Kayla Harris lay still on the examination table and watched a monitor on the wall.
“Do you see that right there?” Dr. Elizabeth Wuebbels-Jones asked Harris. “That is your baby.”
“Oh my goodness,” Harris softly exhaled as she looked at the miracle in front of her. She broadly smiled as the doctor turned up the sound to reveal the child’s heartbeat — coming in strong at 180 beats per minute.
“Do you see the fluttering in the picture? That fluttering is the heart.” said Wuebbels-Jones, a family medicine doctor. “Pretty cool, huh?”
At My Life Medical and Resource Center in High Ridge, where Harris saw her baby for the first time, the ultrasound machine has been an effective tool among the services it provides to pregnant women. The machine was donated to the center through the Missouri Knights of Columbus’ Meet Life campaign, which places ultrasound machines in pregnancy centers throughout the state.
It is one of 44 ultrasound machines — with two more soon going into centers elsewhere in the state — that the Knights have donated to pregnancy centers in Missouri, according to state life director Mike Tesmer. The program works in collaboration with the Knights’ Supreme Council, which established the Ultrasound Initiative program in 2009. In January, the Supreme Knights announced it had donated its 1,000th machine to pregnancy centers around the world, fulfilling a 10-year initiative to introduce mothers to their babies through ultrasound technology. Missouri ranks sixth in the nation for number of donated machines, according to the Supreme Council.
“It’s chance for a pregnant woman to meet her baby,” as the name of the Meet Life campaign suggests, said Tesmer, of Kansas City, Mo. “It’s chance to show this is a human with a heartbeat.”
The Knights established the Meet Life campaign in Missouri in 2011, under the direction of then-state deputy John Appelbaum. “The goal was to decrease abortions in Missouri by 50 percent by the year 2016,” Tesmer said. “To do that, we figured we’d need around $2 million — or $50 from every Knight.” With 43,000 Knights in Missouri, the goal was surpassed with a total $2.2 million raised in five years. While it has been difficult to quantify exactly how the campaign has affected the abortion rate in Missouri, “it’s certainly made a huge impact,” Tesmer said, pointing to a continuing decline in abortions in Missouri and among Missouri residents.
Knights in Missouri also contribute $100,000 annually to Vitae Foundation to conduct a digital marketing campaign, in an effort to help connect women with pregnancy centers in the state. Additional funding is given to diocesan respect life offices, including the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate, to support pro-life programs, as well as an annual grant to Birthright for operation expenses.
Even though the Meet Life campaign was initially promoted as a five-year effort, councils across the state continue to raise funds, Tesmer said. The program is now turning in a new direction, with a goal of continuing support for pregnancy centers and maintaining the machines, which cost on average about $30,000-35,000 and have a lifespan of about seven to nine years. An endowment currently is in the works, with the goal of bringing in approximately $200,000 a year. The Knights already have received a significant initial donation toward the endowment.
Alliance for Life
The Knights also collaborate with Alliance for Life, a nonprofit organization based in Lee’s Summit, Mo., that provides training and other support services for “frontline ministries,” in Missouri, including pregnancy centers, maternity homes, adoption agencies and post-abortion healing programs. The organization manages the application process when a pregnancy center is interested in obtaining an ultrasound machine through the Meet Life program.
CEO Marsha Middleton noted that the organization coordinates training for staff who will use the machines, as well as training and resources for other day-to-day operations. Of its 60 affiliates, 44 are pregnancy centers.
Alliance for Life also administers $2 million in contracted funding from the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program, which is given to frontline ministries to help support clients, including with utilities, rent and other basic needs. The organization is the largest recipient of Alternatives to Abortion funding, receiving nearly half of the $4.6 million allocated this year.
‘Something that God uses every day in a good way’
Not all pregnant clients who visit Christian-based My Life center in High Ridge are abortion minded, said executive director Karen Ludwig. But among those who are on the fence or believe that abortion is their only option, approximately 85 to 90 percent who have an ultrasound have a change of heart. “Once they see the baby’s heartbeat and movement, they change their minds completely,” she said.
Sometimes, an abortion-minded woman is being coerced by a family member or the father of the baby. “We see our biggest success with guys, when they see their child on the (ultrasound) monitor,” Ludwig said. “Sometimes you have these big, burly guys who one minute only want to talk about abortion; to the next minute: ‘Is that really my baby?’ We see this as something that God uses every day in a good way.”
Like other pregnancy centers, My Life does not offer abortions or refer for them. The clinic offers general information on abortion, including the impact it can have on a woman. Beyond pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, the center provides limited prenatal care until a client is able to connect with a doctor, STD testing, parenting classes, financial assistance with basic needs such as rent and utilities through the Alternatives to Abortion program, and baby and children’s clothing and gear. The center also connects clients with other resources, including referrals to doctors and pregnant and parenting support services through organizations such as Catholic Charities’ Good Shepherd Children and Family Services.
Ludwig said that the services and other resources convey a message that the center supports both the parent and child — not just at the moment of pregnancy and birth, but well beyond.
“You can’t say choose life, and then — oh, good luck,” Ludwig said. “It’s wonderful to be able to walk alongside them.”
>> Donate to Meet Life
To learn more about the Meet Life campaign, visit mokofc.org, and click on service programs. To make a donation, contact your local council or email John Appelbaum at [email protected].