As a panel convened at the Heritage Foundation's Capitol Hill headquarters to focus on alternatives to Planned Parenthood for women, one potential alternative to Planned Parenthood stole the show.
It was Sister Magdalene Teresa, a Sister of Life who is director of her order's Visitation Mission in New York City.
"After 40 years of Roe v. Wade, we know that we don't want this happen one more time," she said during the Oct. 29 panel discussion.
The Heritage event comes after a series of undercover videos released this summer showed physicians and others associated with Planned Parenthood describing the harvesting of fetal tissue and body parts during abortions at their clinics and discussing the sale of post-abortion fetal tissue.
For the women who go to the Visitation Mission—and Sister Magdalene said 1,000 pregnant women a year do—"pregnancy shatters her identify, her sense of who she is. The woman before us needs to know she is someone who is decent, trustworthy, and can look out for other people," said. "Experience has informed our work. We know how deeply abortion fails women at every level."
She told the story of "Amy," a teenager who had gotten pregnant at a party and the boy responsible didn't want anything to do with the baby. Amy's father was in jail and her mother was the family's sole provider.
Amy had two friends with her, reporting stunning news: "Hi, we came from Planned Parenthood and we'd like to hear a little more about your program." "Even though we don't get many referrals from Planned Parenthood," Sister Magdalene said to laughter, "I welcomed them in to have some tea."
It wasn't exactly a direct referral. But Amy and her friends, she learned, were in the Planned Parenthood waiting room and Amy said, "God, if you don't want me to do this, you have to give me a sign." There, among a flurry of brochures, was one for the Visitation Mission. "How it got there, we'll never know," Sister Magdalene said. "She stuffed the brochure in her purse, grabbed her two friends and came to our door."
Sister Magdalen said she asked Amy, "What is your heart telling you to do?" The teen's answer: "Keep the baby." "She smiled, looked at me and said, 'I'm going to let go and let God. I'm going to keep this baby.' She had the baby, got a four-year degree in psychology and got married."
Amy came back later to Visitation and told Sister Magdalen, "I never knew I could be so strong." "When you choose new life, it brings you new life," the nun answered.
Sarah Torre, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation's DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, asserted that Planned Parenthood "has become a billion-dollar organization, largely on the backs of taxpayers," citing $529 million in federal, state and local funding, the vast majority of it from the federal government, accounting for 40 percent of its annual revenue. Torre said that for the last reporting year, Planned Parenthood reported "revenues over expenses" of $127 million, with net assets of $1.4 billion and what she called "a large slush fund, basically, at their disposal."
Torre said although Planned Parenthood says it performs other health services for women at its clinics, the number of cancer screenings has been cut in half over the last 10 years. Meanwhile, despite a drop in the U.S. abortion rate, the number of abortions performed at Planned Parenthood clinics has climbed from 250,000 to 327,000 annually over the same 10-year period, "so they're performing about one-third of all abortions in this country," she added.
"Is this where we want our taxpayer dollars going?" she asked. "Where can we put those limited taxpayer dollar to more efficient and effective use?"
Torre suggested the network of crisis pregnancy centers around the country would be one place where federal funds could be diverted. They can provide "life-affirming options," she said.
Another obvious choice, according to Torre, are the 1,200 federally qualified heath centers that operate at 9,000 locations in medically underserved areas, both rural and urban. "They provide the same types of health care that Planned Parenthood does -- cancer screening, birth control, etc. -- but also a wide range of primary care, for men and for women."