Birthright of St. Joseph
2700 Niles Ave, St. Joseph, 49085 (directions)
Birthright began in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1968, when Louise Summerhill, a busy housewife and mother of seven children, felt something should be done to help women through an unplanned pregnancy. The grassroots response to her idea was overwhelming, and the Toronto chapter quickly grew into Birthright International, the world's first international crisis pregnancy service. In 2003, Birthright International celebrated its 35th anniversary with over 400 chapters worldwide, including Canada, the United States, and others in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, and Colombia. Birthright is a fully independent organization, not affiliated with any church or public agency. Its name and logo are trademarks. An estimated 28,000 women make their first visit to a Birthright chapter every month. Birthright also operates a 24-hour North American hotline, at 1-800-550-4900. Many Birthright volunteers and clients feel a special affection for Louise Summerhill-- an ordinary woman who did something extraordinary to help others. Events in her life helped her understand the feelings pregnant girls might experience, including feelings of loneliness, fear of criticism, tension with parents, and even the shock of finding oneself unexpectedly pregnant.
Birthright began very humbly in 1968, with a one-room office and only $300 in the bank. But Louise's steady leadership and powerful vision ensured that the new pregnancy service survived. In later years, Louise was glad the organization did not begin with a lot of money because it caused Birthright to rely on the "good hearts and hard work of volunteers" to provide "lots of love and common sense." Over thirty-five years later, Birthright International remains true to Louise's original vision of personal, one-on-one contact in helping relationships. Louise's Birthright means "approachability and informality" for clients and volunteers, instead of bureaucracy and meetings in highly structured, business-like environments.
Birthright takes a "non-moralistic, non-judgmental" approach toward helping women through their pregnancy dilemmas. Louise regretted the fact that some young unmarried mothers were belittled or ostracized by their relatives: "I can never see anything wrong with any of them." Louise recreated the supportive homelike environment they deserved to have. Moreover, Louise helped formulate a Charter, followed by all Birthright chapters worldwide, to define Birthright's services, to ensure that pregnant women receive the same considerate treatment at every Birthright chapter, and to help volunteers preserve Birthright's good reputation in the future.