Janet Durig, the director of the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center (CHPC), was busy setting up for an event in which the center would dedicate their new ultrasound the following week. Some college volunteers, visiting for a mission trip, were helping her prepare. As she gave out jobs and explained their pro-life mission, she couldn’t help but notice a girl smiling to herself.
While the other students were at work, the girl peeked into her office. Her mom had gone to a pregnancy center like CHPC 20 years ago, faced with a pregnancy she didn’t want, looking for an abortion. The sonogram changed her mind.
“Without it, I wouldn’t be here today,” the girl said to Durig.
With tears in her eyes, Durig recounted that story. She had wanted and waited for an ultrasound machine since she took on the role as director 15 years ago. It had seemed unlikely for so long. Donations were needed simply to cover month-to-month costs helping moms with challenges in caring for their babies. It just wasn’t feasible. Now that dream was coming to fruition, and the girl’s story only confirmed for Durig that the ultrasound machine was a sign of God’s hand.
Now, her staff, members of the Knights of Columbus, and representatives of the Catholic Church gathered to dedicate this ultrasound for the future mothers who would use it to see their unborn children. The Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington prayed to bless the machine’s use and sprinkled holy water over it, asking the Holy Spirit to dwell in the CHPC ministry.
That wasn’t the first glimpse of divine intervention that week. Just the day before, in what some called “providential timing,” the Supreme Court struck down California legislation that compelled pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise abortion. Had it been upheld, Durig and other staff believed that DC would follow suit. Durig was in the car listening to the radio when the decision was announced.
“I screamed and drove straight to the Supreme Court to be there myself,” she said.
The SCOTUS victory was not inevitable. Before the decision, the director of the Northwest Center, Susan Galluci, was wondering if pregnancy centers like hers and CHPC could survive a ruling in favor of the California law. She was pessimistic. A mission so committed to upholding the sanctity of life could not have abided this ruling.
“If you’re going to be singing to life, you can’t join the song of death,” said Bishop Mario Dorsonville.
But the dedication was a day of celebration, not dread, the culmination of a year’s worth of lobbying and fundraising. Knights of Columbus member Jack Heretik had pitched the idea to fellow member Patrick Abbott in the basement St. Vincent de Paul’s Catholic Church last June. At the time, the idea met skepticism. An ultrasound costs $29,750. The Knights had never taken on a project of that size before, and raising the funds would be difficult. A friend of Abbott told him that he would never see the pledges they received turn into money.
However, the Supreme office of the Knights of Columbus, the national organization, would meet the local chapter halfway, so they pressed onward.
Father Cornelius Ejiogu, the chaplain of the D.C. Knights of Columbus, said his church, St. Luke Catholic Church, reached their goal in one Sunday. Yet another parish raised over $3,000 by filling baby bottles with spare change. In only 90 days, they met their total goal. Altogether, they raised $40,000. The excess will go toward maintaining the ultrasound.
Much of the momentum came from knowing what an impact this one machine could have. The Knights of Columbus have had an ultrasound fundraising initiative for years and have purchased over 950 ultrasounds nationwide. By their own estimates, the sonogram images save two to three lives every week. A January 2014 study showed that women were almost three times more likely to keep their children if they viewed a sonogram, even more so if they were far along in the pregnancy.
“It’s eye opening [for the mothers] when they realize that it’s a baby and not a ball of string,” Durig said. “Because most times, people talk about it like it’s the latter.”
Noelle Barber, a physician’s assistant who acts as the medical director for CHPC, has watched women look at their baby for the first time in clinics. She described how mothers looked overjoyed to see their pregnancy become a reality and was excited to bring that to CHPC.
The sonograms are still only a portion of what CHPC offers expecting families. Information about parenting and birthing classes lines the powder blue walls, occasionally interrupted by bookshelves with free copies of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” The basement is full of free baby clothes, diapers, and formula. Before Easter and Christmas, the center pulls out special dresses for the little girls to wear.
Most importantly, CHPC offers a support system for women scared of what a future as a mother holds. Barber, who volunteered as a counselor before becoming the medical director, says much of her work comprised crying and rejoicing with these mothers, many of whom are young and poor.
Without CHPC, many of these underserved women have nowhere else to go and in desperation, will listen to voices that tell them their success is wrapped up in their child’s death. A Planned Parenthood location operates only a few blocks from the center on 4th Street.
“[The Planned Parenthood nearby] is known for being an abortion factory. We need to take action,” said Heretik. “Saying prayers and a rosary is great, but you have a machine that can save lives and prevent women from getting abortions. We should use it!”
Legislation before the D.C. City Council could make it more difficult for CHPC to practice. The policy would ban medical facilities from preferencing either pro-life or pro-choice candidates when hiring doctors and nurses. Should this legislation pass, CHPC would have to consider abortion-supporting doctors when looking for one to run their ultrasound machine. Durig has testified against the policy and is praying that it will be stopped.
The pro-life movement is not about compulsion but invitation, the bishop says.
“When a mother sees an image of her little one, it is a miracle,” Bishop Doronsville said. “It tells her, ‘There is a door of life. Would you like to join?’”
For CHPC, “a small place where large miracles happen,” this ultrasound was itself a miracle. For the more than 2,000 women that come to CHPC every year seeking guidance, the ultrasound will show them the beauty of life inside them. Durig closed the ceremony by reading Psalm 139. It says, in part:
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
The pro-life movement invokes this verse often, and it is fitting, especially for an ultrasound dedication. As unexpected mothers face the days that have not yet come, they lack the eyes of God and can’t see into their wombs, let alone the future. But an ultrasound lets each one see her child’s frame. That baby becomes a reality, and the ultrasound changes hearts and minds.
As a result, many more may say, “Without it, I wouldn’t be here.”