Supporting Women and Families Across the Pregnancy Spectrum

Cori Lohser, Spence-Chapin’s Community Advocacy and Outreach Program Manager, discusses Building Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum hosted by the Adoption Access Network (AAN) Ok, stop me if you’ve heard this one: “A community health worker, an adoption professional and a Planned Parenthood social worker all walk into a conference room…” This isn’t actually the beginning of a joke, but the scenario at an incredibly successful conference hosted on November 5 by the Adoption Access Network, a project of Spence-Chapin. We welcomed close to 100 participants representing all points along the pregnancy services spectrum, from adoption to abortion to prenatal care to labor and delivery.

Building Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum, was envisioned by our Outreach and Advocacy Team as a productive conference for skill-building, conversation and networking for professionals across the country who work with pregnant women and families making decisions about pregnancy and parenting. It was also the first opportunity to highlight the exciting work of our Adoption Access Network to a larger group of professionals.

Planning for the conference began nearly a year ago, and grew out of our sense (shared by Planned Parenthood and the independent clinics that we work closely with through the Network) that individual providers working in the fields of adoption, abortion and parenting rarely get an opportunity to connect and share experiences with their counterparts working in other fields. In the course of our work on the Adoption Access Network, we’ve heard from professionals time and again that they or their staff feel uncertain about the alternate options available to the women they serve. They also feel ill-prepared to counsel patients regarding these options or to offer additional resources and referrals for those who want to explore a particular option more fully.

This in fact was the impetus for Spence-Chapin’s launching the Adoption Access Network close to two years ago. We knew there was a real need for information and training amongst abortion and family planning providers about adoption, as well as a real shortage of pro-choice adoption agencies to which they could feel comfortable making referrals. The work of the Network therefore centers around giving these professionals the tools and resources necessary to effectively integrate the adoption option into their practice. And, it mobilizes other like-minded adoption resources around the country who can partner with their local health centers. The Adoption Access Network has been extraordinarily well-received and gained the attention of policy makers, the media and other stakeholders because it recognizes a simple yet critical fact: the decision to terminate a pregnancy, place for adoption or parent are all reproductive choices; and all choices to which women have the right to unbiased access.

The November conference was a perfect representation of this shared ideal. It was facilitated by Grayson Dempsey, founder of Backline (a hotline for women needing support around pregnancy decisions) and a renowned speaker on options counseling. Participants began by engaging in a values clarification exercise in which they were asked to explore their own beliefs and biases around various pregnancy options. They then went on to discuss an array of topics including the difficult questions posed by clients.There was a fascinating brainstorming session in which participants described their vision of a world in which pregnant and parenting women and families are fully supported.

As one conference attendee put it, “Today acted as a catalyst to get my brain going to creatively integrate the concept of the pregnancy spectrum (in my work with patients). Thank you for taking the time to organize this conference. It was invigorating and educational.”