STAMFORD —For many years, Noelle Amann was a sidewalk counselor who stood outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Stamford, trying to persuade women to choose life. Some were there for abortions, others health services, and as they entered, they were accompanied by escorts who kept them from engaging with pro-life advocates.
Noelle spent more than 1,000 hours working with her colleagues in a ministry called “Sidewalk Advocates for Life.”
Today, she looks back and says, “In all those years of sidewalk counseling, I have only held three babies born of those women.” While she acknowledges there is no way of knowing what choices the others made, her experience led her to believe that another approach is needed for the pro-life movement to succeed in a culture that trivializes life and promotes abortion.
“We started to realize that we needed an alternative—a life-affirming medical piece—that was aligned with Catholic teachings,” she said. “If the pro-life movement wants to end abortion, we have to be in a preventative posture. The reason Planned Parenthood has been so successful, and has convinced women that abortion is good, is they are in the medical space. For many women, it’s their first interaction with a medical provider, and they will return in a crisis situation.”
To address this need, she and her husband Tom formed Project Beloved, which is a non-profit organization committed to affirming life, and after four years of planning, they are about to open the first healthcare center for women in the state.
Tom, a business development executive who will serve as executive director, said they are in the process of signing a lease for a location in Stamford and that several physicians have committed to the project, including Dr. Lenore Snowden Opalak, who has been named the medical director. She is board-certified in internal medicine and a natural family planning consultant.
Noelle, who is founder and president of Project Beloved, said the state-of-the-art healthcare center will specialize in “the highest standards of gynecology, infertility, family and adolescent health through evidence-based, natural methods of care.”
Their mission is nothing short of redefining women’s healthcare.
“We want to break the cycle of harmful cultural influences on women and their families and provide a life-affirming medical alternative, currently unavailable to the majority of women,” Noelle said. “Access to truly life-affirming, holistic women’s healthcare can transform the way a woman views herself and influence her future for the better.”
The center’s primary focus will be on adolescents and women in their reproductive years and treating the health needs of “the whole human person.”
Noelle said that her years of engaging women going to Planned Parenthood for abortions and health services led her to conclude that “women are suffering as a result of the current paradigm of women’s healthcare, which supports an over-sexualized culture, prescribing artificial contraception and offering easy access to abortion.”
The center will give pro-life organizations a place where they can refer women and their children for primary care. It will not refer for abortion or prescribe artificial contraception. Even though the center is non-denominational, it will adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Because Planned Parenthood provides medical services, women typically return for an abortion when contraception fails, she said. Her experience in the pro-life movement made her realize that it needed to develop a relationship with women before they seek an abortion.
“Our goal is to reach women before the crisis stage and give them life-affirming medical care that doesn’t include artificial conception,” Noelle said. “We have to establish this relationship so they come back to us when they are pregnant…and then it is never going to be a question of what they’re going to do about it.”
Tom said that while there are 30 to 40 similar centers across the nation, there is none in the Northeast. Project Beloved will be the first.
“We have been working with the others, and they have been coaching us and mentoring us through this process,” he said. Some of them, such as Florida Guiding Star in Tampa and Bella in Denver, have experienced phenomenal growth over the past five years and are expanding to accommodate more than 200 new patients a month. The Denver center even has a chapel, which women can visit to spend quiet time with the Lord, he said.
“It is really a different approach to healthcare that keeps Christ at the center,” Noelle said. “The center will provide physical care as well as emotional and spiritual care. The women will have someone who will walk the journey with them.”
While Project Beloved is a non-profit organization, its goal is financial sustainability. “We will accept insurance and self-pay and always offer a charitable component,” Tom said. “It will be a financially sustainable organization that will never turn anyone away who wants this care.”
“Our goal is to ultimately lead women to the love of Christ,” Noelle said. “Christ is the divine healer and we’re just instruments on this journey. For too long, he has been left out of healthcare.”
By Joe Pisani