The community surrounding Agape Pregnancy Resource Center in Round Rock, Texas, was confused to find protestors outside the building on a Saturday morning in February. Agape’s Executive Director Jo Markham told Texas Right to Life in an interview that in the 13 years the pregnancy resource center has been on Main Street in Old Round Rock they have never had protests of any kind. Understandably so, as Agape provides pregnant mothers with services, classes, and resources free of charge. There would seem to be nothing for anyone to protest.
The protestors are part of the anti-Life group NOW Williamson County and Austin NOW. A group of Williamson County residents have “adopted” Agape as their protest project and plan to drive to Round Rock weekly to continue protesting. Every Thursday afternoon from 4:30 to 5:30, three or four women stand with signs outside the center.
At first, Jo thought there was a simple mi
sunderstanding. The protestors were carrying signs reading: “Fake Clinics get $1.6M of your tax $$” and “Fake clinics harass and lie to women.” Agape does not receive any federal or state tax dollars. The services and resources they offer are funded entirely through private donations from individuals and churches. Clients attend Agape of their own will, and they are given accurate information and compassionate support in all of the 13 weekly classes and the many ongoing programs. Jo approached the protestors, invited them in for a tour to see what Agape does, and invited them to view Agape’s Form 990 and financial balance sheet, which show that they do not in fact receive tax dollars of any kind. Sadly, Jo’s warm invitation was met with a cold dismissal, and the protestors insisted, “We are here to protest,” and, “We don’t need to come in; we know what you do.”
When protestor insisted that Agape “lies to women,” Jo showed them the Woman’s Right to Know booklet, which is the state-approved, medically accurate resource about fetal development that Agape gives to clients. The protestors remained combative. Jo said about the encounter, “We are blessed to live in a country where we can protest things we feel strongly about, so they can continue to protest. We’ve prayed about the situation and we’ve decided to respond in love.”
Every Thursday before the protesters arrive, the staff and volunteers of Agape put a sign in front of the building offering free tours along with water bottles, cookies, and peaceful Christian music. While many supporters have offered to counter-protest, Jo says the board of directors and the staff of Agape feel strongly that they do not want a counter-protest but only to respond in love. That is, after all, the mission of the organization. The name “Agape” is the Greek word for the highest form of love, which is God’s unconditional love. In the spirit of that mission, Jo says of the protesters, “We’re just praying for them.”
Jo says many former clients have been hurt and confused by the protestors. Several have offered to talk to the protesters saying, “If they only knew what you do!” The staff and volunteers consistently hear positive feedback from their clients. The staff has an opportunity to get to know women in their families throughout pregnancy and they continue to offer support up to two years after the child’s birth. Mothers say about their experiences at Agape, “I don’t feel judged. I just feel loved and supported.”
Unshaken by the anti-Life protestors, the Agape community is focused on expanding the life-changing work they do. On April 3, the center will receive a mobile unit through ICU Mobile, which will allow staff and volunteers to bring Agape’s services to women who might not be able to come into Round Rock. Jo says they will focus on reaching areas of Cedar Park, an area in which the local pregnancy resource center closed. The mobile unit will include a nurse or sonographer, a client advocate, and a driver. They will offer condensed versions of the important classes they offer, including childbirth classes, newborn care, infant CPR, and nutrition and cooking.
The sadly misguided protestors have brought an unintended benefit to Agape. The recurring protests have allowed the pregnancy resource center staff to have wonderful conversations with their neighbors and there has been an outpouring of support from the community as they prepare to launch their mobile unit.