By Celine Klosterman
CLINTON — For decades, Tammy Walker lived with guilt and depression after having two abortions: one at age 19, the other at 24, when she dated a man unsupportive of her pregnancy.
But late last year, the DeWitt resident found her way to The Pregnancy Center in Clinton, which offered a 10-week program for post-abortion healing. She said she “got to the root” of her guilt and shame, moved past them, and took part in a memorial service for her unborn children.
Now, the 42-year-old said, “I feel awesome. I know without a shadow of a doubt where my babies are — with the Lord.” She believes God wants her to help heal others who’ve felt her pain, too.
Walker is among about 100 clients seen monthly at The Pregnancy Center. A Christian organization, it has worked for 24 years to help women in the situation she once faced to make pro-life choices.
“It’s a call,” director Merri Harridge said of the center’s work. She’s among five paid staffers and 15 volunteers who serve the donation-funded ministry, which provides counseling, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes, baby-care items, adoption referrals and information on sexual health.
Most clients visit for a free pregnancy test. About 80 percent of those who did so last year were ages 14-24, Harridge said.
For women who test positive, The Pregnancy Center staffers schedule an ultrasound appointment, discuss fetal development and offer counseling, said Nancy Lincoln, sexual health director. Of clients who plan to raise their babies, about 90 percent take the center’s Smart Women parenting classes, she said. Completing the classes earns a woman points that she can use to shop at the center’s “boutique” for donated clothing, formula, diapers and other items for her baby.
Browsing a rack of tiny, pink shirts at the shop April 14, Kelsey Grant said she appreciated the opportunity to obtain items she needed for daughter Ma’shai, 11 months. The education she’d received at the center and talks with staffers had proved helpful, too, she said. “Everyone’s friendly here. It’s a good place to come to.”
But if a client is considering abortion, staffers explain what abortion procedures entail and list the risks and side effects. Lincoln, who had an abortion as a teen, said she sometimes shares her experience with pregnant clients in an effort to spare them the regret she’s suffered. “I was lied to,” she said. “I was told it was a blob of tissue.”
To help prevent young people from facing an unplanned pregnancy in the first place, she speaks about sexual integrity at area public and Christian schools — including St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt and Prince of Peace Schools in Clinton. “I wonder what would’ve happened if someone had taught me about abstinence,” she said.
Lincoln’s talks to eighth-graders at St. Joseph Catholic School are valuable as students prepare to go on to public high school, said Lola Blaser. She is a teacher at St. Joe’s who has coordinated Lincoln’s visits for several years as part of Blaser’s eighth-grade religion, relationship education and confirmation program.
“This is a perfect time to have students focus on some ‘grown-up’ decisions they will be faced with,” Blaser said. “It’s the last opportunity to have them receive this message in the Catholic school setting.” Lincoln “shares a personal story that really grabs the kids’ interest and attention, and gives them a reason to really think about her material.”
Other area Catholics agree that Lincoln’s presentations and other services the center provides are valuable. “I think The Pregnancy Center is a great resource and opportunity for people of faith to put their time and treasure behind,” said Luke Vander Bleek. He belongs to St. Mary Parish in Morrison, Ill., and sits on the center’s board of directors.
Women facing an unplanned pregnancy need support such as what the center provides, he said.
Mary Jo Dopson, secretary for the center’s board of directors and a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, highlighted unborn children’s need for advocacy. “They have no voice of their own, and we must intervene for them,” she said.
In August, she and other members of Prince of Peace’s Pro-Life Committee “spiritually adopted” unborn babies and began nine months of praying for them and their mothers. In May, the parishioners will celebrate with a “baby shower” and collect child-care items to donate to The Pregnancy Center, Dopson said.
Harridge voiced appreciation for the parish, local Knights of Columbus and DeWitt Catholics, who’ve been airing radio advertisements for the center on KGYS 92.5 FM. Vander Bleek, in turn, said “we really ought to tip our hats to some of our Protestant brethren,” who started the center. “I’m really excited to be around these folks because they’re not afraid to witness to the truth.”
For more information, visit www.pregnancycenterclinton.org or call (563) 242-6628.