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Life Partnerships

Posted on January 04, 2022 in: General News

Life Partnerships

Knights of Columbus in Texas exemplify the Order’s commitment to building a true culture of life

By Matthew Smith
1/1/2022
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Texas State Life Director Tom Clark delivers a check for $30,000 to Aaron Fowler, Birth Choice’s executive director
Texas State Life Director Tom Clark (left) delivers a check for $30,000 to Aaron Fowler, Birth Choice’s executive director, in November. The funds were raised by the 2021 Hike for Life, the oldest pro-life event in Texas, founded by Knights in 1973. Photo by Ben Torres

Pregnancy resource centers have come a long way. That was Vanessa Kelly’s recurring thought as she toured one such center, Birth Choice of Dallas, this past fall. The wife of Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly, Vanessa had suggested that the wives of K of C leaders visit Birth Choice during a meeting of the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors in October. Throughout the tour, she was repeatedly struck by the quality of the center’s staff, equipment and services.

“It was state of the art,” said Kelly, who was raised in Texas and has been involved in pro-life work for decades. “A woman who comes in — confused, in pain, suffering — is coming into a beautiful and professional facility. And she is cared for holistically: materially, emotionally and spiritually.”

Particularly impressive was the center’s 4-D ultrasound machine. “My youngest daughter is only 5 years old, and I never saw anything beyond 2-D black-and-white images,” Kelly said. “To see an image of a baby in color, it’s just extraordinary.”

That machine, like the others that Birth Choice of Dallas has operated, was a donation of Texas Knights of Columbus through the Order’s Ultrasound Initiative. Since the initiative began in 2009 — the same year Birth Choice opened its doors — Knights throughout the Order have funded and placed nearly 1,500 machines in pregnancy resource centers nationwide. As the number of centers offering licensed medical services has grown, together with the number of maternity homes providing care for new mothers, so too have the Order’s pro-life efforts. Beyond the Ultrasound Initiative, councils donated funds and supplies worth nearly $14 million, and members served more than 1.3 million hours to assist pregnancy centers and maternity homes from 2018 to 2020.

This life-saving work, noted Texas State Life Director Thomas Clark, started long before the Texas Heartbeat Act was signed in May 2021, and it will continue no matter the outcome of the legal challenges to pro-life legislation.

“It goes to the broader scope of Blessed Michael McGivney’s mission,” Clark said. “Every council is charged with reaching out and assisting those in need — especially women and children in need — in every way we can.”

“Pregnancy resource centers provide the best in women’s reproductive health, because they’re being honest about what is happening and caring for women in a holistic way.”

THE POWER OF ULTRASOUND

Knights in Texas have reason to be proud of their support for pregnancy centers. The state recently became the Order’s third jurisdiction — after Florida and California — to fund its 100th ultrasound machine.

“We know the impact an ultrasound machine has in the prevention of abortions,” State Deputy Alfredo Vela said. “Our support of pregnancy centers is key to our pro-life work and will save many babies well into the future.”

Aaron Fowler, executive director of Birth Choice of Dallas, explained, “Ultrasound machines are one of the most impactful and effective tools we have at our disposal in the fight for life.”

For many women, he said, ultrasound images provide a transition from a theoretical idea of pregnancy to the reality of a child growing inside them: “We often see that reality hitting home with mothers when they see their baby’s hand go up and they suck on their thumb.”

It’s important to keep ultrasound machines up to date because the technology advances rapidly, said Texas State Pregnancy Resource Chairman Andrew Clark, who is Thomas Clark’s son and a fellow member of St. Michael the Archangel Council 11862 in Garland.

“I compare them to laptops,” Andrew said. “You buy one, and tomorrow they come out with something 10 times better. So, I encourage councils to reach out to their local pregnancy resource centers every three to five years, especially those centers with high usage.”

Multiple Texas councils — including Our Lady of Guadalupe Council 8306 in Helotes, St. Jude Council 11293 in Allen and St. Anthony Council 12300 in Wylie — have partnered to fund the machines at Birth Choice. The center will soon receive its sixth machine since the Ultrasound Initiative began.

