Nonprofit group working to launch crisis pregnancy center in Presidio

PRESIDIO — A new nonprofit organization plans to open a crisis pregnancy center in Presidio by the end of the year, operating under the umbrella of a religious, anti-abortion organization.  As abortion access in Texas has dwindled, crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) — historically designed to attract women with unplanned pregnancies and dissuade them from seeking abortion care — have drawn controversy and litigation from groups fighting for abortion access. 

Despite the nationwide political controversy surrounding CPCs, the people behind the Presidio Pregnancy Center insist that their focus is filling gaps in regional healthcare. The board for the new center includes former County Judge Cinderela Guevara, who switched political parties prior to last year’s election because of her staunch anti-abortion stance, Customs and Border Protection nurse Maritza Armendariz, Gabriela Graber of First Baptist Church and part-time Presidio resident Chris Ferguson. 

The Presidio Pregnancy Center is affiliated with CareNet, “a nonprofit organization that empowers women and men considering abortion to choose life for their unborn children and find abundant life in Christ,” per their website. 

Many of these programs are worded vaguely — in part because the term “crisis pregnancy center” has become incendiary in a post-Roe world. Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the website Yelp for adding language to listings for CPCs that such facilities “typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite,” per court filings.

Lynette Brehm — the founder and board president of Presidio Pregnancy Center — said its mission was to help women become healthy moms. She said that the idea for the program came from a focus group made up of Presidio women. “One of the things we discovered is that women who have had their pregnancies here shared feeling alone and struggling with their mental health due to difficulties around their pregnancies,” she said. 

In the past two weeks, she has introduced the idea to Presidio City Council and the Presidio Municipal Development District, both of which expressed support for the project. 

The center celebrated a soft-opening of sorts two weekends ago with a diaper drive that distributed supplies to 16 women in the community. For now, giving out items to families in need is the goal — the center does not have a permanent facility and has not yet received any grant funding, and instead has been relying on internal donations.

Eventually, Brehm would like to shift away from giveaways and toward more long-term programs: bilingual prenatal classes, counseling and support for both expectant mothers and fathers, doula services and postpartum care. 

Those who participate in these programs will earn “baby bucks,” or points toward donated goods. “We don’t want to just be an organization that is just giving handouts,” Brehm said. “We want to raise the health literacy in this area for moms.” 

She was particularly excited about inviting fathers-to-be to learn about pregnancy and childbirth. In her research, she had learned that when both partners are involved in the process, mothers and children have better outcomes. “Dads are often forgotten when it comes to pregnancy,” she said. 

Lisa Kettyle, founder of the Big Bend Reproductive Coalition — an organization that aims to provide educational resources related to contraception, abortion and reproductive healthcare — was concerned about the new CPC, which would be the region’s first. “It feels predatory,” she said. “I think they are doing it [in Presidio] because they know that the community is more rural and has fewer services.” 

In her organization’s view, CPCs are dangerous because they claim to offer “education,” often interpreted by laypeople as medical advice. “People are going there thinking they’re going to get legitimate medical care,” she said. “[CPCs] are renowned for being anti-abortion, they’re renowned for giving false information or misleading information. That feels really concerning to us because we want people to be able to get accurate information.”

Maritza Armendariz — a nurse who tends to people in Customs and Border Protection detention — said that the organization’s biggest hurdle is not having a physical space, which is affecting their ability to apply for grants. Both she and Brehm hope that eventually the Pregnancy Center will occupy a house — partly to be able to offer multiple services at once, and partly to create a friendly space for the community to gather. 

In Texas, one of the ways that CPCs can access funding is through the “Choose Life Grant Program.” Though the program focuses on encouraging women who do not want to be pregnant to consider adoption, it is open to any nonprofit organization that provides “counseling and material assistance to pregnant women” free of charge and does not refer people to abortion services. 

The Texas Health and Human Services “Alternatives to Abortion” program also serves Texans directly. The agency contracts crisis pregnancy hotlines and facilities to pregnant women, adoptive parents and those who have suffered miscarriages. Services offered through contracted facilities offer educational classes and counseling, donations of materials and “care coordination” referring families to healthcare services. 

Kettyle explained that because CPCs are not staffed by medical professionals, they are not bound by HIPAA laws protecting patient privacy. In a state like Texas — where “aiding and abetting” abortion is criminalized — many medical professionals worry that talking about abortion openly can lead to legal consequences

Activists like Kettyle are worried that the lack of legal privacy could lead those who seek help from crisis pregnancy centers to face criminal charges. “They don’t advertise that they don’t have medical licenses — they don’t advertise that they don’t have to subscribe to HIPAA,” she said. “They can collect people’s information and distribute it however they’d like.” 

As the only healthcare professional on the team, Armendariz explained that she would not be able to formally use her healthcare expertise without a contract with a doctor — which is required by law in Texas. Exactly how and when the center would market its services was still up in the air. “There’s still a lot of things that have to be [figured out] before we even get there,” she said. 

Brehm stressed that the focus of the center is on education for new and expectant families — the service simply doesn’t have anything to offer for those who have terminated their pregnancies. “Ultimately, the choice is with the mother,” she said. “We’re hoping that [the mother] is going to choose life and that we’ll be able to help her with that.”