LONG BEACH — When Maria Lomeli first found out she was pregnant, she refused to eat for two days, hoping to induce a miscarriage.
Her boyfriend, who had fathered the unborn child, was urging her to terminate its life. Her family was not enthusiastic about the pregnancy.
And Lomeli, 19, was unmarried, unemployed and unhinged by the prospect of the huge responsibility she was about to incur.
"I was very confused," the young woman said. "I probably would have had an abortion."
Instead, at the urging of a counselor, she took up residence at the New Life Mother's Home in central Long Beach. And today, slightly more than two months shy of delivery, Lomeli says she made the right decision.
"I feel the baby moving inside me and I start laughing," she says, relaxing in the cozy TV room with a handful of other women in various stages of pregnancy or with babies in their arms.
Chalk up one more baby saved, courtesy of Rebecca Younger and a broad-based coalition of local Christians.
Younger, president of New Life Beginnings Inc., a staunch anti-abortion organization that operates the home for indigent expectant mothers, figures she has saved the lives of about 900 fetuses over the last several years by demonstrating in front of abortion clinics to urge would-be patients against going through with their plans.
Once affiliated with the Orange County-based Crusade for Life, the local group branched out on its own after being named in a lawsuit three years ago by Edward C. Allred, a Long Beach physician and owner of a string of clinics that perform legal abortions.
The suit, alleging that Younger and her cohorts were restricting the free practice of Allred's trade by defaming his character and "offending, intimidating and disturbing" his patients, asked for an injunction to stop the defendants. The request was denied in all but one case.
Younger, 37, sees the lawsuit as the beginnings of the New Life shelter, which she opened earlier this year.
"We wanted to be against abortion, but we couldn't be against abortion without offering an alternative," says the homemaker and mother who now works full time at the maternity home without salary.
'To God Be All Glory'
That alternative is a three-story Victorian house that Younger and her group paid for partially out of funds collected from the local church community for their legal defense. Located in a poor neighborhood near Poly High School, the front is graced by a prominently displayed sign: "To God Be All the Glory."
And posted above each of its 12 bedrooms, simple wooden placards proclaim simple Biblical virtues: Faith, Gentleness, Meekness, Temperance and Long-Suffering.
It is to this place that pregnant women come when they have nowhere else to go, says Younger, who became involved in the abortion issue after a friend got pregnant and subsequently was abandoned by her husband. The woman ended up staying with the Younger family until other arrangements could be made, the first of 12 pregnant women to do so.
At the maternity home, says Younger, such women are now given food, shelter, counseling and the companionship of others in similar straits. Whenever possible, they are referred to agencies that can help them find permanent housing and employment after delivery.
'We Give Them Hope'
"Mainly we give them hope," says Younger, adding that the women are expected to attend daily Christian devotional sessions as well as twice-a-week Bible studies and Sunday services at a church of their choice.
In opening its doors to pregnant women, the home has become one of several area shelters offering similar services.
"It's a real need," said Janet Teuerle, co-director of Lydia House, a shelter run by the Long Beach Rescue Mission, whose residents include pregnant women.
"Women need a choice," she said. "Years ago there were lots of such homes, then the pill came and freedom came and girls were allowed to abort. Now we're coming to realize that not every woman wants to abort. We're saying that there's a choice."
Spokesmen for both United Way and Catholic Charities in Long Beach agreed that shelters open to pregnant women are a major need in the community.
No Psychological Coercion
And Marilyn Gottschall, director of the Women's Resource Center at California State University, Long Beach and a staunch supporter of the right of women to obtain legal abortions, said she has no problem with a shelter serving as an alternative to abortion as long as no psychological coercion is involved.
"The whole philosophy of pro-choice is that a woman must have choices," said Gottschall, adding that she is opposed to demonstrations in front of abortion clinics because they constitute the harassment of psychologically vulnerable women.
"It's true that sometimes there are women who don't feel they have choices and therefore turn to abortion. Knowing they have a place to go gives them an option."