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Amid a Wave of Violence, A Beacon of Hope for Mothers, Babies

An unplanned pregnancy can be terrifying. But the people at Hope Pregnancy Center in North Philadelphia want women to know they are not alone.

The center offers counseling, information about insurance and doctors, help with housing, and more to its clients.  About 20 to 30 women come to the office every week. Many others call. Every pregnant woman leaves with a package of prenatal vitamins and information, said director Latrice Booker.

Clients who come in receive a pregnancy test and meet with a counselor, she said. The center gives them written proof of pregnancy, which can be required for some insurance plans.

“We tell them to talk to the counselor about anything they have questions about,” said Booker. “And that’s normally what happens in the room. They talk about their apprehensions or their need for services, whether it be housing, whether it be the need to know about insurance, or doctors. So whatever that conversation consists of and whatever that counselor begins to feel they need help with, they provide those resources.”

“We are able to point them in the direction of organizations that they need.”

And it is all free to the clients.

However, after the May 2 publication of a leaked copy of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the Dobbs case–which overturned Roe v. Wade and sent abortion rights back to the states—Hope was one of about 60 pro-life organizations around the country that was vandalized. Twice.

Booker downplayed the two incidents.

Overnight on June 10-11, “someone decided to break our windows out and doors out to try to silence us and keep us from doing the work, which it did not. We had boards put up at that point, and we just continued to move forward with our work. Families continued to call, and our volunteers came in to serve. We continued our work.  No one was in a place of fear or apprehension. It’s peaceful, and it remains that way.”

Then after the Supreme Court decision, someone wrote graffiti on the boards, she said. “I guess to make another statement.”

Asked whether the group Jane’s Revenge, which has threatened other pregnancy centers, was involved, Booker said she did not know.

“It really has been an anonymous attack, and we haven’t heard anything since,” she said. “We just continue to move forward and continue to pray to remain in a place of prayer, being diligent, being safe.”

Those “on the other side” say, “we want people to have a choice,” said Booker. “They don’t understand that people who come in to be serviced by us, our centers, that’s a choice that they’ve made. They need help. They need insurance information. They need doctors.” The women tell her, “‘I need that free pregnancy test because I can’t afford the test. I need that ultrasound because I don’t have a doctor.’ And we’re here to be of help with that. We’re of help to the families in general. Everything we do is not because our political views. It’s honestly off of Biblical truth.”

Hope is part of the nonprofit People for People under Greater Exodus Baptist Church. Pastor Herbert Lusk II founded both organizations.

“We also are corresponding with clients on a consistent basis via phone or email,” Booker said. They also refer clients to places where they can get services that they do not provide, like testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

For clients whose pregnancy test is not positive, “we want to go a little more in-depth of a conversation,” said Booker. “How can we help you going forward? What can we do to help you have better planning if this isn’t the time for you (to have a baby)?

“Sometimes we have clients that have come to us post-abortion,” Booker said. “They’ve come to seek counseling. We’ll have that initial counseling visit with them; then we try to provide them with ongoing support.” Having an abortion can lead to depression.

“Even if you go back to ‘normal,’ sometimes it hits you so much more time down the line,” she said. “It may hit you when you don’t realize it. It does leave a lasting effect. It’s not always something you can say, ‘Oh, I’m just going back to my normal routine.’ You have to process that experience you’ve been through. No matter what it looks like, it’s an experience. Your body goes through some changes. Your emotions go through some changes. So you know, it’s a lot to process. And with that, you don’t always know how to articulate it or always have the space to articulate it, to share with anyone.”

“A lot of times, people are doing that in secret,” she said. “They’re not telling their families. They’re not telling their close friends. (They’re having an abortion). Then they’re hiding it, and they’re suffering in silence.”

The people at Hope are nonjudgmental.

“All of us have had something that we’ve faltered in,” she said. “So our goal here at Hope, whenever we do have a client that’s been through it or a client that is pregnant now but been through it in the past, we’re not here to condemn you, although it is a sin. We’re here to love you. If you’ve ever made that choice, we’re not going to look at you any differently. We’re here to love on you.”

“We’re here for you as a person, and we want to see you at your healthy place,” she said.  “At the place that you can feel that you’re thriving…every person who is a counselor, every person who is a volunteer understands…We want people to know we love you. Period. We’re not going to make you feel less than if you walk in this center.”

Marlene Downing, Pennsylvania deputy director for Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy group, said, “Fear is a mind-killer. The initial reaction to an unplanned pregnancy is debilitating fear. Pregnancy Centers take the time to speak to the fear and offer options and solutions. The care that takes place in those four walls will not be found in a ‘run-of-the-mill office visit.’ It is what’s needed in today’s society. It is an absolute love for the mom and the baby that does not end once the baby is born. It doesn’t end if a woman chooses termination. Pregnancy Centers encourage life, but they are not a place of judgment. You’ll find safety there.”

Hope’s clients come from the Delaware Valley and neighboring New Jersey, said Booker. There are six counselors, and sometimes Booker will counsel clients, too. A doctor supervises the center but does not see patients.

