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Our Beating Hearts: Stories of the New England Pro-Life Movement

As Jill Jorgensen attended the annual fundraiser banquet for Clearway Clinic, she heard a still small voice calling her to obedience. 

“God [was] nudging me right at this banquet [and] I try to ignore what’s happening.”

But she could not run away from the verse on her heart: 

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Jorgensen, a long-time supporter of the clinic and its mission, was unable to escape the thought that getting more involved might be her next step. 

Former Executive Director Kelly Wilcox (left) and Current Executive Director Jill Jorgenson (right)

Clearway Clinic is a state-licensed pregnancy care center with two locations in central Massachusetts. Their mission is to be “the first step for women facing an unplanned pregnancy, turning their fear into confidence and equipping them to make life-affirming decisions.” At the time of its fundraising banquet in March 2022, the clinic prepared to hire a new executive director. 

“I was just thinking I wanted to sail off to…retirement and go to Maine and just kind of be done,” she said. “I did not need to have this big job again. And I didn’t ever want to do a resume again.” 

However, as trusted friends and family members urged her to apply, she sent in her resume, secretly hoping that the position would be filled by the time it was reviewed. 

“I got offered the job and then it was, ‘Okay, Lord, I’m committed. I will not question this. I will not say that I don’t want this and I’ll do it till the day you say I’m done.’” 

Jorgensen is now the current executive director of Clearway Clinic. 

Clearing the Way for Women in Crisis

In telling me about Clearway’s mission, Jorgensen described the resources they offer women and families. In addition to providing pregnancy testing, ultrasound exams, and limited STI testing– administered by certified nurses—Clearway educates women facing unplanned pregnancies on their options. But they are not left to fend for themselves after making their final decision. Each client is assigned a medical provider and patient advocate to serve their individual needs. Clearway even offers post-abortive resources for women facing any trauma following a terminated pregnancy. 

Their services are completely free.

Although Clearway Clinic is devoted to helping women make informed decisions, Jorgensen said, “we do not provide or refer abortions.” For them, the issue is not a matter of choosing the child over the mother. It is about advocating for the life of both. 

“We do not consider abortion as a political issue, but one of crisis at the human level…since we believe only God can give life. We stand in faith to serve women and families in crisis and hope they will choose life for their child, for every child is a gift from God.”

Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Clearway Clinic’s mission has come face to face with political intimidation and violence. Last July, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey released a consumer advisory warning against local pregnancy care centers. Jill told me that the clinic was targeted within twenty-four hours.

“No one has stopped working for the clinic because of this. Everyone is standing firm.”

Photo of Clearway Clinic

“[There was an act of] vandalism right here at our clinic in Worcester…the glass in our doors and windows smashed [and] two people with masks were smashing the glass and spray painting the sidewalk,” Jorgensen said. 

But even in the face of this unsettling attack, Clearway did not stand down. 

“No one has stopped working for the clinic because of this. Everyone is standing firm.” 

Of course, the politicization of abortion has manifested itself in other harmful ways. The clinic has also been the victim of sustained media attacks. Following the consumer advisory warning, Clearway received multiple requests for interviews, which involved a collective interview with other local pregnancy care centers. 

“The Boston Globe wanted every executive director on a panel and we agreed to it” Jorgensen said, “but none of us were prepared. None of us are media trained. None of us.” 

Being a nonpolitical organization, their representatives struggled to communicate the apolitical nature of their mission when confronted with aggressive questioning.

“This isn’t really what we’ve ever had to deal with [in the past],” she said, “it was just a very hostile situation.”

After their interview with the Boston Globe, Clearway intentionally prepared for future media coverage. They reached out to and partnered with other pro-life organizations more familiar with the media landscape. 

“I have PR specialists [and] we have Massachusetts Family Institute. I run everything by them,” Jorgensen said. 

In finding support from groups working toward the same goal to defend life, Clearway Clinic has become more prepared to approach an increasingly dynamic and hostile landscape. 

Policy with a Purpose

Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) is a “non-partisan public policy organization dedicated to strengthening families in Massachusetts.” They seek to conserve the Judeo-Christian foundation of the family  “through a system of valuing the life and well being of every child, woman and man.” MFI aims to pursue legal change on the state level that “create[s] a political and social environment where families can thrive and prosper.”

MFI president Andrew Beckwith told me their mission involves “using the courts, and the good laws that are already on the books to protect the rights of the unborn, parents, churches, things like that.” 

“We would work with any pro-life coalition to push back on these pro-abortion laws that have been passed.”

Andrew Beckwith of Massachusetts Family Institute

Although MFI engages in a wide range of issues relating to the family, the pro-life cause is a huge part of their efforts.

“We try to defend life, innocent life, from conception to natural death,” Beckwith said, “we would work with any pro-life coalition to push back on these pro-abortion laws that have been passed.” 

MFI’s political-centric mission brings distinct legislative and media-focused skillsets to the pro-life movement that are invaluable to like-minded organizations. Beckwith told me how they have been able to come alongside organizations like Clearway to better equip them in the fight for life.

