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Tipsheet

Washington, D.C. Pregnancy Center Provides Support, Opportunities, and Hope for Expectant Families

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The sign above the building entrance shows a tree with heart shaped leaves next to the center’s name in gold lettering. Inside, it is quiet, comfortable, and welcoming, with light blue walls, which convey a calm atmosphere amid the clothing and shoes scattered about and the shelves brimming with jars of baby food and children’s books. The prayer box is unobtrusive, but reveals the roots of the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center. Slips of paper for writing down prayer intentions sit on a pedestal in the lobby to serve the spiritual needs of expectant mothers after their material needs have been met.

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Through all of the vandalism and threats surrounding the Dobbs decision, located just blocks away from the Supreme Court, the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center has continued to provide life-changing services with its chin up and its arms open.

“Many clients choose life once they see they have a support system," said Janet Durig, executive director of CHPC.

Durig has spearheaded the nonprofit’s efforts to provide material and emotional support for D.C. women, children and families for 19 years. Everything offered at the center — from pregnancy tests and parenting classes to strollers and pack ‘n plays — is free for anyone who comes through their doors. Their no-cost services are hugely important — according to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly a quarter of women who get abortions get them for economic reasons. Not to mention, in 2019 alone, pregnancy centers served almost 2 million people, according to the Heritage Foundation.

No wonder these centers have become Public Enemy No. 1 among pro-abortion champions. Dozens have been hit in recent weeks with unsettling graffiti, threatening messages and Molotov cocktails. Not to mention, with hit-pieces from publications like Time magazine, and, of course, endless attacks from Democratic politicians.

Being in the nation’s capital, CHPC has certainly not been exempt from this. 

On the morning of June 3, a neighbor contacted Durig asking her to come to the center. Durig rushed over to see red paint splattered on the center’s front door and the phrase “Jane says revenge” spray-painted in black on an exterior wall. Multiple surfaces on the exterior had been egged.

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A vandal had targeted the pro-life center overnight. Though noone was identified or apprehended, signs indicate the attack was tied to pro-abortion group Jane’s Revenge.

“The first word I felt was sad,” Durig said in response to the vandalism. “The center’s been here 37 years. It’s been in this building 25. In 25 years, we never had any vandalism.”

But, Durig’s dismal feelings in the aftermath of the attack didn’t last long.

“As the day wore on and more and more people came to the center, there was just an uplifting that took over,” she said. “This is not a pleasant thing to have happened, but there’s a lot of people out there that are supportive of the work we do, understand the work we do, and cared enough to take time to let me know that. They lifted my spirits. So the sad went away and became lifted.”

Durig said the police response was particularly encouraging. At the end of the day, a cleaning crew power-washed the front door to remove the red paint and repainted the section of the exterior wall with writing on it.

The center has not seen any more incidents after June 3, even after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Durig said the Court’s decision did not change the trajectory of the work at the center.

“The mood’s one of moving forward, just like we always did, because it doesn’t change anything here in DC,” she said. “In this city, nobody’s debating overturning abortion laws, nobody’s fighting it, it’s a done deal here. It’s not like we’re going to see a rush of clients who can’t have an abortion anymore.”

Durig and all her staff and volunteers are committed to respecting the the choice of every single woman who walks through their doors, something abortion advocates accuse pregnancy centers of avoiding. Some of the women that come in for pregnancy tests or other support during pregnancy know they want to keep their baby, but need help and guidance providing for their child.

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Others come in nervous and overwhelmed — they’re what Durig calls “abortion-minded.” When talking to this latter group, staff and volunteers only offer information if clients ask for it or consent to hear it.

“We offer education about what each of the different kinds of abortions are at different stages,” Durig said. “If they want to know that information, we give it to them. We talk to them and give them literature on it. And if they don’t want to know, then we don’t force our information on them.”

Durig and other CHPC staffers never try to convince clients to do anything they don’t want to do. If a woman wants an abortion, they will never tell her not to get one. CHPC makes a point to make women who get abortions still feel welcome at the center, since its mission is to serve.

“When a person leaves the center, if she goes ahead and has an abortion, we want her to feel free to come back if she needs anything after an abortion,” Durig said. “We do not stand in her way in that, we just provide the education that she may be seeking.”

Durig said staff and volunteers never say or do anything to shame women for wanting or getting abortions.

