Religious charities like the Salvation Army, Jewish Maternity Homes, Catholic Charities, and others have long offered assistance to women facing unexpected pregnancies. As sexual experimentation and abortion rates soared during the 1960s, concerned Christians and churches established a new wave of modern centers to help individuals facing pregnancy crises. The first examples opened in California in 1968, and in 1971 many of these nonprofits organized themselves into the first national network of such groups, now known as Heartbeat International (which publishes an online directory of pregnancy resource centers that is searchable by zip code and service needed). Three other large associations currently help local PRCs improve and coordinate their offerings: Care Net, Birthright, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.
Today there are about 2,500 pregnancy resource centers in operation, offering various levels of services including pregnancy testing, sonograms, obstetrical care, counseling, financial assistance, clothing and food banks, nutrition guidance, childbirth classes, midwife services, lactation consultation, child psychology classes, and other social work. All aim to offer alternatives to abortion, and adoption assistance is available for mothers who seek it. More than 70,000 volunteers, including volunteer physicians and nurses, plus $200 million of annual donated funding, allow PRCs to serve about 2.3 million clients every year. Most services are free to the users. More than 20 states provide some funding for the centers, as has the federal government sporadically, but 80 percent of all centers are completely reliant on private support, and more than 90 percent of the total annual revenue of the nation’s pregnancy resource centers comes from individual donations, often raised through churches.
Special philanthropic campaigns have been launched to equip pregnancy resource centers with ultrasound machines that can be used to confirm pregnancies, detect dangerous ectopic conceptions, and determine if the fetus is viable and how far along it is in development. The Knights of Columbus, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Focus on the Family, and the Southern Baptist Convention have donated substantial funding to purchase hundreds of ultrasound machines for centers, and fund training and personnel that will allow more centers to add higher-level medical services to their counseling and social work offerings. As of 2010, a majority of PRCs (54 percent) were offering ultrasound services.