If clients don’t want to keep their baby, “we do have resources for adoption agencies,” she said. “We hook them up with private agencies that will walk alongside them like we do…They literally take their hand and walk with them, answer questions that they have, encourage them, let them know that they’re supported.”

Hope Pregnancy Center will have its annual banquet/fundraiser on Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. at the Drexelbrook Event Center. Conservative commentator and former Senate and congressional candidate Kathy Barnette will speak.

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Marjorie Margolies: Roe Decision May Make 2022 Another ‘Year of the Woman’

Delaware Valley Democrat Marjorie Margolies was swept into Congress in 1992 by the success of Bill Clinton and a wave dubbed “The Year of the Woman.”

She was swept out two years later amid a Republican wave that ended nearly four decades of Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Her cause was not helped by her high-profile vote to put Clinton’s tax-hike plan over the top in Congress.

Looking at the current political climate, Margolies sees the potential of a Year of the Woman redux, thanks to the leaked U.S. Supreme Court decision suggesting Roe v. Wade may be overturned.

“It’s extraordinary to me that after all of these years, a woman’s right to choose is being seriously questioned,” said Margolies. “I think we will see a remarkable reaction from women across the country saying, ‘Not on my watch.’ It looks like 24 states will immediately have laws to eliminate or restrict abortions. I find that appalling. I think it will make an incredible impact on the midterm elections, especially down-ballot races. Keep your eyes peeled.”

Margolies, an Emmy-winning TV journalist, the first unmarried American woman to be permitted to adopt foreign children, and an author is now the founder and president of Women’s Campaign International.

“Since 1998, we’ve been traveling around the world helping women, getting them to the table,” she said. “Sometimes, it was political. Sometimes it was financial.”

Now Margolies and Women’s Campaign are helping Ukrainian refugees. But they are also doing their best to help the Afghan people who were left behind after the U.S. precipitously withdrew from that country and allowed it to fall to the Taliban.

“We’ve had a program in Afghanistan since 2006,” she said. While members of the organization have escaped, others who helped them, such as doctors, lawyers, and professors, remain stranded and “are now in hiding and starving.” The group has been able to get some money to them through people traveling to Afghanistan, she said.

The nonprofit had dozens of people working for it in Afghanistan. “We worked with two government ministers,” Margolies explained. “They were interested in women’s issues. They were amazing. They helped us. One of them was immediately killed by the Taliban. The other, who had six kids, we got out, and he is here now. But it was really difficult. And we got out several of the women who had papers. But many of them did not. (They are) just incredible people who are in hiding with their families. We’re figuring out how to get them out.”

“It’s so dramatic. I can’t even begin to tell you,” she said. “And for Ukraine, we’re figuring out how we can reach out.” Many Ukrainians don’t want to immigrate to the U.S., she said.

“They want to go to places in Europe because they want to go home,” said Margolies. “We’re an organization that’s really good at figuring things out.”

Margolies’ new memoir “And How Are the Children?” tells how she was a journalist doing stories about adoption and hard-to-place children when she got the idea to adopt a Korean orphan.

Although she faced major roadblocks as a single woman, she eventually adopted her daughter, Lee Heh, from Korea. Later, after writing about Vietnamese orphans, she adopted a second daughter, who she named Holly, from Vietnam.

One day she interviewed Ed Mezvinski, a congressman and divorced father of four daughters. They fell in love, married, and had two more children.

Margolies never said no when asked to help and took in a series of refugees, including a Vietnamese family who stayed in the sizeable Margolies-Mezvinski home in Penn Valley for 25 years.

“There were 11 kids,” she said. “But it’s what made me get so interested in refugees.”

Her Vietnamese son, Vu, is now an anesthesiologist. His biological mother also lived with them and she was a very traditional Catholic and wanted him to become a priest.

Vu told Margolies, “‘I want to be Bar Mitzvahed like everyone else.’”

Later, when her son, Marc Mezvinski, married Chelsea Clinton, Vu was his best man.

Margolies was only in Congress for two years and lost her bid to be re-elected because she voted to clinch Clinton’s omnibus budget bill.

“He just sent me a book,” she said.  Inside the copy of “Putting People First, President Clinton Select Remarks 2001-2021,” Clinton included a note. “First you saved my presidency and then you gave us Marc and you gave us this family of our dreams.”

“It’s tough being a woman in politics,” said Margolies. She was a busy reporter and mother with a large household in 1991 with no plans to run for office. But she decided to run for Congress in Montgomery County, then largely Republican. Margolies handily won a primary, lived through a house fire, and had her daughter, Lee Heh’s wedding during the campaign. But she thought she would lose to Republican County Commissioner Jon Fox. However, she said she surprised herself by winning, partly by allowing voters to think she would not raise their taxes.

“I had gone to Washington to make tough decisions and that (voting for the tax increase) was one of the toughest,” she wrote in her book. In 1994, she lost to Fox.

Margolies headed the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and from that conference her nonprofit was born, empowering women to take part in democracy around the globe.

Margolies also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, her alma mater. She is the mother of 11 and the grandmother of 21.

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