When a woman walks into the medical clinic operated by Agape House in northwest Tennessee, she won't find evangelism tracts or Bibles in the waiting room. While she waits nervously to have an ultrasound to confirm her pregnancy, she won't be judged regardless of her circumstances. And if she tells the clinic staff that she's considering having an abortion, she will be given all the information she needs about her child, but won't be pressured into a decision.
"If someone tries to talk a woman out of a decision to abort" before her heart is ready to accept it, "then someone else can easily talk her back into it after she leaves," said Linda DeBoard, CEO of Agape House and member of First Baptist Church in Martin, Tenn. "When ladies come to our clinic, our mission is to empower them with the truth about life so that they can make the best choice for themselves. We know that's a choice for life, but she has to come to that realization after she has been given all the truth."
Agape House is one of thousands of pro-life organizations throughout the country on the front lines of elevating the sanctity of human life. Jan. 22 is recognized by Southern Baptists as Sanctity of Life Sunday.
Pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics such as the one operated by Agape House offer various services to support women and men faced with pregnancy decisions.
Some centers minister to those who need assistance throughout a pregnancy in the form of training classes, counseling, or material goods such as diapers. These types of centers may or may not operate as medical clinics and offer services such as pregnancy testing and ultrasounds. Others, like Agape House's clinic, focus on reaching women who are at risk for abortion, offering medical services and informing them of their pregnancy options.
Everyone on staff with Agape House is a member of a Southern Baptist church in northwest Tennessee or Kentucky, said DeBoard. Many of their volunteers come from Southern Baptist churches in the area, and all volunteers are required to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and be committed to a biblical understanding of the sanctity of human life.
The ministry is entirely funded by churches, individuals, businesses, and civic groups; more than 60 Southern Baptist churches, as well as other churches who embrace a pro-life ethic, contributed financially in 2016.
In addition to their medical clinic, Agape House has an educational arm and offers a Bible study for women who have previously had abortions, to carry out their mission statement of "upholding the sanctity of human life through education, medical services and spiritual restoration."
The ministry has developed G.R.O.W. (Great Relationships Open ur World) as a sexual risk avoidance program taught in schools. "Your" is intentionally spelled "ur" to grab the attention of the student audience. The age-appropriate program encourages students to make healthy choices in relationships and abstain from sex until marriage. Though they cannot overtly talk about spiritual things in the public school setting, they can still share truths that reflect biblical values with the students, DeBoard said.
They have taught in every school in the two counties they primarily serve, as well as some outlying counties, DeBoard said. The ministry's October newsletter reported that 1,355 students had attended the program between January and September 2016. She believes the program has contributed to the overall drop in teen pregnancies in the counties they serve.
The ministry's sexual health medical clinic aims to serve women physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The clinic provides pregnancy options information as well as pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. Ultrasounds help confirm the pregnancy and the fetal age of the child. It also offers testing and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections. For women considering abortion, these same services are necessary, DeBoard said, since the fetal age of the child affects the type of abortion procedure the woman could expect to undergo. And women with an STI may experience complications during the procedure. Staff and volunteers make it clear that the clinic does not offer or refer for abortions.
Our culture has lied to women about abortion, telling them that it is a "quick fix" and that their lives will return to normal afterward, DeBoard said. Agape House is committed to providing truthful information about all pregnancy options—including parenting, adoption, and what abortion is and how the procedures work—and offering a safe space where women can process the information, she said.
DeBoard said that by offering their services this way, they have the opportunity to reach women who would never go to a church for help.
"A woman in our area who is wanting to have an abortion, and has already made the decision to have an abortion, is not going to church to tell you that she wants an abortion. She's not," DeBoard said. "She's running from the church."
A 2015 study from LifeWay Research supports that assertion.
In a survey of women who have had abortions, 59 percent of respondents said that they received or expected to receive a judgmental or condemning attitude from a local church as they considered their decision to abort. Twenty-nine percent said they received or expected to receive a loving or caring response. And 54 percent of women would not recommend to someone close to them that they discuss their decision regarding an unplanned pregnancy with someone at a local church, while only 25 percent would recommend it.
Their clinic strives to treat their clients the way Jesus would, DeBoard said, by showing them love, presenting them with the truth about life, allowing them to make their own decisions, and loving them no matter what they choose.
Clinic staff and volunteers may ask clients whether they have a faith that might influence their pregnancy decision. This often leads to opportunities to share the Gospel or to encourage women in their relationship with Jesus.
DeBoard encourages pastors and anyone interested in supporting a pro-life ministry to take a tour of their local center or clinic and learn more about their ministry. Since there are two distinct types of pregnancy centers—those focused on providing support throughout a pregnancy and those focused on preventing abortions—it's good to gain hands-on experience to make sure you understand the specific work that you're supporting, she said.
Agape House also offers a Bible study program for women who have previously had abortions. The study focuses on healing and forgiveness—learning to forgive themselves and accepting forgiveness from God.
"There's no sin too great that God won't forgive us and set us free and use our mistakes for His glory," DeBoard said.
She also reminds pastors that their pews may be filled with women who have abortions in their past. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization with ties to Planned Parenthood, approximately 30 percent of women will have had an abortion by age 45. About half of the women who have an abortion in a given year have previously had at least one.
"What abortion is and does needs to be told and spoken and preached," DeBoard said, but with sensitivity to the women who are hurting from their own abortion experiences.
When missionaries begin their assignments overseas, they have platforms that help them gain access into closed countries and build relationships in their communities. They go as teachers or businesspeople with the intention of building relationships and sharing the Gospel. The same is becoming necessary in America, DeBoard said.
"Unfortunately, we are at that place in our own country, in our own homeland," she said, "to where we must have occupations that bring others in and then share truth with them. And that's really what's happening through Agape House.
"We are sharing truth with those that we're serving, but we're not known as missionaries through the two venues that we're operating under," DeBoard noted.
By providing a neutral environment for women who are seeking a solution for an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, "we're able to share the truth with them. And I think that's where we've got to go in our country, if we're going to turn our country back to God."
Rebecca Wolford is communications specialist for the SBC Executive Committee.