Sent Away: A New Look at Maternity Group Homes


Three pregnant teenagers captured headlines when they escaped from the New Hope maternity home in Kanab, Utah in January. The teens hit the home's director over the head with a frying pan, tied her up, and fled in her van. The incident brought national attention to maternity homes, which to some seem like the vestige of a bygone era.

In fact, maternity group homes are still with us, albeit in new forms. Some are publicly-funded social service programs that provide much-needed housing to homeless pregnant minors. Others are small private facilities nestled in communities all over the United States, often run according to what their proprietors describe as "Biblical principles." Some group homes are allied with adoption agencies. Others, like the New Hope home bear a greater resemblance to expensive "boot camp" boarding schools than to social service agencies.

The anti-abortion movement has taken a major interest in maternity group homes as part of its commitment to support women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term. As they often point out, a real choice means not just access to abortion, but support to follow through on a pregnancy.

When most people think of maternity homes, they envision the large institutions where young women would go to have their babies in secret and give them up for adoption.

"Maternity group homes today are very different from the large institutional settings that held 30-50 women who went to have their babies in secret," said Peggy Heartshorn, Heartbeat International, a network of over 1000 "pro-life pregnancy resource centers," many of which have links to maternity group homes.

Heartshorn explained that a lot of those large older homes closed down after Roe v. Wade made abortion widely available. The maternity homes of old were heavily slanted towards adoption, whereas today's mothers are more likely to enroll in a maternity home because they have chosen to parent, Heartshorn said.

Heartbeat International has identified over 300 maternity homes nationwide, but president Heartshorn says she wouldn't even hazard a guess as to how many are actually out there.

In place of the large institutions, a variety of public and private financing for pregnant and parenting teens has arisen. A few states administer their own maternity group homes.

Today's maternity group homes tend to be much smaller, typically housing between six and ten clients at a time. Some just house women for the duration of the pregnancy, others allow mothers to continue living in the home after the baby is born. Homes are more likely to offer heavily structured programs that may include life skills, high school coursework, and Lamaze classes.

Maternity homes got a second look from federal legislators during the welfare reforms of the 1990s. Under the new rules, pregnant teens ceased to be eligible for welfare benefits unless they were living with their families. So-called "second chance" homes were created to provide a stable living environment for pregnant minors who couldn't live with their families.

In 2003 Congress changed the federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Act legislation to make maternity group homes eligible for funding through the Transitional Living Program for homeless youth. Approximately $10 million per year is set aside for maternity group homes. Of the transitional living programs funded in 2004 and 2005, 19 identified themselves as maternity group homes. Maternity homes are also eligible for funding through the Administration for Housing and Urban Development. Some homes receive support from state and local governments.

Private donations and user fees are critical sources of revenue for many homes, especially for the smaller religious maternity homes. Even homes that proudly refuse direct public funding apply for federal benefits for their clients, including food stamps and Medicaid.

Private boarding schools for pregnant teens may charge upwards of $2,500 per month in tuition.

One private maternity home owns a coffee shop where residents work, which it says provides job training for the clients. Another home owns a flower shop where clients work.

Maternity group homes vary widely in terms of admission criteria. Most publicly-funded programs serve teenagers and homeless women. Many private religious maternity homes exclusively serve adults. Some programs explicitly state that they do not cater to women who are fleeing domestic violence or struggling with substance abuse.

It is not uncommon for residents to have to commit in writing to carry their pregnancies to term.

The old adoption model isn't dead yet. Some homes are arms of adoption agencies. Some facilities explicitly offer accommodations with the understanding that residents will give their babies up for adoption.

One program sums up its attitude on its website:

While no one is coerced or pressured to make an adoption plan for their baby, this is a home for women who are making that choice. Respect for this choice is expected and if you decide a parenting plan is your best option, we will work with you to find alternate housing arrangements.

The darker side of private religious maternity group homes is aggressive proselytizing coupled with house rules that treat clients like inmates.

These women are not ill, and they are not criminals—indeed, many programs stipulate these criteria as conditions of admission. Yet, many programs appear to be founded on the premise that these women need intensive "treatment" and counseling simply because they are unwed mothers.

In exchange for help, young women may have to accept controversial theological teachings. One Ohio-based home tells prospective residents: "Abortion is wrong. Harbor House will do everything possible within the law to prevent abortion," and "Single-parenting does not fit God's perfect plan for the family."

