Activism

In face of anti-life ordinance, Allentown pregnancy center continues to offer help and hope

The city of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is soon to consider an ordinance that deprioritizes law enforcement from investigating abortion-related crimes, places anti-free speech buffer zones around abortion facilities, and labels pregnancy centers as purveyors of misinformation deserving of heavy scrutiny.

Bright Hope Pregnancy Support Centers is an organization that currently operates two brick-and-mortar pregnancy resource centers (PRC) in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, along with a maternity home. One of those PRCs is located in Allentown. This pregnancy resource center is the only one within a 45-minute to one hour radius, according to Jon Merwarth, CEO of BrightHope Pregnancy Support Centers, who spoke with Live Action News.

“We’re their target”

When the Allentown City Council held a meeting regarding the ordinance, Merwarth was reportedly the only person there representing a PRC, though several pro-life advocates also attended to speak against the buffer zone portion of the city’s ordinance. Seven members sit on the Allentown City Council, according to Merwarth, and five appeared to be in favor of the ordinance. There has been no violence perpetrated by sidewalk advocates outside abortion facilities in the area, said Merwarth. “So my question to the council is, what exactly are you trying to forbid?” he said. “Are you trying to prevent a pregnant woman from learning about resources she didn’t know about?” 

Merwarth believes Council members’ “minds are already made up and they have the votes to get it done,” adding, “They’re trying to define what we do. We’re the only PRC in our area… so whatever the city council is doing with regard to pregnancy centers, we’re their target.” When Merwarth asked the council if they knew how many pregnancy centers were in the Allentown area (the correct answer being one), council members reportedly had no idea.

READ: Cities across the US pass resolutions to ‘deprioritize’ prosecuting illegal abortions

The Allentown ordinance refers to pregnancy centers as “limited services pregnancy centers,” which Merwarth finds interesting. “The way they define this is a pregnancy center that does not offer abortion, or abortion referrals,” he said. 

But when it comes to offering “limited services,” the abortion industry fits this bill. Abortion facilities don’t offer the services that PRCs do, such as material goods, adoption assistance, and housing. They typically don’t refer to pregnancy centers either.

“We definitely could call [abortion facilities] ‘limited’ as well,” Merwarth told Live Action News. “The ordinance says any limited services PRC that gives deceptive information, you can file a complaint against them, and every complaint is going to be investigated. We don’t do deceptive advertising, we don’t give anything to our clients that is false — it is verified accurate information. It’s not going to affect us the way they may think, but what will happen is we will get fake complaints. What’s going happen is they’ll come in with a recording device to get us to say something we wouldn’t normally say…. They’re not going to find that we do these things they’re saying, but people will come in, try their hardest, file a complaint and lie. And our city council says [every report is] going to be investigated.”

“We tell people the truth about abortion”

Fake reviews about pregnancy centers have already flooded Google Reviews and Yelp; sudden and unusually high volumes of activity on these sites signaled that the attempted reviews were motivated by pro-abortion activism, and were not from genuine visitors to the centers. Most pro-abortion activists have never visited a PRC but have instead taken as truth the word of activist groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America, which wrongly claim the practices and information disseminated by pregnancy centers are deceptive — all while ignoring the documented misinformation given to women by abortion facilities.

“On our website, we actually list abortion — we say there’s three options if you’re pregnant. The reason we do that is because we educate on it,” said Merwarth. “We tell people the truth about abortion, the medical possibilities, some of the negative outcome possibilities and the known fact that emotional issues can arise later… but we don’t refer for abortions and we don’t offer them.” He added that the goal is to really inform women before they make a decision about their pregnancy. “When someone is looking for abortion information, we want them to get as much education about it as possible.”

And education is just one aspect of what women receive when they visit Bright Hope. 

 

Education, not misinformation

Merwarth told Live Action News, “A sidewalk advocate gave a woman a ride to the PRC. She got her free ultrasound and after some time of discussion, she decided she would keep her baby and she now comes to us for educational classes. Through those, she’s earning credits she can use to exchange for baby supplies, carseats, formula, diapers, wipes, and more — so she’s building that up and she’s about 10 weeks pregnant now.”

Part of educating women and families is also informing them about their own preborn child’s development. “We had a woman that was not from here locally but came here with the father of the baby, and he wanted her to have an abortion. But it was like a miracle — after she got the ultrasound done, when they ran the numbers, they said the [baby’s due date was] on the father’s birthday,” Merwarth recalled. “Something in him clicked – it changed – and we scheduled a second ultrasound for later and they came back and decided to keep the baby and parent. Now they come together for educational classes.”

Merwarth noted that even Planned Parenthood occasionally sends women to Bright Hope. “I know it’s happened maybe one or two times in the last five years,” he said. “A woman’s there, she changes her mind and starts breaking down emotionally, so they sent her down to Bright Hope… and we’ve also had someone show up to Planned Parenthood with no money for an ultrasound, so Planned Parenthood sent her to us because they know we don’t charge for ultrasounds.” 

When he spoke to the City Council, Merwarth asked the Council members, “Would Planned Parenthood refer their people to us if they thought we were giving misinformation or lying to the clients? They send people here. Would they do that if they thought we were providing disinformation?”

Merwarth wants the public to know that pregnancy resource centers are places of compassion that exist to serve women and families, to help them in their time of need, no matter what they decide. “I make sure I tell our people, I want you to handle our clients in a way that if they go and have an abortion, they feel like they can always come back to us if they feel there’s something we can do for them. … At a later date, if they feel like, I need this resource, I want them to know they’ll be welcome to come back here. And sometimes they do.”

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