By Celine Klosterman
MUSCATINE – For one pregnant young woman with abortion in mind, a plastic model of a fetus made all the difference.
About eight years ago, she arrived at the Muscatine branch of Birthright with the father of her unborn child. He wanted her to have an abortion, recalled Sharon Childs, the office’s assistant director and a member of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine.
But when the pregnant woman saw models on a shelf of an unborn baby at various developmental stages, she was shocked.
“It looks like a baby!” she said. “I can’t have an abortion; this is a baby!”
“I’ve never seen a turnaround so quickly,” Childs said. “I didn’t have to say a word; it was all the Holy Spirit.”
The moment is a highlight in Birthright’s 25 years in Muscatine, Childs said. She’s among four volunteers who have served for a quarter-century at the branch, which is celebrating its anniversary this month.
Today the branch, which aims to offer nonjudgmental support to girls and women with unplanned pregnancies, sees 20-25 clients monthly. Most visit for a free pregnancy test; many stay for emotional support; referrals to social agencies or professional counselors; maternity and baby clothes; information on pregnancy, childbirth, child care or adoption; or educational and job search assistance.
“It’s rewarding work for a good cause and organization,” said Director Julie Eaton. In addition to Childs, she and volunteers Julie Lear and Nancy Velasquez have served at Birthright since it opened in Muscatine.
The ministry came to Muscatine thanks partly to the suggestion of Sister Julissa Duggan, BVM, who was principal at Hayes Catholic School in Muscatine more than two decades ago. For years, she had received phone calls for help from families and pregnant young women who needed clothing, shelter and other assistance.
The requests were more than she could handle, so six Catholic women began working to form an office of Birthright. Thanks to fundraising efforts and donations of money and services from area organizations, the nondenominational ministry opened in Muscatine on Dec. 16, 1985.
Today, guided by Birthright’s charter and training program, volunteers primarily listen to, encourage and discover how they can help the teenagers and young adults who make up most of the ministry’s clients. Eaton said few women with abortion in mind visit the office, but volunteers try to educate those who do. “The essence of Birthright is love. We don’t try to talk them out of anything; it’s the girl’s decision. We just try to find out why they think abortion’s the best option.”
“We would love to save every baby,” Childs said. “But we also respect these women.”
Childs said that respect is one reason Birthright sees repeat clients, visitors who were referred by former clients and even former clients’ children.
“We know the Lord brings whoever comes through the door,” she said. “We pray for guidance, and we’re there for that person.”
Birthright of Muscatine is located at 906 Grand Ave. The office is open on Mondays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5–7 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, 5–7 p.m.; and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon.
The Muscatine office’s phone number is (563) 263-8882. Birthright is also served by a national 24-hour hotline: 1-800-554-4900.