By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 21, 2010
Many women will tell you that having a baby can be a scary thing. What is even scarier is when the pregnancy comes at a young age or when it is unexpected. For 25 years, women and families in the metro Atlanta area have turned to the Advice and Aid Pregnancy Problem Center for help dealing with these stressful situations.
Under director Noreen Coughlin, a New York native with a passion for life, the center has become a beacon for women struggling with their options. Many women walk into the center scared of the uncertain future, while Coughlin and volunteers try to comfort and guide the expecting mothers to a life-affirming decision.
Offering free pregnancy tests and referrals for sonograms, the Advice and Aid Pregnancy Problem Center sees approximately 30 new clients each month. The women come with several different mindsets, from those ready to have an abortion to those who are considering adoption and those who want to parent the child.
“We want the girls to know that there are options,” said Laura Grumbling, volunteer coordinator at the center. “They know they can trust us.”
“We minister to them where they are at,” Coughlin said.
While the guidance given is not specifically labeled as Catholic, Coughlin, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King, affirms that the center operates from a Catholic perspective.
“There is an evangelical formation here,” she said, adding that many of the people who come to the center didn’t grow up in strong families.
Coughlin said that society plays a significant role in the growing disconnect between sex and pregnancy. She has seen girls come into the center who did not fully realize they could become pregnant from being sexually active. But as much as the physical issues come into play, Coughlin said many times it can be a spiritual battle as well.
One of the first things the center does when a new woman comes in is educate her on the dangers, physically and psychologically, of having an abortion. This includes details of procedures and risks of having an abortion or using the morning after pill.
The center also has an “Earn While You Learn” program, which allows the expecting mothers to learn about relevant topics while earning “boutique bucks” that they can use to obtain maternity and baby items that were donated to the center. Topics include pregnancy and parenting, but the center also offers training in healthy relationships, career preparation, time management and healthy habits, among others.
Coughlin began working with these ministries while she was earning her MBA from the University of Louisville. She watched a video called “The Silent Scream,” a graphic depiction of an abortion via ultrasound images. It spurred Coughlin to become active in the ministry.
“It really changed my thinking about the whole abortion issue,” she said. “Ever since I watched it, the issues never left me.”
Barb Grover, a parishioner at St. Gabriel Church in Fayetteville, serves as one of the 25 regular volunteers. A longtime friend of Grumbling, she finally felt she was “at a place in my life where I could help.”
“I always pray before I meet with these girls,” she said, adding that she hopes she can have a positive effect on those she meets.
Grover has always been passionate about pro-life issues and does a lot around the center to help out. She assists with pregnancy tests, administrative work and counseling, among other things.
“But I really enjoy working with the clients,” she said.
Several women who are waiting to give birth to their babies said they are very grateful for the help given to them by those who work at the center.
Jasmine Sellers, a 20-year-old from Atlanta, is pregnant with her third child. She came into the center in September, after calling a number she saw on a billboard for abortion alternatives.
Sellers said she was not in a financial place to care for another child and she had been researching ways to remedy the situation. She had called a few abortion clinics to get price quotes for a second trimester abortion, which ranged between $250 and $500, she said.
She decided to come into the center after calling the number on the advertisement and immediately felt the effects of the genuine care of the volunteers at the center.
“They were really nice when I first met them,” Sellers said. “I didn’t think people were this nice. They were very genuine.”
After spending some time learning about her options and receiving counseling from the volunteers, Sellers felt called to give the baby up for adoption. But after calling adoption agencies and looking at the many options, she felt as confused as ever. It wasn’t until she decided to keep the baby that she felt at peace with the situation.
She eventually found support from her family as well as at the center, and the experience has affected her faith life.
“I feel closer to God because I chose to keep the baby,” she said. “I felt a lot better after I made the decision.”
Sellers is due to give birth to a baby girl on Jan. 27.
The situation was both similar and different for Julianne Brock, a 33-year-old woman who also decided to keep her baby after her visits to the center.
Brock said she felt scared the first time she came in, unsure of what to expect. It is her first pregnancy and it was unexpected. She has been in a relationship for seven years, but they hadn’t really discussed children. Brock also was recently laid off from her job.
She was considering an abortion at first, since she thought she didn’t really have another choice. But after some encouragement from her boyfriend’s mother, she visited with the volunteers at the center and realized there were many options.
What started off as a frightening situation for Brock and her boyfriend has become something entirely different.
“This whole thing has been a blessing,” she said. “I could never have done anything different. We are really excited.”
“She has really taken responsibility,” said Stephanie Edwards, a volunteer who has been working closely with Brock. “We want them to be prepared.”
Edwards has worked one-on-one with Brock to help her understand what to expect and also helped create a budget for Brock and her boyfriend. Brock said this was very helpful, especially since she recently learned she is pregnant with twins. She is due this June.
“Stephanie is great,” Brock said. “I could relate to her. … You guys are such a blessing.”
Founded in 1985, the center still focuses on the same issues. Located in the same building along King Arnold Street, a block away from St. John the Evangelist Church in Hapeville, the center has the same spirit of giving and guidance that it had when it first opened. One of the founders, Jean Hess, who is still very involved with pro-life ministry, checks in with Coughlin occasionally to make sure things are going well.
The Advice and Aid Pregnancy Problem Center and St. John the Evangelist have had a close relationship since the center opened 25 years ago. Father Edward Thein, pastor of St. John the Evangelist, currently serves on the board of directors for the center, and he has been working to spread awareness of the center throughout the south side of the archdiocese. He joined the board last summer.
The success of the center, which relies solely on donations, cannot be attributed to one person. Throughout the decades volunteers have given their time and energy to support the growing need in the Atlanta area.
“We’ve been supported by so many faithful Catholics throughout the years,” said Coughlin.
As a way to celebrate and honor those 25 years of ministry, Christ the King Cathedral is hosting a Mass, banquet and fundraising auction for the center on Jan. 22. Mass will be celebrated by Father Frank McNamee, pastor of the Cathedral, at 6:30 p.m. Father Dan Ketter will speak during the banquet, which follows the Mass.
For more information or to volunteer at the center, call the Advice and Aid Pregnancy Problem Center at (404) 763-4432. For more information on the Mass and banquet, visit www.abortionalternativeatlanta.com/friends.html.