregnancy had been a mistake. The fact that it was twins was an even greater shock.
She was already feeling a connection with the babies growing inside her, but what did it matter? She didn't know how she could afford more children. While she desperately wanted to continue the pregnancy, where would she get help if she did? The few friends with whom she had shared the news kept telling her that abortion was her best option. She had begun to believe them, though her heart was breaking.
Every day, women like Maria face unplanned pregnancies in less-than-desirable circumstances. Most don't want to go through with an abortion. But many feel they have no other choice. Often, their voice gets lost in the opinions of others and the chaos of their circumstances. Pregnancy centers like ours seek to give these women a voice by providing the options, support, and resources that allow them to make a choice for life.
The preciousness of life is at the core of our mission. We believe abortion not only takes the life of an innocent child, but also wounds the woman. We have worked with many women who experience significant psychological and emotional suffering for years following an abortion. That is why pregnancy centers often provide post-abortion counseling and support groups. Daily, we see the pain abortion causes. It is because of our concern for vulnerable women and unborn children that we are ardently pro-life. For me, this commitment to life is central to who I am. It was the reason I sought to work at a pregnancy center to begin with.
But a California law passed in 2015, the “Reproductive FACT Act,” singles out pregnancy centers, forcing them to advertise for the abortion industry and speak messages mandated by the state. Complying with this requirement would mean contradicting the very core of their mission and hurting the women they exist to help. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of this law, pregnancy centers throughout California could be forced to close their doors, and the law could be duplicated in other states across the country.
Ultimately, if pregnancy centers are no longer free to pursue a mission of life, support, and healing, women lose.
What if Maria had walked into our center that morning and been met by a required posting that advertised where she could get a free or low cost abortion? How would that have made her feel, considering the conflict and pressure she was already facing?
Thankfully, that's not what happened. Instead, Maria was given the opportunity to truly be heard. Talking through all her pregnancy options with her advocate, she learned of resources and help she hadn't known were available and felt her courage begin to rise. Next came a sonogram where she saw her babies’ tiny bodies moving on the screen. When she emerged from the ultrasound room, she was grinning from ear to ear. When I saw her in the hall and heard her laughter, I couldn't believe she was the same woman who had been tearfully filling out forms at the window just two hours earlier. As she hugged her client advocate and nurse and walked out the door, two tiny baby caps in hand, I thanked God it was our door she had walked into that morning.
As pregnancy centers, we must continue to be free to make our voice heard. No American should be forced to be a mouthpiece for a government-mandated message that conflicts with their conscience. When we are free to speak authentically, we will continue to be free to give women and unborn children a voice. I am blessed to be part of that mission, and I pray California pregnancy centers remain free to do the same.
The name “Maria” is a pseudonym, and minor details about her story were altered to protect her privacy.
Joanna is a calligrapher and owns her own custom art studio, Brush & Nib Studio, along with painter Breanna Koski. Joanna and Breanna are also Alliance Defending Freedom clients in the case Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix.