Tracy Frank, the 59-year-old executive director of Hope Pregnancy Centers (HPC) of Brazos Valley, Texas, walked through the rooms of her organization's newest piece of real estate. She and HPC's supporters had written Bible verses on every wall of the nondescript building. Though construction crews had torn down the fence and gate out front, they left some of the brick pillars—"Ebenezer stones," Frank calls them—as a permanent testimony to the building's sordid past.
Because before the facility at 4112 East 29th Street became the new home for several pro-life organizations late last year, it was a Planned Parenthood facility called the Center for Choice.
The building's transformation from a place where women could get abortions to a place where they can receive medical treatment, counseling, referrals and resources from a pro-life perspective is believed to be the first ever in America.
A regional affiliate of Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast, the Center for Choice opened in Bryan in 1999. With Texas A&M University and Blinn College nearby, Center for Choice offered birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and both chemical and surgical abortions. Though Planned Parenthood officials told local news affiliate KBTX in 2013 that abortion accounted for only 10 percent of its services in Bryan, life advocates familiar with the facility's history estimate that translates into more than 6,400 lives lost to abortion over the last 16 years—a sizable chunk of Bryan's and nearby College Station's combined 180,000 residents.
The same year that Center for Choice debuted, Tandy Earley Kubitz discovered she was pregnant. Though she had been "quite involved" in pro-life activities in high school, even attending a large rally at the state capitol in Austin, Kubitz briefly considered becoming one of the abortion center's first clients. An unmarried college student, she was embarrassed and terrified to tell her parents.
"I was an extremely scared young lady who knew what the right choice was, but due to the choice I made leading up to that moment, I was greatly tempted to consider abortion," she tells Citizen.
Yet Kubitz, now 37 and a personal trainer, skipped Planned Parenthood for a different center—one that began serving girls, women and babies in the Brazos Valley 14 years before Center for Choice opened its doors.
"I sought counsel at Hope Pregnancy Centers in Bryan," Kubitz wrote on the group's Facebook page. "They sat with me, they loved on me, and they helped me gain courage. From that moment on, I felt my heart and the Lord tell me that amazing things would happen through this kid."
"This kid" is Kolton, today a 16-year-old guitarist and worship intern at his church. If not for him, Kubitz says, she may never have learned compassion for girls and women facing unplanned pregnancies—so much so that she became a lay counselor at HPC after Kolton's birth.
"I believe one of the reasons the Lord allowed me to go through this was to learn compassion for these women," she says. "The people at Hope were never once judgmental, but instead loved on me through one of the hardest times in my life."
That's the sort of pro-mother, pro-baby attitude Frank and the HPC staff hope to embody.
"It's not laws, but the feelings of hopelessness and the lack of support that women experience during a crisis pregnancy that drives them to seek abortions," they write on their Web site. "So if outlawing abortion will not end abortion, what will? Hope Pregnancy Centers' big idea is this: by providing the care and support women in crisis need during pregnancy and beyond to be healthy and successful, we will ultimately remove the need for abortion."
To that end, HPC, now in its 31st year of operation, offers pregnancy tests, limited obstetric ultrasounds, prenatal vitamins, peer counseling (including a 24-hour hotline), referrals, post-abortion counseling and information, parenting classes, baby items and sexual health education and counseling to members of both genders. All services are free of charge and confidential, while testing, treatment and ultrasounds are also overseen by certified medical associates.
"Hope Pregnancy's example should inspire Christians in every city in America to be on the offense in their stand for life," says life advocate Pam Tebow, who delivered a keynote address at HPC's 30th annual fundraising dinner last year.
An Unusual Transaction
The eventual collision between HPC and the Center for Choice began in 2011, when the Texas Legislature voted to phase out abortion-based health centers from its Medicaid program. By 2013, Planned Parenthood was no longer eligible for its usual share of state funding.
On July 18, 2013, then-Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 2 into law, banning abortions in Texas after 20 weeks' gestation, requiring abortion facilities to have the same safety standards as ambulatory surgical centers and mandating that abortionists have admitting privileges at local hospitals. That same day, Planned Parenthood announced it would permanently shutter its facilities in Bryan, Lufkin and Huntsville within a month.
Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast President Melaney Linton told KBTX the closures stemmed from budget cuts. "It's a heartbreaking decision to have to make, but it's a practical one," she said, citing approximately 60 local family-planning centers that shut down after losing funding. An official press release also blamed politicians; the closures were "due to years of cuts of millions of dollars from the budget for family planning programs and as a result of the persistent attacks on women's health."
