The critical pro-life work of pregnancy resource centers

An interview with Laura Messick of Portico in Tennessee

January 24, 2022

Pregnancy Care Centers are critical to the pro-life work in the United States, creating safe and loving environments for women facing unplanned pregnancies. Laura Messick is the executive director of Portico, a 35-year-old pregnancy resource center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Portico has been the recipient of two ultrasound machines placed by the ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project. Messick gives us an inside look at the work and the heart of those who serve the most vulnerable among us.  

Jill Waggoner: Would you tell us about the scope of the work at Portico and what it is that you do there?

Laura Messick: We see women who are pregnant and either don’t want to be or are experiencing fear. Many are undecided about what they want to do. Some of them are what we call “abortion vulnerable.” They may not have a good living arrangement, or they may have someone who is pressuring them about abortion. So women like these come in to get a pregnancy test. When they’re eligible, they get the ultrasound. We like to do ultrasounds when they’re about seven weeks’ gestation. 

We dispense prenatal vitamins, our nurses do a thorough wellness assessment, then we try to schedule them to come back at the optimal time to do the ultrasound and talk to them about their options. We give them a real explanation of what abortion is, what will happen at this stage of gestation, and what the abortion would be like. 

We really focus on educating women. We like them to see the development of the baby, which people don’t find out about in an abortion clinic. We give them a true picture, not in a morbid way or to scare them, but to just say, “Here’s what’s really going on. Be educated. Be informed before you let yourself make a decision that you cannot undo.” We try to encourage them to take their time to wait and not feel like they have to jump into a hasty decision. And then we tell them the resources that are available to them should they choose to carry the baby or to work an adoption plan. 

We readily acknowledge these three things are before them: abortion, adoption, and parenting. In doing so, we’re trying to point out to them that abortion is not the answer. We’ve had so many women come to us, post-abortive, that have said, “I just wish someone had told me. I just wish I had known.” 

We also talk to them about the abortion pill and make sure they know if they were to take the first pill, they can still change their minds. There is a an abortion reversal procedure. And many, many children have been saved through abortion pill reversal. 

If they choose to parent, we have a wonderful program called “Earn While You Learn,” where the mother and the father can learn life and parenting skills. And in participating in that program, they earn “Baby Bucks,” which is money they can spend in our boutique. It is beautiful, just like they’ve come in to shop at a store. They can buy gently used things, but everyone gets a new baby pack when the baby is born as our gift to them. They can shop from pregnancy up to the second year of the child’s life at the boutique. Every client that has been with us at least three times and then gets to her third trimester is eligible for a baby shower where she can get bigger things she needs or just things that she wants. 

We also teach a program called “Optimal Health for Me,” a sexual-risk avoidance education in our public schools for mainly sixth through ninth grade. We’ve been doing that for over 20 years. We’re teaching kids the skills that they need to develop good decision making. We encourage them to not be involved sexually until after marriage, and encourage them that they’re in season of life where they need to work on their character, plans, and goals, which is now a countercultural message. 

We also have a men’s program and a mobile ministry. The Psalm 139 Project gave us our mobile ultrasound machine. It goes out into the community across Middle Tennessee. Clients can walk into the mobile and get their pregnancy tests, ultrasound, and counseling. 

​​JW: Why are ultrasound machines so important to your ministry?

LM: Ultrasound machines are important because women need to have all the information that’s available to them. They need to be given the power to make a truly informed decision. So many women end up having abortions because they literally just don’t know. They don’t know the humanity of their baby. To see that baby on an ultrasound is a powerful, moving moment that I believe every woman deserves to be able to have. So having that as a tool has been a wonderful blessing to us and to our clients. We’ve had so many stories and testimonials about the effectiveness of them. At this point, 15 years after we started offering ultrasounds, I cannot imagine our work without them. 

JW: What is your community like? Can you describe your clients?

LM: Murfreesboro is home to Middle Tennessee State University, which is the largest undergraduate university in the state of Tennessee. We do see a fair amount of college students. Most of our clients identify as “nonstudents,” although our biggest demographic, age-wise, is about 19 to 24. We also see young professional women. Murfreesboro is an upwardly mobile community. The majority of the clients that we have are single, but some are married as well. 

JW: How do you see God at work through Portico?

LM: We see God at work in so many different ways. People just have so many different needs, and we have the most amazing, compassionate client advocates. Some have been through abortion themselves and some just have a heart for these women. They’re all wonderful, compassionate ladies, and our clients really benefit from that. God works through them.

JW: For you personally, how does your faith inform your pro-life work?

LM: I believe the foundational truth that we are all created in God’s image. When I was a 25-year-old, stay-at-home mom with my first baby, I became aware of late-term aborted babies that were discovered in dumpsters in California through a news program. When I saw that story, God just literally pierced my heart. And from that moment on — and I’m 64 now — I have really felt like it was my responsibility as a member of the body of Christ to speak the truth about life and about abortion, but not in an unkind way. 

We have to speak to the church, especially. We cannot sit idly by and pretend like we don’t know what’s going on. Many have come to a place of real complacency and acceptance because abortion is a giant in the land, and we don’t feel that there’s anything we can do about it. But that doesn’t lessen our responsibility before the Lord to speak the truth and to speak up for these little ones who cannot speak for themselves. So we have to find very practical ways to really help people, not just rail against the darkness. That’s what Portico and the pregnancy center movement in our nation is all about. We say, “Let us show you a better way, and we’re going to help you through this.”

JW: How can we pray for ministries like yours, and how can we get involved? 

LM: Please pray that God will open doors up for us to see the clients that are out there that need to be seen. We are constantly fighting a cultural battle. There are forces that don’t like what we do, and so they want to undermine us. They want to mislabel us and spread things about us that are not true in order to keep women from coming in. When women come in, they receive love and care and mercy, which we are giving out in the name of Jesus. I pray frequently, “Lord, send the women today that are out there that need what Portico has to offer.” 

Secondly, pray that abortion in our nation would no longer be the law of the land. I think everybody’s aware of what’s going on in the Supreme Court right now. So pray for pregnancy centers. There are almost 3,000 of them across the United States, and they’re all doing a vital and wonderful work. Numbers of abortions have actually continued to decline for many years now. And I think a lot of that is due to the presence and the strength of pregnancy centers in communities in the United States.

JW: How can people become involved with a pregnancy care center and their community?

LM: Most pregnancy centers operate with volunteers. We are very volunteer-driven. We have four full-time and five part-time staff members for all of our programs and then a wonderful volunteer base. Many volunteers interact with the clients, but there are many other things that people can do. Our center has a “Plug into Portico” event that people can come to every other month to get introduced to everything that we do and learn how they can be involved. And we have a prayer team. Of course, we need people’s financial gifts, even a small monthly gift; it adds up. So in addition to all of those things, be a community advocate, talking about pregnancy care centers in your community and in your church. 

Jill Waggoner

Jill Waggoner serves as a communications and PR strategist, writing and developing content for the organization’s online and print resources. She has served the ERLC since 2005, including as brand manager for Global Hunger Relief from 2014-2018. A graduate of Union University, she and her family reside in Lebanon, Tennessee. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24