“We believe in life because we’re Christian and we’re life-affirming. However, we know women come to us knowing there is a choice out there for them,” Durig said. “We want them to make an educated decision and have a thought process that gets beyond the fear or the nervousness that they might be feeling at that point.”

Many women come to the center thinking abortion is their only option — that their life will be over or derailed if they don’t terminate their pregnancy. In these cases, client advocates present all the available options and ask questions about their thought process to help them think through their concerns. 

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“If a client is abortion-minded or abortion vulnerable, we ask her if she’d like to know what an abortion is. If she doesn’t want to know, we stop right there,” she said. “Most clients who have never had an abortion do want to understand the procedure.”

Durig takes this aspect of their services very seriously and ensures her workers do too.

For expectant mothers, CHPC provides material support as early as 30 days before the due date, as well as childbirth and parenting classes. Once the baby is born families can come back every 30 days for more supplies. Durig said these regular visits give them the opportunity to build relationships with clients.

“We end up getting to watch their children grow,” she said.

CHPC has a wide range of children’s clothing and diaper sizes, from newborn to four years old. The basement of the facility has volunteer and staff workers folding clothes, sorting diapers, and organizing larger items like strollers, car seats and pack ‘n plays.

Anyone in need can benefit from the center’s material resources  — not just people who come for pregnancy tests or support during their pregnancy.

“The need is so great in the city and we have so much to give that it would be wasteful for us not to do that,” she noted.

According to DC Health Matters, nearly half of all children in D.C. lived in single-parent households in 2020. There are about 130,000 children in D.C., or about a fifth of the city’s total population, and about 35 percent of those children are younger than 5. 

Every item they give away is acquired through donations. In the center’s earlier days, they struggled to keep a good stock of items to give to expectant mothers.

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“When I first came here, there was nothing to give away,” Durig said.

On her second day working at the center, a client came in for material support. Durig and another worker rooted through the basement and tried to find anything, any one thing, to give away. All they had was one sleeper. That day, Durig realized things had to change.

“I don’t know how it happened except by the Lord, because it just seemed like little by little and all at once, the bins were full, and they stay full. They actually stay full.”

Beyond pregnancy tests, material support, and classes, another of the center’s main focuses is emotional support — emotional support for parents facing hard times, for mothers nervous about pregnancy and childbirth and for women who have faced pregnancy loss.

“That’s miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion, and people who feel like they need to heal from any of those,” Durig said. The staff and volunteers will meet with clients and provide a confidential environment for them to work through their thoughts and feelings surrounding pregnancy.

Durig recalls a memorable client, a young father and his child. The center used its resources for and established a relationship with him after he visited for the first time a few years ago. She did not disclose his identity to protect his privacy.

“On a cold October day, this young man came in. He had on one of those puffy jackets and he looked like he was pregnant because he had his baby against his chest underneath his coat,” Durig said. “He had come because he lived about two blocks away and he was freezing outside. He had a job, but he didn’t have a lot of spare money after he had paid his rent and bought whatever he needed for himself and the child to eat and things like that.”

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He had stopped someone on the street and had asked where he could get a coat for the baby. He was directed to the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center.

“He was so sweet and he was so happy. We gave him two coats, two jackets for the baby.”

He started making appointments and coming to the center regularly for supplies, and all the staff and volunteers got to know him.

“One day he called and he said, ‘Miss Janet, I’m in a mess.’”

The young man and his child lived in a room in his sister’s apartment which he was careful to keep locked — his sister and her friends did drugs in the apartment and he wanted to keep his belongings safe. One night, he came back from work. The lock on his door was busted and the money he had saved was gone from his safe. He packed everything up and called Durig, desperate for help.

“I have nowhere to go. I have absolutely nowhere to go,” he told her.

Durig reached out to her church which owns transitional housing for the homeless. Her pastor said one of their two apartments was open, so she packed the man’s belongings into her own car and took him and the child to the apartment.

“We went out there, and you’d have thought I gave him gold — you’d have thought I gave him the world.”

Durig said while he lived there, the men in her church mentored him and helped him grow as a father. He also worked to repair his relationship with his mother.

“He had been estranged from his mother because years ago he had done drugs,” she said. “He got off those drugs, but she didn’t believe him. Somehow he got word through a brother or sister to his mother that he’d been clean for a long time and that he had this baby and the church was helping him.”

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Durig didn’t hear from the father for a while. But a few months ago, he sent Durig a picture of him and his siblings with their mother. 

“What we do can help change a person’s life in a way that makes a difference forever,” she said.

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