For more than 20 years, staff members and volunteers at the Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo have been starting their day with a prayer session.
And there has never been a shortage of prayer requests.
The nonprofit Christian organization, founded in 1984, is engaged in a ministry that involves one of the most controversial and polarizing issues of the day - abortion.
It's an issue that makes the news in many ways, including a declaration by President Bush earlier this month proclaiming Jan. 16 as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. The President said in the proclamation that there is a "responsibility in America to defend the life of the innocent and powerless."
Traditionally held on the third Sunday of January, Sanctity of Human Life Day is linked to the anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision making abortion legal in the first three months of pregnancy.
For a lot of groups across the country, the Roe v. Wade anniversary presents an opportunity to state their case and to raise support for their cause.
While the Catholic Church and many conservative religious groups have taken a strong stand against abortion, some denominations and religious organizations have rallied in support of women's right to choose abortion.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, based in Washington, "affirms a woman's moral right to make reproductive decisions according to her own conscience and religious principles."
The RCRF has members representing more than 20 faith groups, including the Rev. Bruce McDaniels, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Portage, Ohio.
"I believe that all human life is sacred," Pastor McDaniels said, "and I have to weigh that with the belief that women who are pregnant and need to make some reasonable and moral choices, it's not our place to tell them what to do."
He said while he "personally struggles" with the issue, "my perception is that it's not an easy choice for women who have this procedure and it's unfortunate when they are bombarded with 'you're a bad person if you do this.'●"
Although many politicians, religious leaders, and activists on both sides of the abortion issue feel comfortable in the media spotlight, the Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo makes an effort to avoid the controversy and serve clients quietly."Our goal is to serve women," said Charlotte Morford, director since 1995. "We don't want to do anything to hinder that. We are nonjudgmental. We are not harsh. Our clients know we care about them no matter what choice they make."
The Pregnancy Center holds an annual Walk for Life fund-raiser in October and participates in Sanctity of Human Life Day by offering speakers to local churches.
Representatives from the center were scheduled to speak at 16 churches last Sunday and tomorrow, Mrs. Morford said.
In addition, 17,000 bulletin inserts explaining the center's ministries are being distributed at churches over the two Sundays.
The Pregnancy Center provides peer counseling, pregnancy tests, baby supplies such as diapers and infant formula, and prayer for their clients, who have ranged in age from 11 to 50, Mrs. Morford said. Most clients are between the ages of 19 and 24.
"The picture we try to paint is that if you're in an unwed pregnancy, then for your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health it's good to explore your options," she said.
Last year, more than 900 people came to the center for help. Since its founding in 1984 the center has served more than 29,000 clients, Mrs. Morford said.
In addition to pregnancy counseling, the Pregnancy Center offers a 24-hour hotline, post-abortion counseling, Lamaze classes, mentoring programs, classes for "expectant dads," and baby-sitting for clients during classes and counseling. All services are provided free to clients.
The center also has a "Baby Boutique" where women who participate in classes, keep prenatal appointments, and take part in other specified activities earn points they can use to "buy" new baby clothes, toys, and other items.
Sheri Phillips, director of publicity for the Pregnancy Center, said the goods are donated by individuals and local churches. Many churches hold "baby showers" for the center in which people bring bibs, pajamas, blankets, cribs, and other necessities to donate.
Raising awareness of the Pregnancy Center is particularly important this year, Mrs. Phillips said, because it moved in October from an office complex on Monroe Street in West Toledo to a stand-alone building on Westwood Avenue, just north of Nebraska Avenue.
The new location, which has 6,500 square feet of space, was completely remodeled into homey counseling rooms, a reception area, prayer chapel, and offices for center staffers. The RSVP (Responsible Social Values Program) program, an affiliated agency that provides abstinence education to area schools and church youth groups, has its offices in the same building.
The Pregnancy Center's annual budget of $200,000 is provided by donations from individuals, businesses, and 50 churches in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
Mrs. Morford, a licensed social worker, is the only full-time employee on the staff of eight. The center has three obstetrician-gynecologist doctors who consult with clients, a staff nurse, and about 50 volunteers who do everything from stocking baby supplies to answering phones. Volunteers who work with clients must first undergo at least 20 hours of training.
Pregnancy Center officials said they usually focus their public-relations efforts on churches and groups that support, or are likely to support, their ministries.
Going outside that supportive circle carries some risks because of the divisive nature of the abortion issue.
The center continuously faces a dilemma over trying to raise public awareness and support without alienating people who could use their services or stirring up pro-choice activists, officials said.
In the midst of the ongoing abortion debate, the Pregnancy Center stays quietly focused on its mission statement: "To express the compassion of Christ through support and education in pregnancy-related issues."
"I think unplanned pregnancy raises real mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual issues," Mrs. Morford said. "We care deeply for women in the situation of having to make that choice and we want to help them make healthy, long-term choices."
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