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Gift of ultrasounds reaps life-saving benefits

NASHVILLE (BP) — An Arizona woman’s unambiguous response to the first view of her baby offers only one of many life-saving reasons for the existence of the Psalm 139 Project.

The client of New Life Pregnancy Center in Tempe, Ariz., was non-committal at best when she received a positive pregnancy test, Debbie Gillmore, the center’s director, told Baptist Press. The woman declined the center’s gift of a baby hat, saying, “No. I’m not so sure I want to go through with this,” Gillmore recalled.

Though she scheduled an ultrasound appointment, the center’s attempts to contact her with a reminder failed. Yet, the woman, acknowledging her anxiety, arrived on time for her appointment.

The ultrasound technician displayed on the monitor her unborn child, arms and legs moving. When the beating heart appeared on the monitor, the woman blurted out, “There it is,” Gillmore reported in a written account. The technician gave the pregnant woman a model of an unborn baby about the developmental age of hers that she had just observed. Holding the fetal model, the woman looked at the face and paused before telling the technician, “Well, I guess I’d better start thinking about a name.”

Gillmore said of the woman’s experience, “Being able to see life on an ultrasound monitor was the decision point for this client.”

That decision was made possible through gifts to the Psalm 139 Project, a ministry of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The project provides ultrasound machines to pro-life pregnancy resource centers throughout the country, including the one used to show the Arizona woman her child’s image. This year, the Psalm 139 Project reached its 10th anniversary of supporting centers that not only seek to help women and to save babies but to share the Gospel of Jesus.

The anxious woman in Arizona is only one of many across the United States who have benefited from an ultrasound machine placed through Psalm 139, which gets its name from the well-known chapter in the Bible in which David testifies to God’s sovereign care for him when he was an unborn child. David wrote in verse 13 of that psalm, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

Quantifying how many decisions for life have been made through viewing images on the Psalm 139-donated machines is difficult. Earlier this year, the eight centers that have such machines, or have had such machines in the past, reported nearly 650 choices for life by mothers while the Psalm 139 machines were in use. Three centers reported decisions for life by abortion-minded women, while others reported the total number of babies born to clients while the Psalm 139 machines were being used. Some said it is difficult to track the decisions made by their clients.

The ERLC has provided ultrasound equipment through Psalm 139 to centers based in San Marcos, Texas; New Albany, Ind.; Denver; Corinth, Miss.; Lakeland, Fla.; Phoenix; Louisiana and Houston. It announced in June its next gift of a machine would be to a center in Woodbridge, Va.

All the centers strongly affirmed in written interviews with BP the importance of ultrasound technology to their work.

“Having ultrasound capabilities has made all the difference in saving lives,” Martha Jobe, executive director of the Oasis Medical Center in Corinth, Miss, said. “The Holy Spirit and ultrasound are a powerful combination.”

The ultrasound machine “is the ‘window to the womb,'” said Cheri Martin, executive director of Central Texas Life Care in San Marcos. “The opportunity for a mother to see her baby and hear the baby’s heartbeat has made a tremendous impact on our mothers to choose life.”

Rose Condra, director of Choices for Women Resource Center in New Albany, Ind., said, “Ultrasound makes all the difference for many women and their families.” It is not only the pregnant woman but “the others in the room who fall in love with the beating heart on the screen,” she said. “This may mean that a young woman who could have been swayed (or pressured) into aborting may now be supported in a choice for life. Although women in this day and age could Google ultrasound images to see fetal development, when that child is growing inside you, it makes the image more impactful.”

Dennis Flierl oversees the work of Riverside Pregnancy Center in his role as director of community ministries for Riverside Baptist Church in Denver. Providing ultrasounds “allows us to minister to clients who would never set foot” in the church, he said. “When we do get an abortion-minded client, it makes a huge difference when they see the heartbeat and the baby move.”

Karen Snuffer, whose Care Net center in Northern Virginia was granted a machine this year through Psalm 139, said, “Aside from the Gospel, ultrasound is the most effective tool pregnancy resource centers have to reveal the precious life in the womb.”

Estimates on how many women reject abortion after seeing ultrasound images of unborn children vary. Care Net — a nationwide network of Christian pregnancy resource centers — reports statistics indicate abortion-minded women are 50 percent more likely to give birth after viewing images of their unborn babies on an ultrasound monitor. Others estimate the success rate is about 80 percent.

Some centers report even more dramatic results.

Mary Lou Hendry, sanctity of human life director for the Florida Baptist Children’s Home, said every woman who has agreed to an ultrasound exam in its mobile unit and has viewed an image of her child has chosen life. Cheri Martin said the success rate of ultrasound at the San Marcos, Texas, center is 95 percent.

