Pro-life, pro-choice centers across street in downtown DuluthThe pro-life Women’s Care Center has been open for one month in downtown Duluth, right across the street from the Women’s Health Center, the only abortion provider in northern Minnesota.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
In the month that the pro-life Women’s Care Center has been open in downtown Duluth, passersby have walked in and written checks to support its efforts, according to the center’s director, Jodi Stauber.
But she wouldn’t say whether any of the women who walk into the center were looking for the abortion clinic at the similarly named center across the street.
“A lot of women are surprised and very grateful to find us,” Stauber said. “Some outcomes remain to be seen, but clients leave happy and appreciative.”
The Women’s Care Center created a small stir when it announced last July that it would open so close to the Women’s Health Center, the only abortion provider in northern Minnesota.
The new care center, which has an acknowledged goal of helping mothers who want to “choose life for their babies,” advertises free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds on its outside sign and employs a registered nurse and an ultrasound technician. It also offers parenting classes and counseling on pregnancy options.
The three employees provide many of those services in a cozy, home-like setting. The center also gives parents a chance to earn free and new baby clothes, diapers and furniture by taking part in classes.
The founder of the Women’s Health Center across the street questions both the name and location of the Women’s Care Center.
“We have a big sign now out front, and try to explain to patients when they call that there is another clinic across the street with a name very similar but is not an abortion clinic,” said Tina Welsh, who was executive director of the clinic for 30 years. “I feel sad that women might be confused during a very difficult decision-making time in their life.”
But, so far, the two centers serving pregnant women appear to be coexisting without conflict.
Welsh said there has been no increase in pickets in front of the abortion clinic since the Women’s Care Center opened, nor in the number of canceled appointments.
The care center’s website says “it is vital that there be a beautiful and loving presence near places that perform abortions. This is why so many of our centers are located near abortion clinics. … A young woman who came through the ‘wrong’ door recently said, ‘I felt like I was in heaven.’”
Stauber said the intent of the care center is to be visible, because it offers counseling on all options, including abortion.
“That’s why our awnings are big and pink and pretty and eye-catching,” she said. “People in general that maybe don’t understand what we do here like to say things like we are targeting women … and they try to turn it into something ugly. We are making ourselves available to women: That’s a completely different spin on it, and that’s the truth.”
Other locations were considered for the Women’s Care Center, Stauber said. But a donor who wanted the building to be brand-new chose an available spot at 103 E. First St.
“The reason we are located in downtown Duluth is because this is where all the need is,” she said.
Welsh disputed that notion. The need for abortion or crisis pregnancy services isn’t limited to those in downtown Duluth, Welsh said, noting that the Women’s Health Center serves at least 30 northern Minnesota counties and women from Wisconsin and Michigan.
Stauber said the care center is not a clinic but a pregnancy resource center. The Duluth care center’s website says it aims to persuade women to choose life instead of abortion, and it does so by providing free ultrasounds to see the baby, and through support and encouragement.
“We have women obviously who come in who are conflicted about or shocked that they are pregnant,” Stauber said. “We just provide a quiet place to talk about these options and make sure they are educated. … Sometimes adoption is misunderstood. Does she understand what that means? She can try that on here. If she doesn’t want that, no one is going to pressure her.”
The donor-funded care center has served 35 clients in the month it’s been open, with several returning, Stauber said. It offers referrals to such services as county public health nurses; Minnesota Care; the Women, Infants and Children program, and adoption counselors. Clients fill out an intake form to see what resources might be lacking, Stauber said.
The longtime Lake Superior Life Care Center, a few blocks from the new care center, hasn’t seen a drop in the number of clients since the care center opened, said Joanne Martens, its executive director. It offers similar services to the care center, plus a free non-emergency medical clinic twice a month.
A good indicator of whether the care center is off to a good start is the number of return visits and the number of donations, Stauber said.
“I’ve given a ton of tours. I didn’t really expect that,” she said. “Clients, business people, everyone is saying, ‘It’s so nice here.’ We did that on purpose. We want it to be a place they can exhale. These women are worth it. We all need to be held up to get on our own two feet.”