Doing a Lot With a Little
She was a quiet, soft-spoken housewife, mother of seven, when she became very concerned about the abortion issue. Like many, she was too busy – too little time – no real training, BUT someone needed to do something. Something had to be done, but what? She heard about a service in England that would help women get an abortion just by making a call. Why wouldn’t it work to have a number where a woman could call and someone would assist her to have her child? Thus was Birthright conceived, the world’s first pro life pregnancy service. She only meant to begin something in her area – no intention of having it spread around the globe. After all, she had no background, no way of knowing how to begin such a thing.
Always a very spiritual woman, since her conversion to Catholicism at the age of 17, she knew to put things in God’s hands, and that is where Birthright has been ever since. Long before the slogan WWJD, Louise Summerhill knew to pray, then to listen and finally to obey whatever call God had for her. Her book “The Story of Birthright” tells much of her story but as is true of many books, there is much between the lines that is never written. For example, Louise knew what an untimely pregnancy felt like because at age 46 this mother of five found herself pregnant again – with twins. She knew firsthand the often thoughtless hurting remarks that could bring pain and, without a support system, possibly even an abortion. There were many who wanted to “help her” get Birthright started but they had a different idea of how things should be done. It was very clear to Louise from day one that the service would be non judgmental, – warm and welcoming – to any and every pregnant woman, regardless of circumstances. It would forever be a single issue program: “an emergency pregnancy service offering an alternative to abortion.” Right to Life groups were forming in many areas, and so Birthright would never be political – someone else was doing that. Birthright would offer one to one help, giving all the love and care possible to assist a woman so she could carry her baby to term. Sounds so simple on the surface and yet, at nearly every turn, she found a problem. She needed a strong faith if the work was to succeed. It was always God’s work, never Louise Summerhill’s work, and that was made clear to us from the very beginning. An office was found, a Charter written, a logo was born, and oh so much more. She was invited to speak about her work by a group in the USA that had been meeting for some time, trying to find a way to stop the abortion movement.
I met her at that meeting. She went into a little room where I was nursing my baby to go over her notes. We began to talk, and she never did go over the notes, so when it came time for her to give her presentation she asked me to come be a friendly face. She was nervous about speaking for the first time in the USA. I went, I listened, and I heard her message and knew she had it right – at least for me. Here among many professional doctors, lawyers and clergymen was a tiny little housewife who had a wonderful solution. I do not recall all her talk, but what struck me most was “Why can’t we simply say ‘let me help you have your baby’? WOW! I could do that. No more arguing with politicians or debating the issue. I could say to a woman in a crisis pregnancy: “Let me help you have your baby,” and then help her. Easy – right? Well, not exactly. Helping might mean hours of time talking on the phone or in the office. It might mean locating a place for her to live or a doctor to take her case. It could even be helping her stay in school or helping her tell her parents or finding a good counselor or simply being a friend when she needed one.
We didn’t know about resources, but we learned. Remember it is God’s work, and He surely did help us in so many ways. We learned that in giving of ourselves we were changing. We learned not to judge others or their situations so quickly, to be more loving and look for the good in those who came to us so that our care would be genuine. To this day, I am certain that I am a much better mother due to working at Birthright. Our families became involved too – folding, stamping and mailing newsletters – learning more and more about the sacredness of life.
The simplicity of Birthright is like the simplicity of believing in God. Often we clutter the beauty and simplicity of His teachings with tomes of theology and philosophy. Jesus was most definitely the role model Louise had for Birthright. Helping one woman at a time, giving all the love and understanding we could, not scaring her but simply loving her to life. It takes time and a genuine love of our fellow human beings to do this work. Listening to the mother’s agenda and building a trusting relationship with her is just a beginning. There is the follow up to make sure everything is going well, are there needs, is she okay, can we help in any way? Encouraging her to believe in herself – offering hope for the future and helping her to make a plan to insure that the future can and will happen.
It doesn’t take degrees. It simply takes caring, being sincere, and loving another person as though she were your sister, daughter, or best friend. This means taking down barriers one at a time and sharing the love of Christ with another human being through our actions. Finding Him in her – admittedly it often takes time and patience, but He is there. And if she aborts the child and returns to talk, or regrets what she has done, it takes being there for her then too – again without judgment. No one ever says it will be easy, but giving of self in a Birthright office 3-4 hours once a week changes us too. We are stronger in our faith, better persons and certainly better spouses and parents as a result of our efforts. Often we gain much more than we are able to give.
Louise Summerhill was ahead of her time. Thousands of pregnancy services have sprung up all over the world, and many use Birthright as a role model. Birthright has, in these 40 years, stayed true to its original charter. We are a single issue, emergency pregnancy service, offering an alternative to abortion. Our mission statement is “It is the right of every pregnant woman to give birth, and the right of every child to be born”. We do not involve ourselves in politics, medicine, or debate. To us, there really is no debate – a woman is pregnant, and we are here to help her find a way through that pregnancy. We will give her all the time, love and encouragement we can, free of charge, confidentially and with no judgments. We don’t even need to know her real name if she doesn’t want us to know it.
As Louise says, “By this work, not only are the lives of the unborn being saved, but mothers, too, are being saved from a lifetime of guilt and remorse.”
Oh yes, remember the twins? Today one is an attorney and one a CPA; – They and their oldest sister, a teacher, are co presidents of Birthright International. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?