Using the Internet to Reach Women in Need of Crisis Pregnancy Services

When the Westside Pregnancy Resource Center first went on-line we saw perhaps a handful of visitors. It's hard to believe our site now receives approximately 2,000 unique visitors each day, with 40% of those attracted by our Fetal Development section. We have an active on-line "Pregnancy Test" which calculates pregnancy probabilities for about 75 women daily. Our site includes the basics--a list of services, directions, a guest book--as well as great ways to connect with others--a bulletin board and on-line counseling intake page. We also feature informational sub-sites on the topics of Sex, Pregnancy, Abortion, and Post-Abortion issues.

Every crisis pregnancy center can benefit from an Internet presence because teens and young adults are increasingly making use of the web to find information. Young people will look for something on-line long before they will consider opening a phone book. A center without a site is at a severe disadvantage and also fails to adequately serve its community.

Just having a URL (web address) may have been good enough at one time but not anymore. Anyone can put something on the Internet and call a it website, but an effective site is another matter. The most critical aspects of a good site include the following:

  • Good design: The site should be well-organized with information that is easy to find. The developer needs to make sure keywords are relevant and the site is listed in major search engines. Avoid music, slow-loading graphics, and excessive animation.
  • Client-centered: Remember your audience. Clients don't want to hear about your center's last banquet and they certainly don't want to be asked for money. They are looking for help and need to see something that indicates they are in the right place.
  • Quality content: Information should be well-written, well-documented, and relevant. Avoid glaring religious messages as these can scare away the very women most in need of non-judgmental assistance.
  • Good maintenance: Continued updates are needed to make sure links work and information is current.

The initial cost can be a bit daunting, but many developers and hosting services will give discounts to non-profit organizations. Should you let your eighteen year-old nephew design your site for free? Absolutely not. Hire a professional. A bad site will actually make your center look seedy or outdated, scaring clients away. If you get offers for a "Free Website" that sound too good to be true, they probably are.

A quality website can become a true community resource. One reason our center's Fetal Development pages garner so many visitors is because they contain useful medical information, presented in a professional manner. Many other sites link to these pages, including university medical schools.

Any information of general interest can be a draw for visitors from many sources, boosting the center's exposure and clientele. Attracting many visitors has other advantages as well. We have an on-line bookstore through Amazon.com, where we list many of our favorite titles. The bookstore is both a resource and generates enough income to make the website self-supporting (which is sure to make any board of directors very happy indeed). We also receive frequent email inquiries from prospective volunteers.

With the proper set-up, a web site can also be an effective medium for crisis counseling. Clients appreciate the ability to communicate via email and bulletin boards under complete anonymity. Visiting a center requires transportation--a problem for many teens--and enough courage to reveal potentially embarrassing information to a stranger. Often it's easier to express fears behind the veil of the computer screen. One woman, we'll call Claire, posted the following to our bulletin board:

"Today I am set to go have an abortion. I really don't want to do it, but I feel like I have no other choice. I was amazed I even got pregnant. I was told I could never have any. I have one son, and he is my life. I love him and keep thinking what if I had done this to him; I can't imagine life without him… The father is my old boss. He's married, and at first he did not talk to me. He thought I'd tricked him. He tried telling me its not formed yet but at 15 weeks its all there. I am hurting. My son keeps asking me for a baby so he can play with him so he can have a friend... I know how I am and this will destroy me. The pain I feel is unbearable. Please help me." (Posted on March 28, 2000)

I contacted the woman by email and took some information. Whenever we follow-up with a client by email, I make sure to let the client know:

  • That I empathize and understand her situation
  • The types of services offered by a CPC and how they can help
  • The full names, addresses and phone numbers of at least 3 centers in her area
  • That she can feel free to send me more email at any time

I answer any questions and, if appropriate, include factual information about fetal development, pregnancy, abortion, relationships, or even a small color photo of an unborn child. Once Claire told me where she lived, I was able to put her in touch with a counselor in New York City. I don't yet know the outcome of her situation, but I do know she was given encouragement, support, and abortion alternatives.

The on-line counselor can provide not only needed information but also build a relationship. Even if the client never visits a CPC, she will know that someone cares. Our center has experienced great success in this area, with on-line clients easily outpacing center visitors. Stay-at-home moms and others who may be unable to help in the office can assist with on-line counseling, fostering greater community involvement.

To remain effective we must think beyond the borders of our own cities and towns. A website is an essential means of informing the community about center services but also an effective counseling aid and educational resource for women worldwide. Websites must be thoughtfully designed and regularly maintained, but the effort and cost are well worth it.


About the Author: Monnica Terwilliger Williams, M.A., has served as Lead Counselor and Web Site Developer for the Westside Pregnancy Resource Center (wprc.org) in Los Angeles, where she has volunteered for over six years counseling and assisting women in crisis. She has served on the board of directors of several non-profit organizations, including the Brookline Women's Shelter and the OC and Spectrum Disorders Association. Monnica lectures on pregnancy related issues and develops websites for non-profit organizations. She graduated from M.I.T. in 1992, worked as a Programmer-Analyst in the UCLA Computer Science Department until June 2000, and now is pursuing full-time graduate studies in Clinical Psychology at the University of Virginia.



terwilliger web development services • phone (434) 242-1902 • fax (434) 970-1903 • www.brainphysics.com

Updated: 5/30/01


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