“I can advocate on sort of the legal side, just trying to help them with [their] skill sets, capacities that we have as a nonprofit education advocacy organization that they may not,” he said. “They’re busy saving babies and helping young mothers-to-be, so we’re happy to kind of jump in and do that dirty work to keep them free to do the important work.” 

Stephanie’s Story

While pregnancy care centers support women, and organizations like MFI help these centers in the policy sphere, pro-life activists play an essential role at the grassroots level.

When it comes to advocating for life, Stephanie Luiz knows all about the power of individual relationships 

Luiz works as the New England Regional Coordinator for Students for Life of America, an organization seeking to “recruit, train, and mobilize the Pro-Life Generation to abolish abortion.” 

Stephanie Luiz of Students for Life

“I’m in charge of all of the activism in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, [and] Massachusetts,” she explained, “I help to coordinate all of it, facilitate all of it, and advocate for life.” 

As Regional Coordinator, Luiz is the face of the organization in the most abortion-friendly region of the United States. Commenting on how this affects her role, Luiz explained, “Every region genuinely has very different needs, very different experiences, and need different people to serve in those areas, because people have different skills.” 

Luiz sees the challenges in New England for the pro-life movement as good opportunities to make connections. Because of her front-row seat to the issue, she has started conversations and formed meaningful relationships with individuals on both sides of the debate. According to Luiz, “a lot of what I do is serve as the first person someone has ever talked to who is pro-life. And yeah, that’s a blessing and a gift if I use it well.”

Discovering common ground with others starts on the individual level, Luiz believes. 

“It can really shift people’s minds about how they view pro-lifers in general to see that we care about women, that we want what is best for both parties, that we genuinely believe this, and that we’re willing to suffer for it,” she said. 

For organizations like Students for Life, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health was an undeniable victory. However, since the abortion issue has been delegated to state legislatures, the pro-life movement has shifted its focus as well. Advocating for the pro-life position on an individual level is now more important than ever.

The fight looks different for each region. 

“Some regions are ready to start trying to pass constitutional amendments to protect the freedom of the preborn. We are not. But we will get there,” Luiz said.

“We need to start out in a more preliminary place than that. And that comes from really, I think, having the conversations about abortion and making your presence known.” Communicating the pro-life message in a tangible way will contribute to active progress.

“She ended up saying, ‘I don’t understand where you’re coming from. And I don’t agree with you. But I know that you care about women.’”

Luiz told me a story about her own person-to-person interactions while advocating for life. Her team hosted the “Abortion is Not Right” tour at various schools in New England, such as Harvard, MIT, UMass Boston, and the University of Connecticut. She remembers the event at UConn vividly. 

During the event she was approached by a pro-choice student. Luiz made it clear that she was pro-life and started a conversation explaining why. At the end of the discussion, the student was still pro-choice. But she changed her mind about one thing.

 “She ended up saying, ‘I don’t understand where you’re coming from. And I don’t agree with you. But I know that you care about women.’” Luiz said that this was a good first step. 

Throughout the rest of the day, “I had a couple of very aggressive interactions and borderline actually scary interactions,” she said, “I was getting stressed.” 

She went to the bathroom to calm down. When she came out, she caught a glimpse of the student she talked to earlier in the counterprotest crowd. 

“I saw her sign. And it said, ‘flush the fetus.’ And she just happened to look at me, right as I saw the sign.”

However, because of the individual connection Luiz established with this student, “something clicked in her head. Because afterwards, she came up to me. She’s still not pro-life, but she said, ‘I’m sorry. That was really not okay.’”

Even though this story is seemingly small on the individual level, Luiz believed its impact was priceless. 

“Those were two massive steps forward.” 

The Heart of the Pro-Life Movement

These are but a few stories from the New England pro-life movement. Together, they work to plead the causethe cause of the mother who is worried about what to do with her baby, the cause of women hurt by abortion, and the cause of the unborn child with a beating heart who waits to experience life to the full. 

There are many more stories to be told.

Clearway Clinic is devoted to creating an atmosphere where women feel like their stories can be heard. “That’s what I love,” Jorgensen said, “[This is] a place for them to pause, to feel loved, have someone listen, share their options with them in order for them to make an informed decision.” 

The work of clinics like Clearway thrives with the support of people like Beckwith and Luiz. 

Students can help too. 

“Support your pregnancy resource centers,” Luiz said, “whether it’s by like volunteering, weekly fundraising, doing something, those are our path to an abortion-free future.” 

A functioning and flourishing movement requires selfless commitment among its members. The beating heart of the pro-life cause has nothing to do with the ego, but everything to do with loving the individuals most affected by abortion.

“This is not fun. I wish I did not need to be here,” said Luiz. “But I am because this is how strongly I feel about this human rights issue. It does genuinely change hearts.”

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nicolecage1

Maisey, this was such a great piece to read! Well done!