Reverend Bob Breihan is a United Methodist minister and a licensed counselor who is currently working with New Life Institute, Inc., which is related to the Austin, Texas, District of the United Methodist Church. Previously he was a campus minister at the University of Texas at Austin for 30 years, where he was part of the vast underground network of clergy members and abortion providers.
I helped call together a group of clergy, perhaps a dozen to 15, I don’t remember the exact number. And we invited a few other people to meet with us and talk about what they felt we could do. So we proceeded to go through lots of hours of training. None of us were professional counselors. How do we listen? What do we listen for? What questions do we want to deal with? What issues are facing women who are pregnant? And what kind of services do we want to look for? Then we looked at ways of dealing with that pregnancy: continuing it to term, continuing it to term and putting it up for adoption, or termination.
Word spread about the program we were doing by word of mouth. We didn’t make any public advertisement of it. It reached an amazingly wide area. We also made the information available to the counselors and the service provider personnel in the low economic areas of Austin and nearby cities that were in touch with people about medical issues or social issues, so that they could know how to get hold of somebody.
It was clear the women were going to get abortions whether it was legal or not.
Three or four hundred miles away from Austin, we’d have people coming. The variety of religious backgrounds, of economic backgrounds, of cultural, racial backgrounds, all that was amazing.
As we kept records, it paralleled exactly the demographics of Texas. The same percentage of Catholics as were in the population came; the same percentage of blacks as were in the population came; the same percentage of rich as were the population.
As the service got underway, I almost had to put everything else aside, because virtually every 30 minutes another woman would walk into my office. And very few of them were ambiguous about what they wanted to do. It was clear the women were going to get abortions whether it was legal or not. And they would, on their own, probably land in the office of somebody who was going to botch it. So we were trying to provide an alternative to, as they used to call it, “back-alley service.”
I remember a high school girl, older sister lived here. She came down from Waco, 100 miles north, to Austin ostensibly to spend the weekend with her sister. But we put her on a plane and she flew to New York and went to this hospital. I’d never been there, but I kind of knew the description, the routine, how you got there and so forth. And she came back to Austin Sunday afternoon and went back to Waco for Monday morning classes.
One time I had a couple. They were students at A&M University. An hour and a half, two hours, depending on how fast you drive, east of here. The day before he had made a speech at an anti-abortion rally in College Station, and the next day they were showing up in my office, seeking assistance with a pregnancy. It’s one thing to think about it in the theoretical sense. It’s another thing to have it actually happen.
We knew exactly how long it took to drive from here, what motels were reasonably priced, what time you had to show up for the pre-op or pre-procedure clarification.
You cross the bridge. You go to this place. You turn here. You turn there. You go up these stairs. Don’t ask anybody. Don’t negotiate with anybody. Just go there carefully.
We had to make sure that they knew exactly what they were going to do. What highway they came in on. Where they turned, where they parked, where they walked. And then you get back in your car and you leave town. You don’t even eat in the town, so there’s not an observance of a stream of strangers coming in to see this doctor.
Los Angeles, you had to fly out there. And then there was some code name for somebody who came around in a particularly uniquely described vehicle and picked you up at the airport and took you to the procedure and then brought you back before the day ended. You didn’t call. You just waited as one does when you’re renting a car. You had to talk in a code, which had to do with your age, had to do with the months of pregnancy and things of that sort. So you got aboard and went to the service and then they brought them back before the day ended and you were able to get back on your plane and fly out.
We were diligent to make sure that wherever we referred them was a sound medical environment, not just physical medical, but emotional. Because it was very important that the person going there be emotionally supported and not made to feel frightened.
I suspected that someday somebody was going to be sent as an investigator in the guise of being a pregnant woman. All of us knew that risk existed, and we talked about it. We were pretty deeply committed. I have high admiration for people who stand up in the midst of a crowd of folks that are not thinking the same as they are, or may even be antagonistic to what they’re doing, to serve the needs of the people.
—Edited transcript from Voices of Choice