Five years ago, Megan Morris approached the pastor of her parish, Holy Family Catholic Church in Orange, with a question: What can we do to replace fear with hope in abortion-vulnerable women?
Her pastor encouraged her to take her question to prayer where Morris said, “The Holy Spirit brought me to the Life Center of Santa Ana, where I began volunteering.”
Now, Morris is executive director of the center, located in a small retail plaza just down the road from Holy Family.
The center, which has a soothing environment filled with encouraging messages and religious images, including one of St. Gianna Boretta Molla — patron saint of mothers, physicians and unborn children — provides the ongoing emotional and material-goods support abortion-vulnerable women need to choose life.
VANESSA IS ONE OF MANY CLIENTS WHO COME TO THE LIFE CENTER OF SANTA ANA FOR RESOURCES AND HELP DURING PREGNANCY. PHOTO BY DREW KELLEY/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
Serving mostly teens and young adults at risk for abortion, the Life Center team provides mentoring and pregnancy options information that begins in a low-lit room with tissues and comfortable couches.
Morris calls this room the “Sacred Space.”
As the Catholic Church celebrates Respect Life Month this October, Morris continues her passionate quest to save the unborn and inspire others to share the good news of the hope available in pregnancy care centers.
Fr. Patrick Moses is the Spiritual Director of the Life Center Board and he had this to say about the program: “Relationships are the threads that weave a sense of purpose and support. At the Life Center of Santa Ana, an organization dedicated to helping mothers facing unplanned pregnancies, these connections take on profound significance. They provide not only guidance and resources but also a nurturing community that reassures women in their most vulnerable moments.”
A TEXTED QUESTION
The center, which is staffed with a small army of volunteers, offers parenting classes to equip young mothers and fathers to be the best parents they can be. The center also has a mentor-match program for abortion-vulnerable women who need a more intimate and personalized plan of support.
Victories at the Life Center of Santa Ana are fervently celebrated, while heartbreak — when a potential or existing client decides to terminate her pregnancy — is a frequent companion.
Morris felt that familiar pang of sorrow when, in March 2022, a woman in her late 20s reached out to the center via text:
I’m looking for after-abortion services like therapy.
“Thank you for having the courage to reach out to me. That’s the first step for healing.”
Morris texted back:
“May I ask when you had your abortion?”
The woman responded:
It’s scheduled for this Friday at 12:45.
It was Wednesday.
Morris and her team had 48 hours to change this woman’s mind.
Could this unborn baby be saved?
The Life Center of Santa Ana is one of a half-dozen pregnancy centers in Orange County that operate in cooperation with the Diocese of Orange’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace.
The center began as a pregnancy crisis hotline in 1975 before opening as a brick-and-mortar service. Ruth and Richard Rozak, now retired, are the founders and former co-directors of the Life Center.
Since 1975, the center has served about 60,000 in-house clients and has taken about 50,000 hotline calls.
Many clients are urged to visit the center by volunteers who pray outside local abortion clinics.
In March 2020, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced its “Walking with Moms” initiative, giving further traction to the center’s mission.
The initiative calls for Catholic parishes and communities to “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women in need, to support local pregnancy centers, and to find and share other resources with pregnant and parenting women.
According to the Life Center, the initiative has resulted in even greater financial and material good support from diocesan parishes.
Additionally, the Life Center hosts opportunities for parishioners to grow in relationships with the clients the center serves.
“Babies are saved when we build Christ-centered relationships with their mothers and fathers,” Morris said.
Some 100 clients come to center each month. About one-third are pregnant and considering abortion. The others are mothers who need baby supplies or parenting help. Vanessa (OC Catholic is only using her first name, at her request) first contacted the center to ask about an ultrasound.
The center is working on being able to provide medical ultrasounds, but it currently contracts with a life imaging service in the same center to provide them. The center does provide free over-the-counter pregnancy tests.
Vanessa made an appointment to see Morris but was a no-show.
Then, in March 2022, she texted Morris about her plans to abort her baby that Friday.
Morris encouraged her to come in and even offered an Uber ride for her.
