Two days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the Rev. Norman K. Douglas, like many other religious leaders, spoke about abortion from his pulpit at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Parish in Akron.
He read a statement from Bishop Edward Malesic of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, which applauded the ruling and listed resources for new and expecting parents. Douglas then added his own message about the need to advocate for policies like universal health care, paid parental leave and the continuation of enhanced child tax credits.
“The key from our point of view, too, is we got to make sure that we’re not only concerned about a baby being born, but we’re concerned about the family and we’re concerned about the help that people get after the baby’s born,” Douglas told the Beacon Journal. “If we’re going to show we’re pro-life through everything, we need to encourage our people to vote in these ways.”
As those who oppose abortion embrace and celebrate a post-Roe future, many say they also are working to provide services to individuals experiencing unplanned pregnancies who can no longer obtain an abortion legally in Ohio. Roughly 20,600 abortions were performed in Ohio in 2020, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.
More:Akron celebrates, mourns the end of constitutional right to abortion
Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Ohio reinstated its so-called “heartbeat law,” which outlaws abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, typically around six weeks of gestation, except when the mother’s life is at risk. At that point, many don’t yet realize they are pregnant.
‘A defining moment’
Mary von Carlowitz, who directs the Diocese of Cleveland’s Office for Human Life, said now is a “defining moment” for the Catholic Church, which has long opposed abortion.
“We’ve talked about supporting pro-life, being pro-life and walking with all moms in need, but this is a time where we have to really show them that we’re going to do what we said we would all along,” she said.
When an individual seeking help calls or walks through the doors of St. Vincent’s, Douglas or another member of the pastoral team first sit down with the person and listen to their story.
“We’re not so much providing all the resources. We’re listening. We’re letting them know they’re cared about,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, here’s a list of resources. Here’s a piece of paper. Go to them.’ No, it’s spending time with the person and then letting them know the resources available.”
Other anti-abortion groups also serve a link to available resources for expectant parents, even though they don’t provide those services themselves.
When a pregnant person seeking help calls Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, Allie Frazier, the organization’s executive director, immediately connects them with a resource in the community, often a pregnancy resource center.
Frazier’s organization does not provide services because it’s focused on advocacy, but she said Right to Life has personal relationships with many of the resources in what she describes as the “holistic safety net.” Beyond the pregnancy centers, the safety net includes organizations like LoveLine, a national organization that provides financial assistance to pregnant and single mothers.
“In this post-Roe environment, there’s a lot of concern that women aren’t going to be getting the supplies they need,” Frazier said. “That is absolutely not going to happen. The pro-life movement is 100% committed to meeting these needs.”
More:Their pregnancies fall just outside Ohio’s new six week abortion ban. What do they do now?
But Kellie Copeland, who leads Pro Choice Ohio and is based in Akron, questions whether these needs will actually be met.
“I want you to know who’s responsible for this: It’s Gov. Mike DeWine, it’s Dave Yost, it’s the anti-choice organizations in this state and it’s the Republican Party, none of which have lifted a finger to make being pregnant in this state easier,” Copeland said.
“We don’t even have a minimum unpaid maternity leave, and these politicians and organizations have the unmitigated gall to say now, somehow, they’re going to be here for people,” she said. “Where the hell have they been? Where? What took them so long? If this was about supporting pregnant people and about babies, they would’ve done something.”
Ohio ranked 31st in child well-being in 2021, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count report.
‘We are going to just continue as we did before’
None of the organizations the Beacon Journal talked to said they had started or planned to start a new initiative after the Supreme Court’s ruling. They varied on whether they were increasing existing services.
Both Akron Pregnancy Services and Embrace Clinic and Care Center in Barberton insist that nothing changes in their operations now that Roe has been overturned.
“Pre-Roe and post-Roe, there’s going to be women that are facing unplanned pregnancies and maybe have a hard time getting the support that they need or the material goods that they need,” said Peggy Swyrydenko, Embrace Clinic and Care Center’s executive director. “We are going to just continue as we did before.”
Swyrydenko said that the center’s staff did not make an official plan to alter or increase services before the Supreme Court’s ruling because they knew that people would still be facing unplanned pregnancies. For now, she said, they’re prepared for a potential increase in people seeking services.
