The first time she spoke to Christopher Bell on the telephone about not getting an abortion and keeping her unborn child, Keva McKenzie thought, "This man doesn't know what I'm going through. It's not that easy just to have your baby."
Today Ms. McKenzie and her two-month-old baby boy live at the Good Counsel Paraclete home in the South Bronx, and she is grateful that she found Bell, director of Good Counsel Inc., to help her in a time of crisis.
Everything isn't exactly the way I want it to be," Ms. McKenzie, a high school student, told CNY. "But I'm glad I didn't get the abortion. Thank God."
Her story is not unusual. In CNY interviews with women who had sought the help of local crisis pregnancy centers and kept their babies, a common theme emerged. Each was abandoned by the father of her child. Most were rejected by their own family. Each felt an inner need to keep her unborn child but had few financial resources and some had no place to stay. As a result, they regretfully decided that abortion was their only choice. The ways in which these women got in contact with the pregnancy centers varied widely, from a call to a phone-in television show to a response to a Yellow Pages advertisement. Despite present struggles and a sometimes uncertain future, each woman expressed contentment with her decision and told of the great love her child had brought into her life.
Many of the women were able to receive medical care through Medicaid and are helping to support their children through government assistance programs. The pregnancy centers offer financial aid when needed and routinely provide food, clothing, parenting classes and other necessities.
The centers in the archdiocese, as well as the Catholic Home Bureau and the network of services available through Catholic Charities, help fulfill Cardinal O'Connor's offer of help to any woman in a crisis pregnancy, regardless of religious background.
"So many women go into these abortion mills emotionally upset and alone and are just looking for someone to say, 'We can help you, you don't have to do this,' " said Bell, who runs four homes in the archdiocese for single mothers and their children.
"We have many ways of helping women," Bell remarked in a CNY interview. "My question is, 'Do we have enough love in our society today?' I want to say that we do have enough love, and that love comes from Jesus Christ. That's why Good Counsel and all the other pregnancy centers exist."
Ms. McKenzie had scheduled an abortion. By what she called a strange twist of fate, she was mugged on her way to the clinic and robbed of the $300 she had to pay for the abortion. Soon after, she decided against abortion when she and her grandmother in New Jersey heard the story from the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) of a pregnant teen who was helped to keep her baby. Ms. McKenzie called EWTN in Birmingham, Ala., and was referred to Father Frank A. Pavone, a priest of the archdiocese who is national director of Priests for Life. He put her in contact with Bell.
She was three months pregnant, and Bell told her to seek prenatal care. Since she was a minor, the clinic she went to wouldn't treat her without parental consent, even though she would not have needed such consent to have an abortion. Her parents were in Trinidad. Torn, she had a few more phone conversations with Bell before she moved into the Bronx Good Counsel home. She delivered Kemel Mark last month at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center.
While at Good Counsel, she attended a special public high school in the Bronx for pregnant teens and earned academic honors last June. The home's policy allows mothers and their children to stay a year or longer after delivery.
"I'm happy I never stopped going to school," she said. "I plan to continue in September.''
Julia Campbell of the Bronx was pregnant with her second child, battling depression and debating whether or not to have an abortion. Looking for a clinic in the Yellow Pages, she came across an ad for Expectant Mother Care in Manhattan, which offers abortion alternatives. She called for an appointment.
"They showed me a video and made an appointment to come back," said Ms. Campbell, 35. "They showed me that it was alive."
She met Christopher T. Slattery, director of the pregnancy center, who arranged medical treatment and encouraged her to seek child support from the child's father.
She delivered a boy by Caesarean section in early June and plans to return soon to her job as a nanny and housekeeper.
Kathy DiFiore, director of Several Sources, which has four homes in New Jersey for pregnant women, told CNY of midnight calls from women literally left out on the street, as well as the more usual cases of a young woman's secret call from the house of a friend or a concerned relative. Her organization has an emergency package which is sent free to any woman on request. It contains copies of handwritten letters and baby photos from women who kept their babies through Several Sources, as well as a 20-minute video on the services available, a baby rattle and sleeper garment, Catholic prayer cards and a Miraculous Medal. The response to the package is almost always positive, and a phone call from the pregnant woman usually follows, Ms. DiFiore said.
Her program stresses chastity and the necessity for religious faith for a complete life.
"We present Church, God and prayer as a part of the problem solving apparatus," she said. "We cannot leave these out, otherwise we're just another social service agency, and we haven't solved the bigger problems of a woman's life."
Good Counsel also has chastity classes and a no dating policy for residents.
A testament to Ms. DiFiore's program is that eight of the 13 staff members who live at the shelters are women who came to Several Sources with a crisis pregnancy.
"I never consider any of the girls my clients," Ms. DiFiore said. "I consider them my daughters, my friends. God gives us these mothers and we work with them.''
An assistant house manager in the Ramsey home, Melissa Girolamo, 18, left her parents' home in upstate New York when she became pregnant and went to live with an uncle in New Jersey. Her uncle referred her to Several Sources, which sent the reply package by express mail. "I was hesitant about opening the package because I was really considering an abortion," she told CNY. "I read some of the letters the girls had written, and I started crying, 'Oh, my gosh, how could I consider this?' "
She entered the Ramsey, N.J., home in February and delivered a baby girl, Mary Frances, two months ago. She plans to enter college in January.
"I know what's right and wrong from being raised Catholic. I knew abortion wasn't right, and I didn't want to do it," she said.
Another woman moved last year from a Several Sources home into her own apartment with her 3-year-old son. She called her initial decision to abort "a forced thing." She said, "I don't think any woman wants to do it. I thought it was the only option."
The woman, 26, who did not want her name used, is graduating in May from a New Jersey college with a degree in environmental studies.
"It's hard but I have a goal now, and it makes things easier," she said. "I can look forward to the future."
After Amy Laiosa had an abortion at age 18 she vowed never to go through the ordeal again.
"I knew abortion was wrong and decided I would go through with it anyway," she told CNY. "I didn't realize the psychological and physical effects it would have on me, though. They don't tell you that at the abortion clinic. They just say you'll feel better in a few days."
Ms. Laiosa said she felt "a piece of me was missing" and two months after the abortion became pregnant again. She moved out of her family's home in New Jersey and entered the Good Counsel home in Spring Valley. She delivered a baby girl, Samantha, and has lived at the home for three years while finishing high school. "This has been a very good place," she said. "My daughter has other children to play with, and I have support to become a better mother for my child. They teach me day by day."
Ms. Laiosa was so impressed by the witness of the staff at Good Counsel that she decided to take instruction in the Catholic faith from a priest who visits the home regularly. She was received into the Church with two other residents last December.
She also has become involved in pro-life work, praying at abortion facilities and giving talks at local schools.
At her first prayer vigil at an abortion clinic, she and another women who had an abortion "broke down and starting bawling on the street," she recalled. "It's hard to see the women going in. You want to pull them aside and talk to them."