If January 14, 2014 had gone as planned, two year-old Brenda wouldn’t be here today. Her mother Elia went to an abortion clinic to terminate the pregnancy because she was HIV positive and already had three children. She believed she was up against a wall—no one to turn to and no one to help. That is, until a volunteer from Save the Storks invited her into a van for a free sonogram.
“The van made me think about my baby even more because it offered me one last chance to see him or her before I went into the clinic, and I was afraid,” Elia said in a letter posted on the Save the Storks website. “It was so cold outside, and I walked across the street to get into the van; as the door opened, I could smell the warm leather.”
Changing Minds, Saving Lives
Save the Storks vans are standard Mercedes-Benz vans equipped to provide mobile sonograms to women considering abortion. It is “where the magic happens,” Save the Storks founder Joe Baker says. A sidewalk counselor finds a mother-to-be who is heading into an abortion clinic and offers a free sonogram and free resources on abortion, adoption and parenting to her.
Women like Elia.
She is someone Baker calls “abortion vulnerable.” Elia was just one of the many women Save the Storks staffers seek out. Baker says these women often feel helpless, alone, cornered, or they fall into a certain income bracket.
And it’s working. Four out of five women who step inside the vans decide to keep their babies. Just last year, the van in New Jersey helped 394 women make the life-saving decision to keep their children. Multiply that rough number by 15 vans, and you have 4,000 children born because their mothers visited a Save the Storks van.
The vans travel to areas with high abortion-vulnerable populations—near college campuses and abortion clinics—and intercept women on their way to terminate their pregnancies. Volunteers have mastered the art of finding those women, and then they gently approach them to offer a free sonogram. Inside, volunteers provide the mothers-to-be with parenting class opportunities, resources for food, clothing and formula for their children.
Areas near public transportation are hot spots, Baker says. “You know they aren’t going shopping.”
So far, there has been no backlash. Baker says Save the Storks staffers leave whenever there is any opposition because their mission is to serve the women, not to engage in conflict.
In elementary school, his mom worked at a pregnancy center and challenged him to raise money. He didn’t want to, but she was giving the winner a $300 gift card to the bike shop. Baker went on to raise more money for the center than anyone ever had before, and it was during fundraising conversations that he realized what it meant to be pro-choice.
On a later mission trip to the Bronx, in New York, he saw a mobile unit that was under-funded but still working. Baker says he had a thought: What if this could be everywhere? It was then Baker decided to start a program to help abortion-vulnerable women.
“God will give you the vision to make a solution,” Baker says.
Now, Save the Storks operates 15 $120,000 vans, with an additional four in production and 12 in fundraising stages.
But Baker says it was that first woman he helped who left an imprint on him.
“The first girl I met, I was really skeptical,” Baker remembers. “The trainer with me went to get coffee, and this young girl came up and said she was here for her appointment. She had mistaken us for the clinic. She came in, and I stumbled through what we do. Then we had her appointment and prayed. Forty minutes later, she was calling someone—I couldn’t tell who it was, so I asked her. She was crying, and she told me she was calling her mom to tell her she was going to be a grandma.”
The Business of Abortion
Baker says Save the Storks has a competitive relationship with the abortion clinics since, in essence, they’re stealing their business. He says abortion doctors, nurses and clinic workers pressure women into pregnancy termination in order to get their money, but Save the Storks offers them another option.
Abortion clinics focus on talking women out of having a baby by using rhetoric based on expense. Baker explains, “They ask the women, ‘Do you know how much babies cost?’” Clinics can make up to $3,000 per termination, depending on location and length of pregnancy.
The Guttmacher Institute for sexual and reproductive health and rights reports only 13 states mandate sonograms before an abortion. Sonograms cost up to $300, though clinics may waive that fee if women choose to go through with the abortion, Baker says.
Most women contact an abortion clinic within 24 to 48 hours from the time they find out they’re pregnant, Baker explains. Yet pregnancy centers typically don’t see them for five to ten days, when they’ve already made the decision to keep their babies. By then, they’ve missed the window to counsel the abortion vulnerable.
In order to reach them first, Save the Storks is moving beyond vans to reach women the moment they find out they’re pregnant by developing a brand of pregnancy tests. The tests are distributed in bars, clubs and college campuses. Each one contains an informational sheet with a number to call for help, and when they call, the mother-to-be connects with a counselor who schedules an appointment for a free sonogram.
“If we can just provide for these women, then we’ve won the battle,” Baker says.
Save the Storks also has a program to coach pregnancy centers on best business practices like bookkeeping, accounting and marketing. Baker says these centers are commonly based on passion, but they are lacking in certain business skills—like bookkeeping.
A third program started by Baker is Adopt A Love Story, which helps adopting families raise money through tax-deductible donations. Thanks to online donations, one adoption has been fully funded while five more families have received 60 to 70 percent of the funding needed.
One Life at a Time
Two and a half years ago, a desperate young mother answered a volunteer’s invitation to step into a van for a few minutes, and it changed everything for her. Elia saw sweet Brenda’s face: “The screen lit up with my baby looking right at me. The picture was crystal clear and sharp, so I was able to see everything that my baby was doing…I felt like God wanted me to keep my baby—that’s why this great van was parked there that day.”
Elia finishes her letter with an answer to the question of why Save the Storks exists. She writes, “…because of this ultrasound van and the people who spoke with me, I decided to have my baby and live to see her grow up and love her.”
What better reason is there than that?
Save the Storks vans are available in 10 states with an additional five states coming soon. For more information and to join the movement, see the Save the Storks website.