“We began stalking her with love,” Morris said with a smile. “When you’re talking to abortion-vulnerable women, you have to check in with them every hour and every day, and every word you speak is a prayer.”
THE ADOPTION QUESTION
A single mother, Vanessa has three young sons whose biological father was in their lives.
She became pregnant with another man who no longer was in her life.
A half-dozen times, Vanessa made an appointment for an abortion. But roadblocks came up each time.
“I didn’t have a ride or the money to get to (the abortion clinic),” she said, “or I had to pick my kids up from school.”
Vanessa, who was raised a Catholic, says today: “I knew it was God intervening.”
She said she immediately felt comfortable after meeting Morris, who would later ask if she would like to be paired with a mentor who could walk with her in her pregnancy and provide ongoing emotional support.
Although Vanessa chose life for her baby, her mentor knew she already had layers of real-life challenges that would be strained with adding another child.
A few months into that mentor relationship, Vanessa learned about the gift of adoption and eventually came to realize that it would be the best option for her baby.
“Even saying the word adoption was tough at first,” Vanessa said.
Two of her sisters had abortions. Vanessa’s mother told her to have the baby and give the infant to her to raise. But Vanessa didn’t feel her baby would have a good life because of what she characterizes as her mother’s “limitations.”
But in this emotionally charged arena, decisions can be made only later to be reversed.
A CHANGE OF HEART?
Lisa Gries, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach, was assigned to be Vanessa’s mentor. Her husband, Louis, also participated.
A mentor at the Life Center for two years, Lisa met Vanessa when she was around four months pregnant after texting back and forth with her for months.
By then, Vanessa had settled into the idea of gifting her baby — a boy — for adoption.
With 10 candidate families from around the world, Vanessa chose a couple in Orange County who had struggled to have a child for 15 years.
Lisa was present when Vanessa delivered her baby on Nov. 28, 2022. Waiting in another room at the hospital was the couple set to adopt Vanessa’s baby.
Vanessa’s mom held the infant in her arms and told her she wanted to keep him and raise him.
Vanessa spent about two hours bonding with him.
For a while, Lisa thought Vanessa would change her mind and keep the baby. Officially, she had two months to reconsider.
Vanessa spent a couple of days with her son and carried out her commitment to gift her baby to the local couple.
Fear, Morris said, is the most common reason the women who come into the center are considering abortion.
Fear of not having the money to support a baby. Fear of a lack of family support. Fear of not being equipped to mother.
The list goes on.
“We want to replace fear with hope in abortion-vulnerable women and empower them to choose life for their babies,” Morris said. “My hope is to bridge the gap between the families we serve here and all of our parishes so we can invite vulnerable mothers and fathers home to Christ, His church and a community of support.”
The couple who adopted Vanessa’s baby – Diego, who is approaching his first birthday – sends pictures to Vanessa every month.
“I feel great because I know my son is in good hands and he’s loved and cared for,” said Vanessa, who works part-time and is in the process of earning her high-school diploma. She hopes to become a nursing or dental assistant.
Last year, her three sons — a 9-year-old and twins, 6 — were baptized at Holy Family.
Jorge is the adoptive father of Vanessa’s child. OC Catholic is only using his first name, at his request.
“We’re immensely grateful and blessed for our little treasure,” he says. “(Diego) is incredibly happy and he’s not just a spark of joy to us but to our whole family. No doubt he has been the best decision we’ve made as a couple.”
The adoptive mother told Vanessa: “Your boy will grow up to know his three brothers.”
A while after gifting her baby for adoption, Megan asked Vanessa in a text how she was doing.
Vanessa responded: “I feel happy, thankful and most of all have peace because it was the best decision I could’ve made. But God’s been through my journey, and He provides that comfort and peace in my life.”
Vanessa has no doubt she made the right decision.
“Lisa and Megan are a blessing – they are angels sent to me from God,” she said.
She has shared her experience with other Life Center clients.
A woman was considering keeping her baby and gifting it for adoption.
Vanessa encouraged her.
In a text, she wrote:
A mother’s love for her child is like no other love. To be able to put that feeling aside because you want the best for your child is the most unselfish thing I know.