“We’re well staffed and well-funded, and we have a lot of supplies already on hand,” Swyrydenko said. “We haven’t had anything that we’re running out of that people are looking for.”
The two centers each provide free diapers, infant and toddler clothing, wipes, baby food, formula and parenting classes. The Barberton clinic also offers pregnancy testing, birth control and ultrasound services.
At the Akron center, parents can earn vouchers for larger items by attending parenting classes or viewing parenting videos. Attendance at five classes, for instance, is enough to earn a Pack ‘N Play, a type of portable crib and playpen.
For services the Barberton clinic does not provide, such as housing and food assistance, the center typically refers individuals to other organizations, Swyrydenko said. Those include state- and county-run resources like WIC — the special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children — and the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority.
In 2021, the state budget set aside $6 million for the Ohio Parenting and Pregnancy Program, which funds several crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state. Centers that receive funds through the program are not allowed to be involved in or associated with any abortion activities, which includes providing abortion counseling or referrals to abortion clinics. Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order earlier this year that gave another $1.7 million to the program.
More:New budget earmarks $7.5 million of Ohio taxpayers’ money for pregnancy centers
Frazier said her organization regularly provides supplies to local pregnancy centers that come from the baby supplies drive at Right to Life of Northeast Ohio’s annual banquet and donations left at the organization’s office. They also sometimes buy specific items that are in short supply at a pregnancy center.
She expects those efforts to increase as the pregnancy centers’ needs grow.
“They are the ones who are boots on the ground and bring real support to women in crisis,” Frazier said. “Going forward, the pro-life movement is just unshakingly focused on providing the best possible support for them.”
‘There shouldn’t be anyone that feels unaccompanied’
Although a couple of local Catholic parishes directly offer resources for new and expecting parents, most refer parents to pregnancy centers and services run by the Cleveland Diocese or affiliated with it.
Currently, the diocese is continuing a push started a year ago to expand its parish-run efforts, largely through the Walking with Moms in Need initiative. The nationwide program was initially launched by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and works at a parish level to pair congregants with local mothers facing difficult pregnancies.
Von Carlowitz called the initiative a “focal point” for the Cleveland Diocese. About 20% of the 185 parishes in the diocese have begun putting the initiative into effect and another 20% are looking into the initiative, she said.
“Walking with Moms in Need is just to have a very personal touch so that a woman, especially in an emergent pregnancy situation, that feels alone or scared or, you know, finding out that she can no longer obtain an abortion legally in the state of Ohio knows that she’s not going to be alone,” von Carlowitz said.
Beyond providing basic supplies to new and expecting parents, the program also intends to help parents meet all of their needs, whether that involves day care, housing, education or job training, according to von Carlowitz. The goal, she said, is for each parish to have the structure to provide support themselves and the resources needed to connect parents with local organizations that can provide services outside the parish’s scope.
“Everyone in the parish community should know where to refer a pregnant woman in need,” von Carlowitz said. “We want people to know that we’re here to accompany them. Like I said, not only through pregnancy but through parenting as well.”
St. Vincent’s in Akron aims to formalize its Walking with Moms in Need initiative by the beginning of August, Douglas said.
The Cleveland Diocese’s Catholic Charities organization also operates one of the many Help Me Grow programs in Ohio. Help Me Grow is a state-run home visiting program that provides education on infant growth, development and parenting skills.
Beyond providing education, home visitors help connect families enrolled in Help Me Grow with all of the other services provided by Catholic Charities. In Summit County, those include providing grocery gift cards, bus passes, baby supplies and emergency financial assistance for rent and utilities, according to Julie Neely, one of Catholic Charities’ program administrators for Help Me Grow.
For the next year, the organization also has access to a safety grant that allows them to provide items like child proofing supplies, car seats and high chairs, Neely said.
“We are really there just to be a partner with families to help them, you know, parent the way they want to parent,” she said. “We’re not there, you know, to judge or to lecture. We’re just going to support them in the best way that we can and in the manner they need us to.”
Those who oppose abortion remain excited and hopeful for the future.
“There’s a saying in the pro-life movement, ‘Love them both,’ and I think that a lot of times people think that that’s just like a platitude, and it’s really not,” Frazier said. “It is a pledge that we are going to take care of women, and we are going to do what it takes to provide for these babies, and honestly, we are ready for the challenge. We cannot wait for what comes next.”