Kent Birthright closes its doors for final time

Gina Maldonado

Anti-abortion center downtown cites lack of volunteers, clients

Birthright closed its doors today after 35 years of service. Decreasing numbers of clients and funds are to blame. Caitlin Sirse | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Portage County’s Birthright will close its doors today because of decreasing funds and fewer clients.

The anti-abortion center opened at 136 E. Main St. 35 years ago. More than 11,000 women in Kent visited the small two-room office discreetly tucked within a long dark hall. The second-floor office with old furniture and chipped paint was known as “a pregnant woman’s safe place” said Birthright volunteer Jean Bartula.

In 1973 un-wed and pregnant women needed a secretive place where they could be counseled, Bartula said.

“The mission of Birthright has always been to help pregnant women when it could be a problem pregnancy.”

Through the years, fewer college women visited Kent’s Birthright. In 2005, 23 percent of Birthright’s clientele were college-age women; in 2006, 15 percent of Birthright’s clientele were college-age and in 2007, 9 percent of Birthright’s clientele were college-age women.

“It seems as though Kent, Ohio, does not need a Birthright anymore,” Bartula said.

The free pregnancy tests Birthright used to draw in new clients for counseling no longer work, Bartula said. Stores sell pregnancy tests for one dollar, making them easy to purchase.

Recent Birthright clientele wanted less counseling and more material goods, Bartula said. Although Birthright provides women and infants with free material goods, the donations were meant to be a secondary service.

Kent’s Birthright Board of Trustees and volunteers decided its mission would not stray from counseling to solely dispersing material goods. This decision factored into Birthright’s closing.

More options and fewer volunteers also contributed to it’s closing.

Bernice Wilson, executive director of the Greater Cleveland Birthright, said schools have medical clinics available for women and this was not the case 35 years ago.

Societal changes throughout the past 35 years created more options for women. “Today these girls are so much more self sufficient, if they choose to carry a baby they will do it proudly with their head held high, “Bartula said. “They know where to go to get help.”

According to the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health statistics 2008 news release, pregnancy rates for women less than age 25 declined. The report said 35 percent of unmarried women aborted their pregnancies, 51 percent ended in live birth, 13 percent ended in fetal loss and it left 1 percent unaccounted.

The Greater Cleveland Birthright still operates.

“They’re always welcome to come to Cleveland regardless of where they’re from,” Wilson said.

Contact social services beat reporter Gina Maldonado at [email protected]