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Big Bend area group plans anti-abortion pregnancy centers in Presidio, Alpine

The small border city of Presidio, Texas is located more than an hour away from the nearest hospital and has few maternal care resources.
Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio
The small border city of Presidio, Texas is located more than an hour away from the nearest hospital and has few maternal care resources.

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A local nonprofit formed earlier this year is seeking to open two new anti-abortion pregnancy centers that the group says will help address the Big Bend region’s persistent lack of maternal care resources.

The Presidio Pregnancy Center plans to open two facilities in the region - first in Presidio and later in Alpine - that would operate as affiliates of Care Net, a national religious group that opposes abortion and oversees a network of more than 1,000 pregnancy centers across the U.S.

Local advocates for the plan say the facilities, often called “crisis pregnancy centers,” would offer much needed social support and educational resources for pregnant people in a region that has been described as a “maternity care desert.”

But critics, including at least one prominent medical trade group, have argued that such facilities often provide misleading or false health information to pregnant people.

The local group’s representatives have outlined their plans to area officials and community members over the past few months as they seek funding for the facilities.

At an Oct. 11 meeting that included representatives from the state health department, the nonprofit’s board president Lynette Brehm said the initial Presidio location would offer everything from free pregnancy tests to “coaching” and classes about what to expect before, during and after childbirth.

“One of the things we learned in talking with women that have had their pregnancies here is they felt very much alone,” she said. “Yes, maybe they had abuela or mom, but they kind of wanted to have some agency over their pregnancy.”

Brehm said the center would employ community health workers to provide “non-clinical, community-based support services” that “add and enhance” standard medical care that people should receive when they’re pregnant.

In an interview, Brehm said the center would not provide any kind of actual medical care, but rather would focus on services like pregnancy training, helping women find an obstetrician and signing up for Medicare or Medicaid.

In its presentations and promotional materials, the local group has not discussed the issue of abortion at length. One version of the group’s website doesn’t mention abortion at all, while another version states the center’s aim is to provide “a safe confidential place where a woman can receive compassionate care to make a life-affirming choice.”

Brehm said the center would not refer any of its clients to abortion providers.

“We want to help that mom become a healthy mom,” Brehm said. “At the end of the day, she’s going to have that decision though, but we will hope that she can see that she can do it, and we’ll be there to help her.”

In Texas, where abortion is almost entirely illegal, lawmakers have poured tens of millions of dollars into the expansion of “crisis pregnancy centers” in recent years. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the number of such facilities has grown to outnumber abortion clinics by a ratio of 3 to 1 nationwide, according to a 2022 report from Axios.

At this month’s meeting, Lisa Kettyle with the abortion rights group Big Bend Reproductive Coalition asked Brehm whether the Presidio center would ever pursue or aid in the criminal investigation of someone who decides to pursue an abortion.

“No,” Brehm said. “That’s not our role.”

The Presidio Pregnancy Center has in recent months sought federal funding through the Biden administration’s sweeping plan to improve maternal care in the U.S.

The center was part of a collaborative grant application with the Big Bend Regional Hospital District to establish the “Big Bend Maternal Care Network,” a broader initiative aimed in part at expanding the number of doctors available to pregnant people, particularly economically disadvantaged Hispanic women. Brehm also serves as the district’s grant administrator and was slated to be the network’s project director.

The application was ultimately rejected, though the district’s executive director J.D. Newsom said the entities involved are pursuing other funding opportunities later this year.

In an interview in September, when the grant application was still pending, Newsom said he did not have concerns about the pregnancy center’s faith-based mission.

“I don’t think that’s going to detract at all from their ability to provide those services,” he said. “For me, it’s all about the health of the mother and health of the baby, should she decide to have the baby.”

Newsom said the center would be focused on the “social service and education component” of maternal care, providing local advocates for pregnant people who would help with things like social services referrals, insurance coverage and “emotional support.”

Critics argue that while rural areas like the Big Bend might indeed have a dire need for more maternal care resources, the need should be met by doctors and clinics.

“I think there's a huge need for medical resources, for parental resources, but the truth of it is that these clinics and these programs don't provide that,” said Blair Wallace, an abortion rights advocate with the ACLU of Texas. “In my dream world, we’re using all this money for clinics where there are doctors and people are being educated on their actual choices, whether it be going to New Mexico [for an abortion] or, you need to go see a doctor to make sure your baby is developing healthy. But that’s not what’s happening.”

Responding to that criticism, Brehm argued her organization is attempting to fill gaps in a region where the medical industry hasn’t.

“If I continue to rely on the clinics to bring down maternal care professionals, it could be a while,” she said. “Yes, people want to focus on whether it’s abortion or not abortion, because it’s a hot topic and people like to read the paper about that stuff, but we’re trying to solve a greater problem here, which is the lack of maternal care.”

The Presidio Pregnancy Center is currently engaged in fundraising efforts as it looks for a permanent location. Brehm said the organization is looking at a variety of funding sources, from state and federal grants to gifts from private foundations. The group has said it hopes to open an Alpine location in its second year of operation.

Editor’s note: Lisa Kettyle is a volunteer music program host at Marfa Public Radio. Volunteer DJs are not involved in the station’s newsroom operations.

Correction: an earlier version of this story misquoted Blair Wallace of the ACLU due to a missing word. The quote has been corrected.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.