Emotional shockwaves rolled over many Americans when an undercover video surfaced that revealed a Planned Parenthood executive discussing the organization’s practice of selling aborted fetal parts. Again many were stunned when a second video showed former president of the Planned Parenthood Medical Directors’ Council negotiating prices for baby organs.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Amber Lehman, chief executive officer of First Choice Pregnancy Solutions, a faith-based organization in Wake Forest dedicated to supporting those affected by unplanned pregnancies.
“Whether they are donating or selling the fetal parts is really a non-issue to me,” she continued. “The problem is that there’s a human child being destroyed …
“It should awaken our senses” that Planned Parenthood is harvesting hearts, livers and lungs “because those are the organs of a person.”
First Choice cares about people – babies and mothers alike. “We believe that every life is precious, including the mother,” said Lehman.
Offering real choices
The goal of First Choice is to communicate accurate and truthful information to those affected by an unplanned pregnancy and to provide them with physical, emotional and spiritual support, according to its website. Staff members do not pressure pregnant women into doing anything they do not want to do, Lehman specified. “We provide a safe haven for her to be able to work through her pregnancy decision.”
A “decision tool” is used to help pregnant women determine – in their own handwriting – what they want, whether they’re faced with a decision to abort their pregnancy, decide which obstetrician to use, determine where to live or whether to stay in a relationship with a child’s father.
The clinic encounters some women intent on aborting. “We ask the question of each of them,” Lehman explained, “If your circumstances were different, what is your heart’s desire?” First Choice has only encountered one woman who wished to abort, no matter the circumstances; the rest wanted to carry their child to full term. First Choice says to these women, “If that’s your heart’s desire, that’s our heart’s desire too.”
Pregnancy centers like First Choice are often characterized as manipulative and not concerned about the interests of mothers. The clinics can be perceived as anti-choice. Lehman contends the opposite is actually true.
“You hear woman after woman say her heart’s desire is to have her baby, but she doesn’t know how,” Lehman said. “She doesn’t see how she can do it. Her boyfriend isn’t supportive, or her mom is threatening to kick her out, but she’s saying, ‘I don’t want to abort.’
“We’re accused of taking away choice but we actually give women the space and the resources to choose what they really want to choose instead of what they feel trapped to choose.”
Helping women overcome obstacles
Of the pregnant women that came to First Choice for help so far in 2015, approximately 50 percent of them were considering abortion but decided to carry the pregnancy to full term. Another 36 percent – whose life circumstances suggested they were likely to abort – decided to carry the pregnancy to full term as well. The remaining 14 percent includes abortion-minded women and pregnant women that were not considering abortion, but came to First Choice for testing, ultrasound and support services.
When a pregnant woman visits First Choice, they meet with a nurse, receive a test and ultrasound to determine pregnancy. Nurses educate clients on procedure risks and fetal development, said Lehman. Clients are also assigned a care coordinator that oversees initial and ongoing visits. Staff members begin assessing her “heart’s desire,” risk factors and major obstacles to carrying the pregnancy to full term. These obstacles are often financial, relational, related to housing or the loss of a dream or goal, according to Lehman.
First Choice mobile clinic
“Often times they are faced with utilities being cut off, rent not paid or close to being evicted,” said Lehman. So, First Choice begins providing various kinds of support to help the client overcome each of the obstacles, starting with what’s important to the client.
First Choice wrote a check recently for more than $900 to keep a client from being evicted because she was nearing her due date and facing a housing crisis, according to Lehman.
First Choice also operates a daily mobile clinic that visits regions with high abortion rates. The two- or three-person unit is also available to women who seek medical services but cannot travel to the office clinic.
Lehman said the mobile clinic recently drove from Wake Forest to Durham at 6:30 a.m. to meet a woman – at her request – before her scheduled 9:30 a.m. abortion appointment. She cancelled the abortion, according to Lehman. “We deploy any hour that we need to.”
Taking the next steps
Most First Choice workers are paid medical professionals, said Lehman. “We have to have high levels of training; we need the best of the best.”
They also depend on volunteers for many non-medical aspects of their work. “Our volunteers usually engage in ongoing mentoring called ‘Next Steps,’” Lehman said, which offers workshops on childbirth preparation, infant safety, parenting skills, money management, basic car care and meal planning.
Other consultation services include post-abortion care. First Choice also provides sexually transmitted disease and infection testing, by hosting Wake County Health and Human Services on site. The organization faces a daunting task in its community.
“Well, we always need money,” said Lehman, when asked how others can help. “The abortion industry is a multibillion dollar industry … our competitor is a big competitor. Filling a baby bottle with some change is not enough. There has to be some sacrificial giving into all of the pregnancy centers.”
“We also need prayer,” Lehman said. “This is not an easy work. My staff members see children on an ultrasound machine screen, and they confirm the death of that child. That’s part of their job, and that’s hard to live with.”
Another difficult aspect of the ministry, according to Lehman, is counseling women who regret having an abortion.
The organization also receives slanderous attacks from those who oppose the ministry. Lehman said their staff had recently been reported to the Board of Nursing for investigation. The case was open and closed in the same day, she added, because First Choice medical staff members are certified medical professionals. “Nonetheless, we need discernment, wisdom and perseverance.”
One of the pressing issues, she continued, “is for the local church to rise up in support of these girls after they choose life.” The help a local church offers one pregnant woman can become known throughout her community.
“When her neighbor becomes pregnant, she says ‘You know what? My neighbor got help from these people – I think they’re called Christians – maybe they’ll help me too, and I don’t have to abort.’”
Lehman believes churches must “leave their apathy and silence. Talk about the issue. … Take a woman into your home. Help her get on her feet. It is hard but it is worth it.”