Becoming a mother is a monumental moment in a woman’s life, and it can be a stressful and anxiety-producing experience, especially if their pregnancy is unexpected. Some women feel pressured to have an abortion because they don’t have support from the baby’s father or their own family or friends.
In crisis pregnancy situations, counselors from Catholic Social Services (CSS) are available to assist women throughout the five-county Archdiocese of Philadelphia and connect them with supportive services throughout their pregnancy, as well as through the first 12 months of their child’s life.
CSS has been providing these support services with funding from Real Alternatives, a non-profit organization that has administered the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 27 years.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey (D) placed funding for the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program in the state budget in the mid-1990s. This funding is provided through the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and has helped thousands of Pennsylvania women receive the support they need to have their children.
Real Alternatives hosted a symposium last fall with Judy Ward, State Senator for the 30th Senatorial District, and Dawn Keefer, Representative for the 96th Legislative District. The symposium featured three panels about Real Alternatives and the Pennsylvania Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program, Program Counselors and Client Services, and Medical Services and Standards.
Two of the panelists were Amy Stoner, Director of CSS’ Community-Based and Housing and Homeless Services Division, and Renee Hudson-Small, Assistant Director of the Housing and Homeless Services Division.
“The message we wanted to get across was that these supportive services would not be available without this program,” said Stoner, who has worked for CSS for 35 years.
“The key to what we do is connecting with other people, other moms, with supportive, caring professionals who really care about them and help them through this whole journey of being pregnant, becoming a parent, and helping to take the edge off some of their financial needs and other concerns.”
CSS has been selected as Real Alternatives’ service provider of the year for the past 10 years. Stoner also received a Dedication Award from Real Alternatives last June in recognition of her 26 years of dedicated support to the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program and to pregnant and parenting mothers in the five-county Philadelphia region.
Support services for women within the archdiocese include prenatal support programs, parenting classes, and community baby showers. In addition, diapers, formula, and other necessities are provided to mothers.
CSS also oversees Mercy Hospice, a residential program for women in recovery from substance abuse — in particular mothers with young children — in Center City Philadelphia, as well as Visitation Homes, a permanent and supportive housing program in the Kensington section of Philadelphia serving families experiencing homelessness.
Additionally, CSS works in partnership with the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia to support pregnant women, new parents, caregivers, and families at the Cenacle at the Padre Pio Center in the Frankford section of Philadelphia.
The pregnancy and parenting support programs offered through CSS serve some 4,000 women a year, according to Stoner. “Our staff is there to support pregnant women and it’s always done with dignity and compassion,” she said. “That’s why it’s such a successful program.”
Stoner said there have been times when false information about CSS’ pregnancy and parenting support programs has been disseminated by pro-choice organizations.
“We’re unequivocally prolife and I will stand by that forever,” Stoner said. “One of the falsehoods [about CSS] is that we only care about the unborn baby or we just care about the mom until she has the baby. That’s not the case because we have a whole continuum of services that we offer. We have moms who have been with us for years.”
Stoner noted that while unexpected pregnancies are not usually viewed as a major crisis nowadays, women continue to face challenges when they don’t have a strong support system.
“We focus on supporting these women, despite those challenges, because they’re going to give birth, and they’re going to do their best to raise their children. We’ll always be there for them.”
Hudson-Small, who has worked with CSS for more than 20 years, emphasized that pregnancy counselors focus on “meeting women where they are and listening to them.”
Small remembered a time when a young woman called a pregnancy center because she was being pressured to have an abortion. “She was just frantic on the line, and my main concern was for her not to make a decision at all, but to take a breath, come in, and just sit and talk,” she said.
Small said the woman came in to talk with her, and by the end of the conversation, the young mother had decided that she wanted to keep her baby. “When you’re in a crisis, you can’t think,” she said. “You need to settle down so that you can think clearly and think about what’s best for you and not what’s best for everybody else.”
According to Small, the woman began attending prenatal classes and continued going to classes after her baby was born. “She stayed with us for a couple of years, and we were just a support to her,” Small said.
Kevin Bagatta, president and CEO of Real Alternatives for 27 years, noted that Pennsylvania has been a leader in supporting women in vulnerable situations.
“Pennsylvania was the first state to fund domestic violence centers, and Pennsylvania was the first state to fund rape crisis centers,” Bagatta said. “Pennsylvania also was the first state to fund pregnancy support centers and all the programs they offer.”
Real Alternatives has served as a model for other states, and its staff have helped 13 other states create funding for their pregnancy support system so women don’t have to have an abortion, Bagatta said.
“We’ve educated their legislators and their Catholic conferences and their right-to-life affiliates on what we do and how we do it, and now it’s spread like wildfire throughout the country,” he added.
The organization runs the $7.263 million Pennsylvania program as well as the $4.5 million program in Indiana.
Real Alternatives and its service providers have made a significant impact in the lives of pregnant women in Pennsylvania since its inception.
“We fund 81 sites throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and we have over 300 dedicated counselors to help women across the state,” Bagatta said. “To date, we have over 346,000 women served at approximately 1.8 million service visits, and that’s not counting the babies.”
Bagatta commended the work that CSS has done throughout the metropolitan area to help pregnant women who need supportive services.
“It’s truly remarkable how they have taken advantage of the financial resources of this program to serve the most vulnerable population who are at risk to have an abortion,” Bagatta said. “Love is an action verb and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services epitomizes that.”
Editor’s Note: For additional information about CSS Pregnancy Support Services, please visit cssphiladelphia.org/service-category/pregnancy-support/. For more information about Real Alternatives, please visit www.realalternatives.org/.
To view the symposium recordings: https://www.realalternatives.org/symposium2022/
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