(Photo: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)
An alternative program in Pennsylvania designed to empower women with unplanned pregnancies to choose life over abortion has resulted in a seven percent dip in the number of resident abortions in the state over the last 17 years.
Real Alternatives, a charitable non-profit organization that administers the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program with funds from the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, described it as a "first-in-the nation" operation.
The organization notes that the Pennsylvania Department of Health recently reported 34,459 abortions in the state, a drop of just over two percent for 2011. This figure is also approximately seven percent lower than the 37,173 abortions reported in 1995, the year before the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program began.
"It has been so gratifying over these years that so many women who were alone and facing a crisis pregnancy had another person to assist them and empower them to overcome obstacles and pressures so they could choose life for their preborn baby," said Kevin Bagatta, president and CEO of Real Alternatives, in a statement on Wednesday.
Real Alternatives provides funding to 93 pregnancy support centers, Catholic Charities, and maternity homes, and there are more than 500 counselors to provide free pregnancy support and parenting education services to women in the state.
As a testament to the effect of the Program on the women who receive help through their work, Real Alternatives provided a video with several women and workers talking about their experience.
"How am I gonna do this was probably the biggest question that came through my head every single day," said a young woman identified as Noreen in the video. She explained that through help from the Program, she was able to avoid an abortion suggested by her own mother. "But they kept telling me that they would help me. Whether it's with finding an apartment, a job…I didn't go to my parents. My mother figured it out, tried to force me to terminate my pregnancy and I just couldn't do it," said Noreen. "The best thing was, (I'm gonna get all emotional) is that they were completely supportive of my decision. They didn't try to sway me," she added.
But thanks to the work of Real Alternatives, the majority of women that choose to get help through their program choose an alternative to abortion, even in the tough economic times.
"With the difficult economic times we have experienced the last couple of years, comes increased pressure to abort. For women who come to our Program pressured by others to abort, 87 percent no longer consider abortion after receiving services," said Thomas Lang, vice president of Real Alternatives.
He noted that a record setting 13,068 pregnant women received services through the Program in the fiscal year 2011-2012. In fiscal year 2011-12, 18,948 women were provided comprehensive counseling, mentoring, education, and support services throughout their nine months of pregnancy and twelve months after the birth of their baby. The program received funding of $5.794 million that fiscal year through the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. The Program's administrative cost ratio was just under eight percent.
Real Alternatives has also assisted 14 other states to start taxpayer-funded programs to reach out to women facing unexpected pregnancies. In 2006, Texas requested assistance in replicating the Pennsylvania program. That program, administered by Texas Pregnancy Care Network, has also been a great success in providing pregnancy and parenting support services to 71,978 women at 373,963 support service visits.