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‘We Better Step Up’

Laura Messick Paves The Way For Christians To Provide Compassion And Care

Meredith Flynn

It was a news story about sanitation workers that woke Laura Messick up to the abortion crisis. Then a 25-year-old new mother, Messick saw a report about men who cleaned out dumpsters containing babies aborted late in pregnancy. 

Those men and the trauma they experienced sparked something new in her. “I basically was agnostic about abortion,” said Messick, now executive director of Portico pregnancy resource center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.1https://porticostory.org “When I heard that, I became instantly convicted as a Christian that we had a role to play.”

Messick was a young teenager when Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the U.S. She doesn’t remember it being talked about in church back then. But the story she saw as a young mom compelled her to start praying with her small group and her church. Over the next year, they connected with others in Murfreesboro who had the same convictions. A clinic in Nashville offered training to the new group, and Messick and others founded Portico, now almost 37 years old.

“I really felt the weight of my Christian faith being challenged by my non-concern with what was going on with abortion in America,” Messick said of that initial wake-up call. In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe marked another seismic shift in the pro-life movement she has been part of for nearly four decades. While the court’s decision hasn’t really affected day-to-day operations at Portico, it does present a new opportunity for Christians to love people well and use their own voices to speak God’s truth about the sanctity of life, Messick said.

She and a group of prayer partners had been praying for Roe’s overturn before its 50th anniversary in early 2023. It was improbable and totally God-ordained, Messick said. “There’s no way that Roe v. Wade should have been overturned when it was, except by the hand of God.” The decision brings with it new scrutiny for pro-life advocates, she acknowledged. 

“We better step up.”

How hiccups soften hearts

Messick apologized for construction noise on her end of the phone during our interview due to security updates at the center. These updates currently underway aren’t due to any specific threats, she said. However, Portico is dedicated to providing a safe space for clients amid the quickly evolving cultural landscape.

Those clients have been the focus from the very beginning, when the center offered free pregnancy tests at a time they were difficult to obtain and expensive. In 2005, Portico made the conversion to a medical clinic and began offering ultrasounds. The center also now operates a mobile ultra-sound unit. 

In addition to that vital service, Portico now provides testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), parenting education and support, and a public school program focused on sexual risk avoidance. And, recognizing that dads also need someone to talk to, Portico is currently strengthening its men’s program designed to help them understand the value of fatherhood. 

In 2021, the center saw 867 individual clients who made nearly 3,000 visits to Portico for various services. “We’re encouraging people to understand the value and the humanity of their child, but we also want them to know that they have help,” Messick said.

Diandra Bell was involved with a ministry to teen moms when she first encountered Portico. Now, as the center’s nurse manager for the last three years, she does limited ultrasounds for women to confirm pregnancy and give them the opportunity to watch their baby on the ultrasound screen.

“When you are pregnant and you’re in crisis, it is difficult to think of something that’s inside you as a living being. Your brain is focused on just surviving,” Bell said. “Pretty early on babies move and wiggle and have hiccups. When the mom sees that and sees that the baby really is living, it really softens the heart and makes a big difference in their decision.”

At Portico, clients who undergo ultrasounds complete an exit interview about their experience at the center. Bell remembered one woman who chose adoption for her son and realized that in her decision, she’d provided hope to his adoptive family. “I had to have hope to provide hope,” she said. She’d found that hope at Portico.

“I think it’s important that people know that the work that pregnancy resource centers do across the nation is truly to love women and give them a safe place to get all the information they need before they make a decision,” Bell said. “We’re not here to change their minds; we’re here to change their hearts.” The staff at Portico meets families in crisis with love and understanding—led by Messick, Bell said.

“She fights hard. She fights hard for those girls out there.”

‘We’re all responsible’

As Portico steps into a post-Roe reality, Messick is adamant that truth and love will play integral roles in how the center—and the Church—continues to influence the culture in life-giving, 

life-affirming ways. The church has a responsibility to teach God’s truth about sexuality, family, and the sanctity of life. Christians have a calling to reach into what Messick called a culture of brokenness to bring light where it’s needed most.

“The church has a tremendous opportunity to step into that and provide true compassion and mercy and help for people.” Learning to speak truth in love is part of the training for Portico’s client advocates. That principle should apply to all Christians, Messick said, particularly at a time when social media platforms can be used to mow people, rather than reflect God’s goodness.

“I don’t think that anybody is going to change their minds by being yelled at or preached at or condescended to, but I think that when we are generally humble, kind people, and when we live what we say we believe, that begins to affect the community around us.”

One area of urgent need is single mothers and their children, Messick said. Churches could provide childcare or transportation for families, meeting real needs in practical ways. 

“I do have a passion for God’s people to come to the understanding and the realization that we all need to use our voice to stand up and speak up for God’s truth,” she said. Like her wake-up call 37 years ago, there are others well-equipped and well-positioned to speak light into darkness. 

“We’re all responsible,” Messick said. “If God has put us in a place of strength and stability, we need to be reaching out to others around us and providing help.”

Meredith Flynn is the Managing Editor for Illinois Baptist State Association.