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The phone starts ringing as soon as Rita Murray enters the office of the Birthright House in Richmond, Indiana. A teenage girl asks for information about a free pregnancy test. While Rita is scheduling an appointment for the girl, a new mother comes in needing diapers and formula for her baby. Rita starts for the diapers, but another mother walks in the door bringing a bag full of baby clothes and a handmade quilt to donate.
Just as the office begins to settle, two girls, "Christy" and "Heather," walk in without an appointment wanting pregnancy tests. After the tests are given, the girls wait for the results and watch a video of fetal development. Rita returns with the results and several pamphlets about teenage pregnancy, dating, abstinence, and the effects of abortion.
Christy's test is positive and Heather's is negative. Christy starts to cry, "I can't have a baby, I'm too young." She asks Rita, "How can I tell my boyfriend . . . my parents? What do I do now?" She has many questions about the medical aspects of her pregnancy, and is unsure about what will happen now to her and to her baby.
Rita asks her about her family and sex life, goes over the various pamphlets with her, and talks about decisions she will now have to make. She sits quietly with Christy and talks about the decisions that must be made. Christy walked into Birthright a teenage girl with few worries, but as she leaves, she seems much more burdened with the many choices she now has to make.
Birthright is a Pro-Life international movement with offices throughout North America and Africa. In 1968, Louise Summerhill, a homemaker and a mother of seven, founded Birthright in Toronto, Canada, starting the service with $300 and promises of help from 60 women, 20 doctors, and other professionals. Richmond's Birthright branch consists of 30 volunteers, like Rita, with assistance from six local doctors. If further assistance is needed, Birthright may refer a client to additional community services, including affordable medical services, legal services, housing, maternity homes for unwed mothers, adoption information, educational guidance, and employment assistance. If the client is in serious financial need, Birthright will offer its assistance.
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Financial and material support for Richmond's Birthright comes from various individuals, organizations, and churches. Without this support, Birthright could not function. In 1991, with the help of these supporters, Birthright received 2,794 phone calls, had 2,028 office visits, gave 750 pregnancy tests, and gave away over 2,000 diapers.
Besides providing help to those in need, Rita and other Birthright volunteers educate the public about pregnancy and abortion by giving presentations at local schools, colleges, churches, and organizational meetings.
Rita volunteered for Birthright in September, 1990, and trained for her job in the spring of 1991. "I volunteered to work at Birthright . . . [because of] my strong belief that all life is precious, especially the life of a defenseless unborn child. I believe abortion is murder. What else can you call it when it destroys life? Abortion has been proven to cause the baby a great deal of pain. It is nothing less than the torture of an innocent life," Rita said.
After four nights of intensive training sessions with experienced volunteers, Rita began her job. "I was so nervous on my first day. There was so much to learn and remember. It was confusing at times: pregnancy tests being done, phone calls one after another, donated clothing being cleaned and given away, counseling arranged. There was so much going on at the same time. Birthright is a very busy place with people coming and going all the time, and I'm glad it is. We enjoy helping those who need our service," she admitted.
Rita remembers her first counseling session with a client dealing with a pregnancy. "I was afraid that I would not remember what to say or do. You never know what situation you will be facing. Each case is different, and it is impossible to be prepared beforehand. We try to put ourselves in our client's shoes and view their situation through their eyes. You have to be very compassionate, loving, and understanding. You really have to have a love for these young mothers," she said.
Though Birthright serves women in different situations, of different ages, of different races, many clients "are unmarried teen mothers who are uneducated about fetal development and abortion methods. When they hear the truth about the physical and psychological effects of abortion, many of them end up wanting to keep their babies or at least give them to a loving couple for adoption," Rita explained.
Rita's favorite story from her work at Birthright is one about a young woman with a small child, who felt she would not be able to raise another baby at the time of her pregnancy. "I could tell the woman did not really believe in abortion, but she felt it was the only solution. When she left, I really did not think I had changed her mind. I wrote her a couple times to let her know we were here to encourage her, but never heard from her until she called the office in December asking for accessories for her baby. I was privileged to take them to her at the hospital. She was so thankful I had convinced her to keep her baby. I was thrilled to get to hold her baby and look in her eyes knowing I had a part in saving her life. I called it a Christmas miracle. There was no greater reward I needed."
Saving lives and helping others is a very rewarding experience for the volunteers of Birthright, but Rita says there are times when she gets depressed and frustrated. "When I think of the 1.6 million babies that are aborted every year just in America, I sometimes feel that I am reaching so little and doing so little. It is also frustrating when the media is mostly Pro-Choice. Pro-Life positions are seldom explained. You rarely hear the statistics and facts about abortion, the number of abortions performed every year, and the many effects of abortion. I also get depressed when the same clients keep coming back time and time again, and they do not seem to be learning from their experiences or changing their life situations," she said.
Through her experiences volunteering, Rita has gained many new insights, "I have learned so much in the four years that I have worked at Birthright. I've learned about fetal development, abortion procedures, adoption, parenting, and community services for the needy. I have learned more about Pro-Life and Pro-Choice issues, sexually transmitted diseases and their effects, and the benefits of abstinence," Rita explained.
The education she has received from volunteering has also made her aware that there are many ways she can use to protest abortion. "I have written to my senators, supreme court justices, and local politicians, giving them my opinion about abortion and urging them to fight to save lives. I have participated in peaceful demonstrations in front of Planned Parenthood, and have been a part in the Life Chain. I have collected funds and walked in Birthright's Walk for Life, and have encouraged women to volunteer their time to Birthright," Rita said. "I feel that the time I give to Birthright is very helpful. These women need a lot of help and so few are willing to give their time and their hearts to such an organization."
The self esteem and fulfillment Rita has gained from working for Birthright far outweighs the depression and frustration which comes with such an emotional job. "There is no greater feeling than saving lives and providing help for those in need. Especially when they bring their babies in to show off. Their thanks for the services provided is all that is needed to know that I am making a difference in others' lives." she explained.
Many times people are unaware how much they have affected others. Sometimes Rita never sees or hears from the women she helps after they walk out the doors of Birthright. Rita has not seen or heard from Christy since her visit, and does not know if she continued with her pregnancy and decided to keep her child. "Sometimes," Rita explains, "you just need to be there for them." She hopes and prays she has helped change someone's life, or even saved one.