Anne Tollesson has a special devotion to the Sacred Heart, but one feast day stands out — June 24, 2022, the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Tollesson serves as the chair of Birthright St. Charles’ Board of Directors. She remembers hearing the news as she walked out of Mass that day.
“All I could say was, ‘thank you, Jesus!’” she said.
Birthright St. Charles has operated for 42 years as a
nonprofit pregnancy resource center that offers professional counseling, pregnancy testing and support services.
“Since the Dobbs decision came down and Missouri became the first state to trigger a law to ban abortion, the need to help women has been even greater,” Tollesson said. “Birthright donors stepped up, and we are so grateful because the financial assistance that we are giving to moms is at an all-time high, and we just expect that need to continue to grow.”
After the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that effectively returned decisions about abortion laws to individual states, Birthright St. Charles has responded by expanding its outreach and services for the St. Charles community.
Executive Director Sheri Petruso recognized that more women were turning to the internet and social media seeking information about abortion and pregnancy resource centers. So, Birthright expanded its online reach by increasing its website’s search engine optimization, increasing social media and running more advertisements on online platforms.
“Following the Dobbs decision, we have seen an absolute explosion in exposure and contact with women considering abortion or who have had an abortion through our increased social media presence,” Petruso said.
The financial and time investment into their online presence has paid off. Since the Dobbs decision, Birthright St. Charles saw an 84% increase, compared to 2021, in overall contact with women who had or were considering an abortion.
Alesha Williams is one of those clients.
Six days after the Dobbs decision, Williams walked into Birthright alone and confused. Days before, she discovered that she was pregnant with her second child. She turned to Google for options, and Birthright’s page popped up immediately. She called the office and set up an appointment.
“When I first thought that I was pregnant with my daughter, I was in a very dark place and was really sad,” Williams said. “I really felt like I didn’t have anybody. Sheri came along, and she was always somebody I could talk to that wouldn’t judge me.”
Williams turned to Birthright for counseling, financial assistance and job support throughout her pregnancy. Even though she had few family or friends to confide in, with Birthright’s help, she realized she was not alone.
“For me, pregnancy was a long, lonely journey. I felt like I had nobody,” Williams said. “I always looked forward to our counselor sessions, because I know I always left feeling better about everything and about myself.”
When Williams’ car broke down a month before her baby was due, Birthright offered to help pay for a new car. Williams wanted to take two months of maternity leave but feared she wouldn’t be able to make ends meet, so Birthright paid three months of her rent.
“They help and support me in so many ways,” Williams said. “They check in on me to see how I’m doing mentally or if I need any help with anything. They still give me diapers and wipes, which is so helpful.”
Williams finds great joy and pride in motherhood, watching her 18-month-old son, Keenan, learn new words and snuggling her 4-month-old daughter, Samora.
“Being somebody’s mom feels really good,” Williams said. “It’s a chance to give my kids everything I didn’t have growing up.”
With an increase in clients, Birthright has had to expand its services. In the past year, they have seen more moms asking for assistance, including mental health needs. Birthright has hired extra counselors and has trained more volunteers to be available 24/7 to clients.
“We provided mental health assistance before, but now we are providing it in a much more expansive way,” Petruso said. “We let the woman tell us what her needs, concerns and stressors are. That gives me what my to-do list is.”
Birthright has also cited an increase in calls related to the abortion pill. Medication abortion accounted for 53% of all facility-based abortions in the United States in 2020, according to a periodic census of known abortion providers conducted by the Guttmacher Institute. It’s the first time medication abortion has become the most commonly used method of abortion. Guttmacher also reported a significant jump from 39% usage in 2017, when data was last reported.
“You don’t just take the pill and go on with your life,” Petruso said. “The mental health piece to the decision process and the subsequent process is often overlooked for all abortions, but especially with the pill. But it is so critical to address.”
Even with new challenges and a greater need, the mission of Birthright stays the same a year after Dobbs — to help mothers, like Williams, at all stages.
“We just want to help more, do more,” Petruso said. “I really want women to see their value and ability to be a mom while still being able to be themselves, reach their goals and not have to believe that a pregnancy and child put their life on hold.”
Birthright Counseling is a nonprofit pregnancy resource center that offers professional counseling, pregnancy testing and support services.
To learn more or get help from Birthright St. Charles, visit birthrightstcharles.org or call (636) 724-1200.
To learn more or get help from Birthright St. Louis, visit birthrightstl.org or call (314) 962-5300.