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New-Style Maternity Homes Offer Religion With Prenatal Care

December 17, 1987|BILL LOHMANN | United Press International

THORSBY, Ala. — King's Ranch sits alone in the Alabama countryside, where paved roads are luxuries and cows and chickens are never far away.

The living quarters are cheerily decorated and scrupulously tidy. Bible Scriptures hang on the walls while teddy bears and other stuffed animals rest on the neatly made beds.

In the dining room, the residents circle an enormous table and bow their heads for grace before dinner.

However, King's Ranch is not a run-of-the-mill country home, nor are its residents common country folk.

King's Ranch is a maternity home, one of the growing number of new-style homes operated by fundamentalist religious groups, and its residents are all pregnant teen-agers. The bottom line, the groups says, is that King's Ranch and similar homes provide an alternative to abortion.

"Some of the girls tell us they came so close to getting an abortion, and they were so glad they found us," said Steve Goebel, whose father, Birmingham evangelist Wales Goebel, founded King's Ranch. "It's unique that we're here to help."

Kim is a 17-year-old King's Ranch resident whose smile reveals a shiny set of braces and whose expectant condition belies her otherwise-youthful features.

Against Abortion

"Abortion went through my mind," Kim said. "It goes through every girl's mind in this situation. But I'm just totally against it. These homes are a lot better."

Pamela, 16, another boarder at King's Ranch, said: "I like it here because it's quiet. But I hate cows."

Homes for unwed mothers fell out of fashion in the 1970s after the Supreme Court legalized abortions, and the stigma of being a single parent virtually vanished. More than half of the homes nationwide closed.

But in the last several years, maternity homes have made a comeback. In 1981, there were fewer than 100 licensed maternity homes nationwide. Now there are more than 150, and the number is increasing as the heated abortion controversy continues and the number of abortions--about 40% of the 1 million adolescent pregnancies each year result in abortion--stays high.

"King's Ranch represents the fastest-growing types of maternity homes, which is what I call the small sectarian maternity home," said William Pierce, president of the National Committee for Adoption, a non-sectarian organization that gathers information and lobbies on behalf of the nation's adoption agencies and maternity homes.

In the 1960s, half of all maternity homes were run by religious organizations. Now the figure is closer to two-thirds.

"It's fair to say the major motivating factor for the majority of sectarian agencies is they want to provide alternatives to abortion," Pierce said. "People said, 'Put your money where your mouth is,' so they did."

Sav-A-Life Offshoot

King's Ranch, midway between Birmingham and Montgomery, is operated by Lifeline Children's Services, an offshoot of the abortion-alternative Sav-A-Life organization. Wales Goebel founded Sav-A-Life in 1980, providing telephone counseling, free pregnancy tests and vivid pep talks against abortion.

While waiting for test results at a Sav-A-Life office, the women are met by counselors and shown a film of an actual abortion.

Some anti-abortion groups take such opportunities to the extreme, showing movies or slide shows of a room piled high with fetuses or a bucket of human body parts. David Andrews, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a pro-choice group, calls such dramatics "psychological terrorism." He said some anti-abortion groups use misleading advertising--billboards with "Pregnant? Worried?" and then a telephone number are popular--to encourage callers without a hint of their ultimate intention.

Sav-A-Life is more moderate than some groups, but the message is clear.

"Of course, we encourage a girl not to have an abortion," said John Carr, director of Lifeline. "We want the girls to understand that an abortion is taking the life of a child."

Sav-A-Life spawned Lifeline and other crisis pregnancy counseling centers and maternity homes across the South. Among the more well-known entries are Jerry Falwell's Liberty Godparent Ministry, an organization offering pregnancy counseling, maternity homes and adoption services and the PTL ministry's Heritage House, a home for unwed mothers in South Carolina.

Bethany Christian Services, with headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., had one branch office before abortion was legalized. Now it has 29 offices, maternity homes in Maryland and California and is one of the nation's leading private adoption agencies.

Extensive Influence

In the views of such religious organizations, the aims are simple--to prevent an abortion and save the soul of the mother. In the case of those that also provide adoption services, such as Lifeline, the entire process extends to recruitment, scrutiny and selection of a "Christian home" for the child.

"We're influencing the mother, child and adoptive parents," Carr said. "We have an opportunity to have an impact on a lot of lives."

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