When Pamela Whitehead takes a call for LoveLine, a new pregnancy helpline, she listens.
“Too often we think we know what a woman needs, and we don’t really listen to what she says to us,” Whitehead told Catholic News Agency, “and I think if we listen long enough, we really hear her need.”
In one recent call to the helpline, Whitehead said she listened to a woman who, at first, thought her biggest need was rent money.
The young woman from Arizona had three children with her boyfriend and had just found out she was pregnant with their fourth. Facing extreme pressure from her boyfriend and family to abort, the woman was sure she would be kicked out of her house for refusing the abortion, and said she needed rent money to prevent her from being homeless.
“So I simply asked her the question, do you want to have an abortion? And she said no,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead said she reassured the woman that no one could force her to have an abortion. She suggested to the woman on the phone that she should first try humanizing the baby to her family – telling her mom how much she would love another grandbaby, and telling her boyfriend how much better their lives would be for having another child.
“And you know what she did? She went back and she stood up for herself and she spoke to her family and they actually…turned around and she ended up not having an abortion,” Whitehead said.
“So while what she thought she needed was some material resources, what she actually needed was empowerment and confidence, and that’s what we were able to provide for her.”
That story is just one of many hopeful stories that have come from the newly-released LoveLine, Whitehead said, which is a pro-life helpline, founded by former abortion clinic worker Abby Johnson, who is now a pro-life advocate. The helpline connects pregnant or post-abortive women in need to the proper resources. Sometimes that means public assistance or private donations or simply a community of like-minded pro-life people. Often, it is some combination of all three.
LoveLine is a new project under the larger umbrella organization of ProLove Ministries, which houses multiple pro-life projects founded by Johnson. The organization was a spin-off of And Then There Were None, a support organization for abortion clinic workers who are leaving the abortion industry.
Through LoveLine, women in need can text, chat or call the helpline and talk to someone about what they’re going through and the resources that they need. The project hopes to respond to a “gap in services.”
“There’s a population of women who are in need who aren’t being served,” Whitehead explained.
Usually, she said, it’s because the resources that women in crisis pregnancies need are either unavailable, hidden, or delayed. Public assistance is often delivered on a first-come first-served basis, Whitehead noted, and by the time a woman connects to those services, there can be a long line ahead of her before she actually gets the help that she needs.
“For instance, if all of a sudden (a woman’s) partner leaves her, whether it’s her spouse or her boyfriend, and she’s accustomed to having a two-income household…that puts her in a major situation,” Whitehead said.
“While her pregnancy wasn’t a so-called crisis, all of a sudden the pregnancy becomes a precipitating factor for her because it’s just one more thing. And so she’s looking at her situation and she’s considering all of her options, and one of those oftentimes is abortion because it’s like, well, he’s left me, now what?”
LoveLine wants to be there to fill in those gaps, Whitehead said. Some other examples of assistance that the group has provided so far to women in need include baby registries, diapers and food assistance, referrals to pro-life doctors, rent assistance through private donations, and referrals to vetted, untapped public assistance.
Any public assistance or service that LoveLine refers to is first vetted by staff or volunteers to make sure that it can actually provide what the woman needs in a timely manner.
“If we are going to send her to an organization or to an individual or to a social service resource, I’m going to call that resource in advance … and make sure this woman’s going to hear ‘yes.’ Because it’s overwhelming when the pressures of life are on top of you and you’re trying to just make it through and you’ve got 10 decisions you’ve got to deal with,” Whitehead said.
“We want to give her a yes,” she added. “So whatever that takes, we want her to say yes and feel empowered, so that means we have to vet resources.”
“So we connect, we care, we make a commitment and we offer community.”
The community aspect of LoveLine’s promise often comes in the form of volunteers spread throughout the country who offer to help with various needs of the project, Whitehead said. When baby registries are set up for women in need, for example, everything is sent to a volunteer’s house, where the goods are unpacked, sorted and personally delivered, so that the woman is not overwhelmed with receiving dozens of packages at her house. They have also helped connect women with pro-life moms’ groups in their own areas. Whitehead said she was personally delivering a highchair and some maternity clothes to a woman in her area this week.
For Whitehead, working in the pro-life movement is personal. In 2001, she had an abortion that perforated her uterus and sent her to the emergency room. For years afterward, she though the trauma she was experiencing was “what she deserved,” she said.
At the time, Whitehead had been addicted to drugs and alcohol and was living in poverty. She said the advice she received at the time ignored her needs, and was instead focused on concerns that she would not be able to care for the child.
“They all considered the child and thought, ‘There’s no way you can bring this child into the world because you can’t take care of it, and I’m not willing to help you,’ basically. No one tried to help me with the drug addiction or help me with the alcoholism or help me with my poverty,” Whitehead noted.
“So when I see these situations, I see the woman. Not that we don’t care about the unborn, of course we do, and that’s the goal. But if we don’t see the woman, if we don’t see her and her dignity and her worth and her value, then we’re missing. We’re missing it,” she said. The tagline for LoveLine is “When you love first, life follows.”
For the pro-life movement, Whitehead said, LoveLine offers people a chance to do something concrete for the women and babies in need.
“So many people love to give to tangible, practical needs. They love to buy a box of diapers and know that it’s going to this person, you know? And that means so much to people,” Whitehead said.
Typically, she explained, the word gets about the womens’ needs on social media, either through Abby Johnson’s Facebook page or through ProLove Ministries’ Facebook page.
“What we’ve seen is every time we put out a need, the pro-life movement just moves on it. I mean, within hours a whole registry is filled. They just can’t wait. The love is just exploding,” she said.
The LoveLine website offers a phone number that women in need can call or text, or an online chat. Volunteers can also offer their assistance in their area via the LoveLine website under the “Get Involved” tab.
By Mary Farrow