April 6, 2018

Center offers pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and unconditional love

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson blesses the Women’s Care Center in Bloomington on March 7 while supporters, staff, volunteers and donors bow in prayer. Nearly 50 people gathered for the dedication of the facility. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson blesses the Women’s Care Center in Bloomington on March 7 while supporters, staff, volunteers and donors bow in prayer. Nearly 50 people gathered for the dedication of the facility. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

By Katie Rutter (Special to The Criterion)

BLOOMINGTON—The Women’s Care Center opened for business on a main Bloomington thoroughfare just over one year ago, yet the stream of community members crossing the threshold has already surpassed expectations.

Since Feb. 1, 2017, the quaint red brick building with a bright pink awning has received more than 1,300 visits.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Lee Ann Zatkulak, the director of the Women’s Care Center and a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “I would say at this point, we serve probably close to eight to 10 women a day.”

These women come through the white-trimmed glass door for pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling and parenting classes, all provided for free. Expectant mothers also earn coupons for each visit that can be used at the Women’s Care Center to “purchase” brand new items, like clothing and cribs, for their babies.

By providing these free services, the Women’s Care Center aims to give pregnant women the support and resources they need to have their babies, especially women who might be considering abortion.

“The initial thing that women typically come in for is a free pregnancy test,” Zatkulak explained. “In that session, we talk to them about what they’re thinking with the pregnancy and what options are on the table.”

The staff, three women strong, handles most of the day-to-day client needs. On March 7, however, nearly 50 behind-the-scenes volunteers, supporters and donors gathered at the Women’s Care Center to celebrate the facility’s success and dedicate the space.

Invited by these supporters and staff, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson was present to lead a prayer service and bless the building.

“It’s really important for us that we have the backing of the Church and the Catholic community as a whole,” said Zatkulak.

Attendees crowded in the front waiting room and spilled into the main hallway of the center. Archbishop Thompson led several prayers, and Bible passages were read aloud.

During the service, the popularity of the Women’s Care Center became even more apparent. As counselor Elizabeth Punt read petitions that asked for God’s blessing on the center and those who might visit it, a young couple walked into the crowded building to request a pregnancy test.

“That’s something that the community really finds accessible about our center is that they can just pop in if they want to,” Punt explained with a smile after the dedication.

The sign on the front of the building declares this fact in bold letters: Walk-Ins Welcome.

Gracie Williams, a trained counselor from a Women’s Care Center location in South Bend, Ind., jumped into her official role, quickly taking the surprised couple outside and assuring them that they were in the right location. Punt joined the group as soon as she had finished the petitions.

Together, the women scheduled the couple’s visit for later that afternoon. Meanwhile, Archbishop Thompson added one last petition.

“For that young couple, whatever their needs are, we pray to the Lord,” Archbishop Thompson said.

Those gathered responded with a wholehearted, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

Archbishop Thompson concluded the dedication and blessed each room with holy water, including the ultrasound and counseling rooms. He later commented on the decor of the spaces, all of which were painted a calming beige accented with warm browns, oranges and reds, and filled with comfortable furniture.

“They intentionally try to make a place that feels like home so all the families that come here feel a warm place, a loving place, a welcoming place, a caring place,” Archbishop Thompson said, “[but] it’s not only the walls and the facility, but the people that are in it.”

The new Bloomington facility is part of the largest network of pregnancy resources centers in the country. Nationally, Women’s Care Center operates 28 centers, including one in Indianapolis, in 10 states. Headquartered in South Bend, Ind., the network serves about 26,000 women each year.

“They know they’re going to be treated with unconditional love, incredible respect, no judgment and years of ongoing support,” said Bobby Williams, the director of the Women’s Care Center Foundation and a member of St. Anthony de Padua Parish in South Bend, Ind., in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

“More than nine out of 10 of our clients ultimately choose life for their babies, either to parent or to place for adoption,” he added.

As of March 7, the Women’s Care Center in Bloomington had 185 expectant mothers currently receiving their services and counted 266 babies born to clients.

Zatkulak recalled many obstacles that these mothers had to overcome, and retold the story of a woman who had given birth to a child in December. The woman was in her late 30s and visited the Women’s Care Center when she was only a few weeks pregnant.

“She was wavering. She definitely had people telling her that abortion was best because of instability in her own life. Her housing was not stable. She had a job, but she had medical disabilities that were potentially going to have her lose her job,” Zatkulak shared.

The staff met with the woman regularly and provided parenting classes and free items for her baby. They even coached the mother after an early delivery while her premature little girl was in a neonatal intensive care unit.

“[We saw] her blossom into just a wonderful mom who’s now got stable housing; whose family, I think, is surprised by the love that she has to give this baby and all that she’s been able to accomplish,” Zatkulak related.

Located less than a mile from the campus of Indiana University, the staff says that they serve college students on a regular basis. Punt explained that, in counseling sessions, she has the opportunity to help these young women learn how to parent a child while still achieving their goal of higher education.

“That’s just the blessing and the reward that I get when I’m in the room with these women,” said Punt. “I see [them] realize that, ‘My life is not over, it’s not baby pitted against this other goal that I have, but I can do both.’ ”

The new Women’s Care Center is located right next to the Bloomington Planned Parenthood facility, which is the only place that provides chemical and medical abortions in southern Indiana. According to the Indiana Induced Termination of Pregnancy Report, the clinic performed 1,016 abortions in the year 2016, which represents the latest statistics available.

“This is where the women are, so we just want to make sure that women can find us, and they know there are other choices, and there are other options,” explained Williams.

As the Women’s Care Center was blessed and dedicated, a separate effort not affiliated with the organization led members of local churches to keep a prayer vigil outside the abortion facility.

During Lent and again in the fall, this community takes part in the national 40 Days for Life campaign, which urges people to maintain a silent, prayerful witness outside abortion centers. The Bloomington community arranges to have at least one person praying on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood for 12 hours each day during the 40 days.

Monica Siefker, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington and the coordinator of the local effort, believes that these constant prayers led to the opening of the Women’s Care Center in the building next to this Planned Parenthood.

“When we’re out there, we wanted to be able to offer to help women,” she said. “We would pray and hope, and finally the Lord just worked in miraculous ways to make that happen.”

The most recent campaign began on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, and ended on March 25.

During the campaign, Siefker said she witnessed two women decide not to abort. The first woman was walking into Planned Parenthood for abortion counseling, the second for the procedure itself. Those who were praying on the sidewalk offered both women another option, and both headed to the Women’s Care Center instead.

“We are just so grateful for the help that [the counselors of the Women’s Care Care Center] give these women,” Siefker summarized.

Siefker also expressed the hope to end abortion “one soul at a time.”

Although the Women’s Care Center already serves a steady stream of nearly 10 women each day, Zatkulak estimated they could double that number with their current staff and equipment. She, however, does not want their life-saving efforts to stop there.

“I would love for us to get to the point where we need a second ultrasound machine and the doorbell’s ringing all day,” she said.

(Katie Rutter is a freelance writer and member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington. The new Women’s Care Center is located at 409 S. College Ave. in Bloomington. Information about all of the centers can be found at supportwomenscarecenter.org.)

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