September’s tragedy in lower Manhattan has borne eloquent witness to the frailty of life. As the relief and recovery efforts there continue, every week a small group of men and women gather together in midtown Manhattan to consider life in a different context: they are in a support group for expectant parents at Midtown Pregnancy Support Center.
This support group is but one of many services offered at Midtown, which is centrally located near Grand Central Station and the main library. Now in its sixth year, the center was founded by a group of four women who became aware of someone in their church facing an unexpected pregnancy. As the four met to offer support they discovered a lack of resources and information to help this woman make a wise decision about her pregnancy. They formed a prayer group, out of which MPSC was born.
Cheryl Keller joined Midtown shortly after it started and now serves on its advisory board. She explains that Midtown started in response to New York’s demographics. There are 110,000 abortions in New York each year, 60 percent of which are sought by single women in their 20s and 30s. “What we found was that other crisis pregnancy centers were not geared toward young professional women,” says Keller. “We specifically target this niche. We provide emotional and spiritual support to those who are generally well off but whose lives are about to come to a screeching halt by an unplanned pregnancy.”
The center does not act as a clinic, as do many of the other centers in the city which only provide “revolving door” type services. Each person who contacts Midtown must make an appointment with a trained counselor. According to executive director Betsy Welch, this counselor then provides factual, accurate information regarding prenatal development, pregnancy, and abortion. She stresses that no one is pressured to make one decision over another.
Says Welch, “In Manhattan, we are unique in several aspects. First, we present information without emotional appeals or scare tactics. Second, we strive to be a compassionate, nonjudgmental place. We deal with people of all backgrounds, situations, and faiths, and some have no faith at all. We work to meet people where they are. Third, we are committed to not being involved in any respect with the politics of abortion. We see ourselves as a helping organization for individuals, and politics has nothing to do with it.”
Midtown also offers free self-administered pregnancy exams and one-on-one counseling services for single women, couples, families, and those suffering from post-abortion distress. They also maintain support groups for post-abortion clients and expectant parents.
Some of their greatest service comes after a woman gives birth, however, and sometimes lasts up to a year. Keller explains that many professional women face real difficulties handling everything once the baby arrives. “Some of these women are facing some serious issues,” she says. “Some have abusive boyfriends, no place to live, or no support from home.”
Accordingly, the center developed a program to help pay rent during maternity leave. The center issues payments directly to the landlord, and only if the woman agrees to take classes on child care, plan a budget, and make a long-term child care plan.
Despite providing services for over 400 people last year, Midtown runs on a lean budget. There are only two full-time staff; the majority of the work is done by a large cadre of volunteers. “The volunteer response has been amazing. There has been an abundance of volunteers,” notes Keller. These volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Students, attorneys, and investment bankers alike look forward to helping these young women in any way possible. Not only do they assist with administrative and counseling needs, many also donate material goods, such as maternity and baby clothes, formula, and of course, plenty of time, love, and attention.
Midtown Pregnancy Support Center receives some foundation support, but much of the giving comes from individuals who feel the need to help. The primary operating cost comes from the pricey rents common in midtown Manhattan. But Keller maintains that Midtown’s current location is necessary to provide the kind of access and convenience needed by young professionals.
The center’s greatest weakness, according to Keller, is its lack of advertising. She says Midtown is now asking people to target their gifts for specific projects such as rent subsidies and advertising. “When you look at the kinds of abortion numbers out there, more people should be contacting us. We are hoping to project a broader and more visible image in New York. The hardest thing is to make it known that our services are out there and that they’re free.”