“They do a good job of cycling out the old technology and providing new machines for us,” said Fowler.

Birth Choice of Dallas is one of the many pregnancy centers in the United States that offer medical services of some kind, including ultrasounds, under the supervision and direction of a licensed physician. According to a 2020 report by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, only about 50 such pregnancy centers existed in the United States in 1998; by 2019, the number exceeded 2,000.

Birth Choice is unusual in that it shares a parking lot with an abortion facility. After their tour of the pregnancy center in October, Vanessa Kelly led the wives of supreme directors in prayer outside.

In encouraging a woman to have an abortion, Kelly noted, such facilities might show an expectant mother an unclear or partial ultrasound image or otherwise conceal the humanity of her unborn child.

“Pregnancy resource centers provide the best in women’s reproductive health,” she added, “because they’re being honest about what is happening and caring for women in a holistic way.”

Staff of the Mater Filius Home
Staff of the Mater Filius Home, including founders Marthalicia and Javier Burkle (back, center), are pictured in November with current and former residents. The maternity home , located in Plano, Texas, receives support from local Knights and the Texas State Council. Photo by Ben Torres

BEYOND BIRTH

While an ultrasound can open a mother’s eyes to the reality of her unborn child, pro-life advocates must continue to support that woman throughout her pregnancy and long after, Thomas Clark affirmed.

“We’re concerned about children both before and after birth because in either case we recognize the gift of a unique human life,” he said.

Many pregnancy resource centers, including Birth Choice of Dallas, provide a host of services for mothers who have chosen life, including parenting and life skills classes, referrals to social services and material support. Maternity homes offer even more support for mothers who need a place to live. Four of these residences have opened in the Dallas area in the last few years, noted Tom Clark, adding, “It’s just fantastic that we’ve been blessed with so many.”

One of them is the Mater Filius Home in Plano, which opened in 2016; it provides housing, meals and mentorship to women and their babies for up to eight months after birth. Even more importantly, according to former resident Heather Shelle, it provides hope.

“Before I had Bentley, I didn’t know if I wanted to keep him,” Shelle said of her son, now 1 year old. “I was nervous being a first-time mother. The person I had been living with left me high and dry, and I didn’t know if I could give my son the life he deserved.”

Coming back to visit Mater Filius with his mother in November, Bentley showed off his new standing skills, exchanging high fives with Javier Burkle, who founded the home with his wife, Marthalicia.

“Since we started five years ago, the Knights have been very active and available with any help we need,” Marthalicia said. In addition to their prayers and financial donations, Dallas-area Knights have assisted with repairs and renovations at the home.

A special state council program encourages this kind of work. ACE Wings — “ACE” means pro-life without Apology, Compromise or Exception — are given to members who engage in a certain number of pro-life events or volunteer activities in a year, including volunteering with a pregnancy center.

Thomas Clark visited both Birth Choice and Mater Filius in late Novem- ber to deliver donations from another K of C initiative, the Hike for Life. The oldest pro-life event in Texas, the Hike for Life was founded by Knights in 1973.

“That was the response by the supreme knight at the time,” said Thomas Clark, who has served as president of Hike for Life since 2001. “He asked councils to stage some sort of public display in response to the Roe v. Wade’ decision to demonstrate the Knights’ support for life.”

Texas Knights continue to organize the Hike for Life, which now comprises 5K walks around the Dallas area and in a few other Texas cities. Hundreds of Knights participated in this year’s event, with 14 councils forming a team. The 2021 hikes raised more than $100,000, all for pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes and other pro-life organizations.

“The Knights of Columbus provide tremendous amounts of support, financially and spiritually,” said Fowler. “They are basically our champions where we need it the most.”

The goal of pro-life efforts across the state is the same.

“Texas is pushing forward,” Fowler affrmed, “and we’re doing everything we can to make abortion unthinkable.”


MATTHEW SMITH writes from Bedford, Texas, and is a member of St. Ann Council 7175 in Burleson.

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