Abby Johnson, a life advocate who once served as director of the Center for Choice in Bryan, disagrees. "Planned Parenthood is choosing to close rather than bring their current centers up to legal safety standards," she wrote in a 2014 blog post for LifeSiteNews. "They have also been cited for untrained staff, dirty equipment, expired medications given to patients … the list goes on and on. So, instead of fixing these problems, Planned Parenthood has chosen to close these facilities. Pro-lifers didn't force them to close. They chose to close them all on their own."
Center for Choice did so at the end of August 2013, as promised. While many Brazos Valley residents wondered what would become of the building, former abortion worker-turned-pro-life-author Carol Everett had a gut reaction: HPC should purchase the building and use it for better purposes. So she called Frank and floated the idea.
"I said, 'Great, Carol, now how am I going to do that?'" Frank recalls. "She said she didn't know, but she would help!"
Frank didn't think Planned Parenthood would appreciate an offer from a pro-life organization, nor did she know where the money for a building valued at $1.2 million would come from. But after meeting with HPC's major donors and receiving around $200,000 in pledges, Frank knew the building's transformation was a possibility. 40 Days for Life, the organization that was founded directly across the street from Center for Choice in 2004 and played a key role in Johnson's conversion to Christianity, also initially pledged $100,000.
Next came the decision to, as Frank puts it, "go in loud and proud."
"We called (Planned Parenthood) up and said Hope Pregnancy Centers is interested in purchasing your building, and they said, 'OK.' "
After some negotiation for the "as-is" facility, HPC made its final offer in August 2014 and closed on the property that October.
As part of its purchase agreement, HPC cannot disclose the exact price it paid for the building. But with the purchase price plus renovations, the pregnancy centers put $725,000 into the 6,000-square-foot facility through a combination of private, interest-free loans, pledges and a minority share from 40 Days for Life. HPC plans to eventually become debt-free by paying off the remaining $205,000 of its loans as quickly as possible.
"What a transformation—to turn a place void of life and hope into one of help and healing," says Tebow.
Center for Choice is now Testing 4 U, a place where anyone, male or female, can receive free, confidential testing, treatment, education and advice on STIs like chlamydia and herpes. The building also houses the new offices of Brazos Medical Associates and 40 Days for Life.
All three organizations held their grand opening last September and are now in full operation. Testing 4 U's volunteers and staff, including registered nurses, handle the intake, education and lab work. A married couple, both of whom are former abortionists who now offer care from a pro-life perspective, perform the exams and prescribe treatment through Brazos Medical Associates. The clinic anticipates 750 clients a year and hopes to eventually add services like post-abortive physical wellness, abortion pill reversal and counseling.
HPC, which still operates out of its main facility in College Station, aims to reach the 75,000 college students in and around Bryan with Testing 4 U. According to the Centers for Disease Control, fully half of all new cases of STIs are acquired by 15- to 24-year-olds. That number and age group includes 70 percent of all new gonorrhea diagnoses.
"You can reach (Texas A&M and Blinn students) with information, education and God's plan for sex and marriage," Frank told Live Action News, "so they can avoid getting into that place where they are having to make a life-and-death decision."
While abortion activists decry the Center for Choice's closure as one fewer health care option for low-income women, the Texas Women's Health Program lists 97 facilities or physicians within 30 miles of Bryan dedicated to serving that demographic—without providing abortion. Though HPC is not on that list, in 2014 alone, it met with 1,364 women and 319 men, counseled 451 abortion-minded females and performed 720 ultrasounds.
HPC and Testing 4 U are affiliates of Care Net, a national network of more than 1,100 faith-based pregnancy care centers. Like all Care Net members, neither HPC nor Testing 4 U offer contraception, but instead aim to provide scientifically sound information about sexual topics through the lens of faith. Frank says her staff members ask permission to "share the Gospel" with clients, and around 90 percent of them consent.
"We are very evangelical in nature," she says, noting the large international population in Brazos County. "We have the opportunity to share the Gospel with people from the Middle East, Asia, Europe. We were able to give a crib to a couple from Taiwan recently. Where else can you do international missions without leaving home?"
Some pro-life advocates, including Johnson, say it's wrong for life groups to further enrich Planned Parenthood by purchasing former abortion facilities. But "as a building, it is neither evil nor good. It has no power to hurt or to heal," Frank says of her group's new home. "Going forward, it is our desire for this building not be known for its past, but for the good work performed."
More than 23,000 Brazos Valley residents have experienced that good work. Frank and other HPC and Testing 4 U supporters, which include Pam Tebow and two presidential candidates, hope those numbers grow.
"Purchasing this building was more than a financial transaction—it was the answer to more than 15 years of prayer to redeem what was once used for evil," Frank says. "It is an encouragement to those who have prayed outside abortion (facilities) that God answers prayers and is in control. We have to trust that His ways are not our ways, but all things work together for the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
"We didn't purchase (the building) for us, but to make His name known and to tell of His wonderful acts," she says. "It is His story and His people should tell it."