A mobile ultrasound van is now operating in Rochester after two years of fundraising efforts led by local pro-life activists and groups who wanted to provide this medical resource to expectant mothers.
The mobile ultrasound van, which is owned by Rochester’s Focus Pregnancy Help Center, made its debut outside Planned Parenthood on University Avenue in Rochester Sept. 16.
Father James Hewes, a senior priest in the Diocese of Rochester, said the mobile ultrasound unit provides the opportunity for women approaching Planned Parenthood to receive ultrasounds prior to entering the facility.
“These are women heading for abortion; 80 percent of them don’t go ahead once they see it (the fetus via ultrasound),” he said.
It was outside the Planned Parenthood location in 2019 that the project for the mobile ultrasound van was conceptualized. In May of that year, Father Hewes had seen a mobile ultrasound van parked near the abortion facility. The van belonged to Dominick and Ellen Brignola, who had been asked by pro-life activist Jim Havens to bring their van to Rochester from their pregnancy center in Troy, N.Y., in the hopes that people could see the potential of having such a van locally.
Shortly thereafter, Father Hewes formed a committee and began to raise the money necessary to fund a mobile ultrasound van in Rochester. Funds for the project were provided by individuals who made private donations, as well as such organizations as the Karpus Foundation and the Charles and Mary Crossed Foundation, which provided grants.
Support for the project also came from funds provided by local Knights of Columbus chapters and a grant from the national organization. Typically, a project that receives local K of C funding does not receive national funding, said Father Hewes. However, he said after word got out about the mobile ultrasound van, the project received both local and national funding, which paid for the ultrasound machine.
Despite being able to purchase the Mercedez-Benz van and medical equipment, customizing the van for its intended use came with some unforeseen challenges, such as finding a company to handle the interior work the van would need to be fully operational.
Initial customizations for the van were set to be handled by an Ohio-based company, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company was unable to move forward with the project. Father Hewes then had to find a replacement company to do the work while staying within the project’s budget. Following the recommendation of a friend, he reached out to Agor Enterprises in Penfield, owned by Mark Agor.
“He’s a pro-life person but also he thought he would use this (van project) as a sample for other groups that might want to do something like this,” Father Hewes said of Agor.
Agor and his staff members who worked on the van did a magnificent job, Father Hewes said, adding that regardless of finding a replacement company, construction of the van took several months because of such pandemic-related challenges as being able to purchase needed parts.
Another aspect of the project was finding a group to work with Focus Pregnancy Help Center. Since Focus is a counseling pregnancy center and not a medical pregnancy center, it did not have the personnel to operate the van. Father Hewes said that the board of directors of Caring Choices Pregnancy Help Center, which is a medical pregnancy center with locations in Rochester and Webster, unanimously agreed to lease and operate the van for one year.
According to John Gramlich, president of Caring Choices’ board of directors, the agency has volunteer medical professionals who have had an interest in going mobile for awhile, as the agency had learned that the vast majority of its clients have had to walk or take the bus to reach a center location.
“So, availability (of the mobile ultrasound van) locally is important,” Gramlich said.
As part of Focus and Caring Choices’ pro-life missions, the van is parked near Planned Parenthood on University Avenue from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are the busiest hours at the abortion facility, according to Andrea Johns, the van’s registered diagnostic medical sonographer.
Father Hewes said that once a woman agrees to have an ultrasound before entering Planned Parenthood and decides against abortion, the next step is for Caring Choices to connect her to all the supports she may need, such as medical professionals to help with the pregnancy, and with counseling or housing services.
In addition to being connected with such resources, sidewalk advocates from the organization ROC Love Will End Abortion stand outside the van to speak with women, creating meaningful connections with them and going as far as throwing them baby showers, Father Hewes noted.
Both Father Hewes and Gramlich said it is a priority not only to reach abortion-minded women in the hopes that they choose life, but also to assist women who do choose life and give them and their children the support they need.
“The goal is to help women make the best decision possible,” Father Hewes said.