Former Iowa webcam-abortion clinic now pro-life health center

By Roger Drinnon

CRESTON, Iowa — Local church and community members celebrated during the dedication of a pro-life pregnancy and women’s health resource center here Aug. 15 — the result of community efforts to repurpose a former Planned Parenthood facility known for conducting controversial telemedicine “webcam” abortions.

From left, Sweet Rose and Arnie Suan chat with Barb Erickson in the boutique of donated baby clothes and supplies during an Aug. 15 tour of the newly-opened Iowa Life Care Clinic in Creston, Iowa. The clinic opened out of a former Planned Parenthood facility once known for its controversial “telemedicine” abortions. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

From left, Sweet Rose and Arnie Suan chat with Barb Erickson in the boutique of donated baby clothes and supplies during an Aug. 15 tour of the newly-opened Iowa Life Care Clinic in Creston, Iowa. The clinic opened out of a former Planned Parenthood facility once known for its controversial “telemedicine” abortions. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

Until Planned Parenthood announced the closing of its Creston satellite clinic last year, local women experiencing unplanned pregnancies were offered controversial telemedicine abortions there. The process, also called “webcam” abortion, involves a doctor seeing the patient only by remote video teleconference. If the patient agrees, the doctor remotely dispenses two abortion medications. The first medication, reportedly the abortion pill RU-486, must be taken by the patient during the video teleconference. The second medication, such as misoprostol or Cytotec, is taken by the patient later (even at home), after which the aborted baby is delivered.

Upon learning about this practice, pro-life members of the community came together to pray for the Planned Parenthood clinic’s staff, the unborn and also for women experiencing unplanned pregnancies.  

“During Lent of 2014, the community sponsored a ‘40 Days for Life’ prayer vigil at the Creston [Planned Parenthood] clinic,” said the Rev. Jonathan Watt, pastor of nearby Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. “It was well-attended. We prayed for the workers and that God would intervene to save the lives of the children who would be killed by the ‘telemed’ procedure.”

Watt, who has been pastor at Trinity for seven years and who is the life coordinator for the LCMS Iowa District West, said at one point he and other attendees somewhat jokingly discussed establishing a pro-life clinic, if the Planned Parenthood clinic closed — “jokingly” only because it seemed like an extremely unlikely event.

“We didn’t realize at the time that God would answer our prayers by doing that very thing. After the clinic was closed, the community formed a committee to explore the possibility of opening a [pro-life] crisis-pregnancy center in Creston,” said Watt.

Community members asked Watt to chair the committee. He said that after the committee researched alternatives, members ultimately asked the Iowa Life Care (LC) Clinic in nearby Stuart, Iowa, to open a satellite clinic in Creston. He said it made sense to the committee to capitalize on an existing pro-life clinic with established infrastructure and services.

In response to the community’s plans, a former manager of the Creston Planned Parenthood clinic penned a scathing commentary published in the Creston newspaper in March, alleging the new pro-life clinic would be biased and that it would not provide appropriate care. Despite the negative press, the Creston clinic opened in July as a second Iowa LC Clinic — an extension of the Stuart clinic established just a few years earlier.

“The Stuart clinic opened about three-and-a-half years ago,” said Ruth Fennessey, executive director of both clinics who, as a registered nurse, also serves as nurse manager. “But prior to that, it took about two years to get [the Stuart clinic] open.”

Fennessey said the Stuart clinic came about after a “ministerial alliance” banded together from area churches in response to a local rise in teen pregnancies. In response to a growing need for an alternative to Planned Parenthood services, she said she helped research other pregnancy centers as a benchmark, and fundraising began not long after.

Both nonprofit clinics are funded by donations from individuals, churches and business sponsors.

The clinics’ free services include: pregnancy tests; sexually-transmitted disease/infection testing and treatment; abortion-recovery support; fatherhood support; healthy-relationship education; education on abortion risks and procedures, parenting and adoption; community referrals; and limited obstetrical ultrasound. All services are provided in a nonjudgmental atmosphere.

“If someone is planning to have an abortion, we want them to come here and learn about what they’re signing up for, because a lot of them don’t know, or they have been misinformed,” said Hannah Shady, manager of the Creston clinic and Trinity Life Team leader. “We want to be sure they can make the most informed choice — that is why we offer all the information we have available.”

Shady said that since the LC Clinic opened, several women have approached her to say they are haunted by thoughts of their previous abortions and that they wished an LC Clinic had been available years ago, when they were making such a decision.      

“We want to reach out to anyone, everyone, and for those who have sought abortion, they are always welcome to come back to us, and we will offer them hope, nonjudgmental care and, of course, love — no matter what they choose,” she said. “I think that is most powerful for them to understand we are here for them as a support system, and they can always turn to us.”

Watt said members of Trinity and its parish Life Team joined with others from the community and local Catholic and Baptist parishes to help make the clinic a reality. Life Teams, promoted by Lutherans For Life (LFL) — an LCMS pro-life Recognized Service Organization — help congregations become actively life-focused on issues like abortion.

“Pastor Jonathan and [wife] Waunita Watt, along with now-Team Leader Hannah Shady, attended our LFL National Conference in Des Moines in 2013 and the pre-conference, two-hour interactive workshop on Life Teams,” said Lori Trinche, mission and ministry coordinator with Lutherans For Life. “They … began the process of training and certifying a team to be Gospel-motivated voices for life. Creating awareness at the local level made it possible for the community to rally together for prayer at the local Planned Parenthood office. Boldly speaking up for life and witnessing in love helped close that office, rally support to purchase the property and repurpose it for good, not evil.”

Watt said although church doctrine rightly prohibits LCMS Lutherans from worshiping jointly with some other Christian denominations, combined pro-life community efforts at the Creston clinic can be viewed as permissible “cooperation in externals,” given the needs of the people being addressed and the lives being saved.

“Even though we differ in doctrine, and that prevents us from worshiping together, we have a common purpose centered in the LC Clinic,” he said.

The Iowa Board of Medicine recently attempted to stop telemedicine abortions in the state by requiring a doctor to be physically present with patients seeking an abortion. However, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit challenging the requirement. In June, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, allowing the organization to continue administering abortion medications via video teleconference in Iowa.

For more information on the Iowa Life Care Clinics, visit iowalcclinic.org/.

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Roger Drinnon (roger.drinnon@lcms.org) is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.

Posted Aug. 21, 2015

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