Mobile ultrasound clinic to bring pro-life care to women across Rhode Island

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PROVIDENCE — Leadership, benefactors and supporters of Rhode Island Right to Life gathered at Cathedral Square on Wednesday, May 31, to unveil the Ancora Women’s Mobile Care Center, a mobile ultrasound clinic that will provide free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds to women in crisis pregnancies throughout the state.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin performed a blessing and dedication of the new clinic, housed in a converted van, following noon Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

“It will be a wonderful resource for the pro-life ministry in our community and I have no doubt that the lives of unborn children will be saved because of that new vehicle,” he said during the homily.

The Ancora Women’s Mobile Care Center will be the first of its kind able to deliver basic women’s health services and ultrasounds at locations throughout Rhode Island, including outside abortion clinics and existing pregnancy resource centers. Sponsors hope the convenience of the clinic’s services will encourage more women to view a sonogram of their baby before choosing to receive an abortion and make ultrasound technology more widely available to all women.

Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, thanked those who gathered for the dedication of the new mobile ultrasound clinic, noting Wednesday’s celebration of the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“This is such a fitting date to dedicate this van. [At] the Feast of the Visitation, the Blessed Mother went out to help her cousin in pregnancy,” he said.

In a phone interview with Rhode Island Catholic, Bracy described how he began planning for the mobile ultrasound van began shortly before the 2014 midterm elections when he viewed a video of a mobile clinic in another part of the country that had been posted online.

“It was just before those elections that I saw somebody had posted a video on Facebook and it caught my eye,” he said. “I approached my board with the idea and said we’ve got to do this.”

Fundraising for the mobile clinic launched in May of 2015 and proceeded slowly at first. The van cost close to $150,000 to purchase and outfit for medical use, as well as an additional $50,000 to staff and maintain. Costs include an ultrasound unit, a seating area and couch for the woman receiving services and a nurse sonographer to provide the ultrasounds.

Then, in September of 2015, the North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation (NACEPF) offered a $100,000 matching grant in memory of Archbishop George Pearce, who passed away the previous month. John Primeau, president of NACEPF and a close friend to Archbishop Pearce, recalled the archbishop’s personal devotion to the respect life movement at the dedication ceremony and said he would be pleased to know his memory was enshrined in the life-saving cause.

“Most Saturdays, in the 25 years he was here, he was out doing rosary rescues in front of abortion clinics. This is in his honor and I salute him,” said Primeau.

With additional donations from the Knights of Columbus and other benefactors, organizers at Rhode Island Right to Life were able to complete the van. The clinic’s final name, Ancora, was chosen to evoke Rhode Island state imagery and a passage from Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

“We need to provide a safe space and let them know, your world’s not out of control, you’re still in control, you have options,” said Bracy.

According to Susan Baker, a registered nurse who will serve as sonographer, staff members plan to bring the van to locations where women are in need of maternal health services, including outside abortion clinics and at social service sites that offer pregnancy support.

“At 10 weeks, you can see arms, legs, we can sometimes count fingers and when women see that, it makes a huge impact,” she said.

Baker, who currently serves as nurse manager at Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center in New London, Connecticut, plans to counsel women on all of their options, including identifying what they may see as obstacles to continuing a pregnancy and helping them to develop solutions to overcome these obstacles. She emphasized the importance of caring for women beyond their decision to continue a pregnancy and referring women to resources where they can receive medical, material and emotional support.

“We don’t want to just say, ‘You’ve chosen life, bye.’ That’s not helpful,” she said.

Baker also emphasized the importance of providing free and confidential support to women who may be going through a crisis period. Many women who are drawn to clinics like Planned Parenthood, she said, avoid doctor’s offices because they are uninsured or on a family member’s insurance and wish to keep their pregnancy a secret. The mobile ultrasound unit can provide a similar level of anonymous care without the abortion services.

“It’s totally free and confidential and that’s huge when you’re going through something like this,” she said.

Carol Owens, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Life and Family Ministry, said she looks forward to having a new partner in her work supporting expectant mothers and promoting a culture of life in Rhode Island. The diocesan St. Gabriel’s Call ministry provides services to pregnant women at satellite offices throughout the state, and she hopes to welcome the mobile ultrasound van at these locations to provide on-site testing and ultrasounds, especially for women who may be considering an abortion.

“It would be great to know that I can bring that person to the bus,” she said. “We have five locations, so we can bring it down to Newport, bring it up to Woonsocket. I think it’s going to benefit us to save a lot of babies, most definitely.”