By Lou Baldwin
Special to the CS&T
BRISTOL – One thing is certain as far as the Bucks County Women’s Community Center is concerned. A picture is worth far more than a thousand words.
Thanks to fetal images generated by a $29,000 ultrasound machine donated by the Knights of Columbus, the center, which counsels and assists young women with crisis pregnancies, has seen a dramatic number choose not to abort their baby.
“We have served about 800 women since January,” said Marie Joseph, director of the center, which is located on Veterans Highway in Bristol. “Because we are directly across from Planned Parenthood’s headquarters in Bucks County and down the block from the welfare office, we tend to see women who have decided on abortion.
“They come here and they are provided with counseling and information. Through questioning and listening, by the grace of God, they have an opportunity to choose life, and I would say over 50 percent do.”
Clearly a big part of that is the ultrasound. “It allows the women to see the baby and hear the heartbeat,” Joseph said. “It allows them to see how far along the baby is and to realize it is definitely life.”
The Bucks County ultrasound was the first of three that have been installed by the Knights in Pennsylvania, explained Pennsylvania State Deputy George Koch. The others are in Lancaster and Slippery Rock.
For the project, $45,000 was allocated by Pennsylvania Knights under Wayne Freet, his predecessor as state deputy. The Knight’s Supreme Council in New Haven, Conn., supplied matching funds of $45,000.
While the local Knights of Columbus Council, St. Michael the Archangel 14626, in Levittown, did not directly contribute to the ultrasound purchase, they requested the donation to the center.
The council, like the women’s center itself, is just three years old but has contributed about $9,500 toward the center’s operation, most of which was raised through a baby bottle drive at St. Michael the Archangel Parish.
“It was huge for us to work with the Women’s Center; this is a big deal,” said David McGovern, St. Michael’s Council Grand Knight.
Although the ultrasound has been operating for several months, it was formally blessed June 25 by Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald, with Father Michael C. DiIorio, pastor of St. Michael Parish and chaplain for the council, assisting.
“What a marvelous partnership you have in supporting life,” Bishop Fitzgerald said. “This coming together to support life is the heart of the Church’s message. It is a message we need to portray in society, and you are doing something very concrete about it.”
Simply purchasing an ultrasound machine isn’t enough; it takes qualified experts to supervise its proper use.
“I’m the medical director here, supervising laboratory testing and making sure all the OSHA requirements are met,” said Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, who is a practicing ob/gyn in Langhorne.
In addition to himself, there are trained technicians who operate the ultrasound machine. Dr. Lori Bittner, an area radiologist, reads all the reports and interprets them. All of them contribute their services pro bono, and women who utilize any of the services at the center are not charged a fee.
“We are truly blessed to have this center, and the ultrasound is truly a blessing,” Dr. Ruppersberger said. “A lot of these women, when they see the ultrasound, decide not to go through with an abortion.”
The center itself does a lot more than simply persuade women not to have an abortion. There is follow up to assist the women with services they might need before and after their baby is delivered.
The center is a former single home that is tastefully and cheerfully refurbished so visitors have a place where they can feel at home.The building was supplied to the center rent-free by its owners, Bob and Eleanor Milner.
“I try to listen to what the Lord tells me to do,” said Bob Milner, a member of the Edgely Christian Church in Bristol. “When I bought the building, it was dilapidated and I fixed it up. It was across from Planned Parenthood, and I thought we had to do something about that. I actively sought out an agency that would do something like this.”
The Bucks County Community Women’s Center depends entirely upon donations for its operation. Call 215-826-8090 for information.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.