Many pregnancy resource centers still are operating without the advantage of ultrasound technology. About 40 percent of Care Net’s 1,100 affiliated centers do not have sonogram machines, said Vincent DiCaro, its chief outreach officer.

The Psalm 139 Project — like similar efforts within the pro-life movement — seeks to reduce the number of centers operating at a handicap.

“Psalm 139 is our attempt to help these centers acquire ultrasound technology so young mothers can see an image of their unborn baby and make an informed decision,” Daniel Darling, the ERLC’s vice president for communications, said.

“Pregnancy resource centers are in the trenches of the pro-life movement, applying the Gospel to the everyday realities in communities around the country,” Darling told BP. “Most of them operate on a shoe-string budget, reliant on donations for support. And yet the work they do is remarkable. Studies have shown that their presence in a community drops the abortion rate significantly.

“What’s more,” he said, “a pro-life center is not partisan. You find loving volunteers who care for the young pregnant girls and their unborn children in a way that’s redemptive and full of grace.”

The centers that receive ultrasound machines through Psalm 139 report not only infant lives saved but women saved by grace through faith in Christ.

A single mother with two children, a painful past and apparent bitterness toward “hypocritical churchgoers” visited the Oasis Medical Center, reported Julia Taylor in an article for the March 2013 newsletter of the Corinth, Miss., ministry. Taylor is a registered nurse with Oasis.

When her pregnancy test proved positive, the mother said she did not know what she would do about “it,” Taylor said. But when she viewed an image of her child on the ultrasound monitor, she asked, “Is that my baby?” And when her baby’s heartbeat filled the room, tears poured down her face.

Taylor then shared the Gospel with her, helping her understand she did not need to “first clean herself up.” After a few minutes, the mother prayed to receive Christ. “The bitter lines of defeat disappear from her countenance, and are replaced with smiles of joy and hope,” Taylor wrote.

The mobile unit operated by the Florida Baptist Children’s Home parked next to a Planned Parenthood abortion center in Orlando on Mother’s Day weekend this year in a partnership outreach with a pregnancy center.

A woman arrived at Planned Parenthood intending to abort her baby, but a counselor persuaded her to enter the mobile unit for an ultrasound exam and additional information, Mary Lou Hendry told BP.

“It was a battle for life and death,” Hendry said. “When she saw the baby in her womb, she chose life that day for her unborn child. The most important decision she made that day was to receive Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.”

In the last five years, the ERLC has provided ultrasound machines to centers near the location of the SBC’s annual meeting and donated them not only for typical centers but for mobile units in Florida, Arizona and Louisiana. The mobile units meet a variety of needs:

— The unit operated by the Florida Baptist Children’s Home has been used to combat the outreach of abortion clinics during natural disasters as part of the state convention’s disaster relief outreach. The children’s home also partners with the pregnancy center of the First Baptist Church in Orlando in “going-out” events to reach pregnant women, Mary Lou Hendry said.

— The van used by the Arizona Baptist Children’s Services serves five to seven pregnancy resource centers in the metro Phoenix area, reported Mona McDonald, statewide director of pregnancy care for ABCS.

— The mobile unit for the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home goes throughout the state, providing its services at such events as parish fairs, health fairs, state park festivals and block parties, said Cindy Kouf, director of nursing for the LBCH’s Mobile Pregnancy Care Center. The center also sets up at such locations as church and business parking lots, colleges and universities, and pregnancy resource centers without ultrasound machines.

The ERLC increasingly has worked over the past decade with Baptist state conventions — as well as associations and churches, when possible — to place machines, maintain support and help with accountability, said Bobby Reed, the entity’s vice president for business and finance.

Pregnancy resource centers from throughout the country contact the ERLC with hopes of receiving machines, but the entity is unable to help all of them, Reed told BP.

“We are hopeful that in the future we will be able to increase the number of machines we place,” Reed said, “branching beyond the cities/states where they are holding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting with the dream of having one placed in every state convention, maybe one in every SEND city that has been identified by the North American Mission Board [as the 50 cities in which its work will be prioritized], as well as other areas we can identify as those with the greatest need and opportunity for ministry.”

All gifts to the Psalm 139 Project go toward purchase, delivery and installation of ultrasound machines, as well as training for staff members, since the ERLC’s administrative costs are covered by the SBC’s Cooperative Program.

Information on the Psalm 139 Project and how to give toward providing ultrasound machines through the ministry is available at To watch a video about the Psalm 139 Project, click here.