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CHOOSE LIFE: San Antonio medical center offers life-saving alternative to Planned Parenthood

April 5th, 2017 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

CHOOSE LIFE: San Antonio medical center offers life-saving alternative to Planned Parenthood

(left-to-right) Life Choices Medical Center executive director Charity Farrar, board chairman and Village Parkway Baptist Church pastor Steve Branson, and clinic director Donna Schmidt stand in front of a proposed rendering of a new building. Photo court

Nobody gave Donna Schmidt options when she had two abortions as a teenager. Schmidt’s parents, the boy’s parents and her pastor recommended the initial procedure in 1970s California. Today, Schmidt, a registered nurse, serves as clinic director of San Antonio’s Life Choices Medical Center to ensure patients in crisis pregnancies understand their choices and receive professional prenatal care. 

Life Choices began more than 20 years ago as the Agape Pregnancy Center. Schmidt, an original board member, was encouraged at that time by her pastor, Steve Branson of Village Parkway Baptist Church in Northwest San Antonio, to become involved. 

A graduate nursing school research paper on the topic of informed consent led Schmidt, then in her 40s, to find healing.

“I started having flashbacks about my abortions,” Schmidt recalled. “God used that class to bring me to abortion recovery.”

God kept “pressing on my heart” to tell Branson about her past, Schmidt told the TEXAN. Both found the conversation transformative as Branson discussed the challenges of addressing abortion from the pulpit. His interest in abortion recovery grew.

Branson has chaired the board of Life Choices for the past five years. “I feel like it’s my center,” he joked, adding that while other churches are involved with Life Choices, Village Parkway “is the main one,” having contributed $800,000 to date. In addition to Schmidt, executive director Charity Farrar and more than half the volunteers and board members attend the church.

From a “mom and pop” pregnancy center, Life Choices has transformed into a comprehensive well-woman health clinic for underserved populations, Branson said. The shift began in 2011 with assistance from Focus on the Family. The clinic was recently approved as a Medicaid provider through the state’s Healthy Texas Woman program.

“We’ve never charged for our services,” Farrar said. “We can be reimbursed for [Medicaid] services from the state of Texas, but the patient never pays.” 

Life Choices provides prenatal and well-woman care, including cervical cancer screening, STD and STI testing. Non-medical services include counseling and classes in parenting, nutrition, lactation and home safety. Personnel facilitate patients’ enrollment in GED and college courses and provide daycare, housing and adoption referrals. Material assistance with diapers, wipes and clothing is also available. 

Until this year, volunteer medical professionals have staffed the clinic, but as of March 1, a nurse practitioner will be employed full time by the center, which expects to see 4,000 patients a year.

A 2017 grant of $100,000 from a local non-profit, coupled with the center’s qualification as a Medicaid provider, has made the addition of the full-time nurse practitioner possible. The grant will cover services for about 670 patients or 1,800 visits. A larger grant is promised next year if the center accomplishes its goals, Farrar said. 

“Our grant is for spiritual wellness, dealing with crisis pregnancies, well-woman care, cervical cancer screenings and prenatal care,” Farrar explained, noting that center personnel will follow up with patients on both health matters and their spiritual journeys.

Life Choices is also a part of the Alternative to Abortion program of the Texas Pregnancy Care Network established in 2006. “We are one of their top providers,” Farrar said, adding that as such, the center certifies that it does not make abortion referrals.

Informed consent is the goal. Life Choices staff use the booklet “A Woman’s Right To Know” published by the Texas Department of Health, which includes information on abortion, pregnancy and adoption to educate clients.

“We give them all of the information. We do not judge them,” Schmidt said. 

“If they walk into an abortion clinic, they are not going to get the whole story,” Farrar added. “We go over all of their options—the risks and benefits—so that they can make an intelligent decision. The decision is completely theirs.”

If a woman chooses to carry a pregnancy to term, Farrar said the center personnel will “walk them through” or provide contacts to adoption agencies. The center makes no referrals to abortion clinics but welcomes patients to return for future services, including abortion recovery.

“We will be here to help them pick up the pieces afterwards,” Farrar said.

“Counseling is very lovingly done. They will be exposed to the gospel: Christ being the one and only way. We will love them through whatever has happened, no matter what,” Branson said.

Still, the goal is to “save babies,” Branson noted, adding that 2,419 infants had been saved in the last five years. In that same time period, the center saw more than 10,000 patients and 509 professions of faith. 

Branson and Farrar credit the gift of two sonogram machines from the local Knights of Columbus Council as instrumental in convincing parents-to-be to choose life. 

With its location near a city bus terminal close to Ingram Park Mall, Life Choices is accessible from all parts of San Antonio and less than two miles from Village Parkway Baptist Church. 

“[At Life Choices], we are doing everything that Planned Parenthood says they do,” Branson said, “but we don’t kill babies.”