The New Life Maternity Home in Warren, Ohio describes sexual purity as the "keystone" of its program. New Life is not the only program that includes abstinence-only sex education as part of its educational programming.

Many homes physically isolate the young women and limit their communications with friends and family. The underlying assumption is that an unwed mother needs to be taken out of the negative environment that led to her getting pregnant in the first place.

Harbor House does not allow residents to have telephone contact for 2 full weeks. The women are not allowed to have visitors for their first 3 weeks in the program. The staff reserves the right to read and confiscate mail without prior notice. The Alpha Omega Miracle Home in Florida doesn't allow any phone calls or visits for the first month.

Many private maternity homes forbid residents to go off campus un-escorted.

One program has a blanket "no contact with males rule." It is not uncommon for clients to be forbidden to interact with the fathers of their children while they are in the program. Some maternity homes allow the father to be present as a labor coach during delivery, but others expressly forbid it.

Many maternity group homes provide badly needed assistance to a vulnerable population. However, there is also reason to fear that some young women are being subjected to a variety of coercions under the guise of "choice."

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To schedule an interview with Lindsay Beyerstein please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    Wow. Thank you for your work in exploring this little-known facet of “reproductive-health.”

  • invalid-0

    soooo….they’re going to instruct these already-pregnant girls on sex ed, by NOT telling them anything about sex ed? That’s great. Let the circle of ignorance be unbroken.

  • invalid-0

    Unfortunately, most of these girls who come to these homes have no place to turn. They feel abandoned. These homes are created to provide housing and to guide these girls who truly don’t know where they are headed. This isn’t like the days when a parent would drop their daughter off because they don’t want the neighbors to know she is pregnant. These girls are going into these homes voluntarily.

    And honestly, I see nothing wrong with asking the girl to see her pregnancy through to the end… she’s in a maternity home! It’s kind of implied.

    Phone call restrictions and limitations aside, I think what they are doing is great – how many other places take in pregnant women in time of need?

  • invalid-0

    I am home birth midwife (CNM), a health care professional. I am also an Adoption Specialist, which came from attending a course promoting adoption; I was paid for my attendance and travel expenses, and they put us up in a hotel free of charge. The take-home message was that there is a drastic shortage of healthy American (white) babies available for adoption. I suspected this was the intent of the course, and in fact, I am sympathetic to this need. I just hate to think that these young women are being held in pregnancy just to bear a adoptable infant. It sounds a little too close to selling babies.

    Furthermore, these women need a special kind of attention in their pregnancies and births. I once cared for a 15-yr-old girl who was hiding her pregnancy (the product of an assault). She was relieved to know that she could maintain her privacy and place the baby for adoption immediately. She was amazing, and determined, as was her birth. She gave birth under cover of darkness – and no one ever knew of her pregnancy except me, her mother, my assisting nurse and an attorney.

  • invalid-0

    Welcome Back to the Past! Maybe Mom and Dad aren’t dropping their Wayward Daughters off at the Gothic looking buildings of the past..still it is, what it is.. Maternity Homes meant to garner the newborn for adoption. And in this day and age, for a nice tidy sum, paid for by people who adopt, in the guise of ‘service fees’. No human female should be forced to remain pregnant, only to be coerced into handing over her own baby to those who are deemed more worthy than she…her own flesh and blood. Shades of The Handmaiden Tale! As much as things change, as much as they remain the same. This is the end result of our tax-payer dollars funding the Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program. Sure let’s just offer the young people of America the ‘Abstinence Only’ program…so that we can insure more pregnant young women bringing more babies to the Adoption Market/Industry. An industry/business that now averages 1.4 to 2 billion dollar range. America…protect your daughters…from the Adoption Industry of the United States of America!

  • invalid-0

    Many homes physically isolate the young women and limit their communications with friends and family. The underlying assumption is that an unwed mother needs to be taken out of the negative environment that led to her getting pregnant in the first place.

    Wiki on Robery Jay Lifton http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jay_Lifton

    From the Wiki:

    Theory of thought reform
    For more details on this topic, see Thought Reform (book).
    Lifton’s 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China was a study of coercive techniques that he labelled thought reform or “brainwashing”, though he preferred the former term. Othes have labelled it also as “mind control”. Lifton describes in detail eight methods which he says are used to change people’s minds without their agreement:

    1) Milieu Control — The control of information and communication.

    Milieu Control is the Number One method or requirement on any “how-to” list when talking about brainwashing people. When you cut people off from everyone they know who might possibly give them support, they become far more amenable to the suggestions of their jailers.

    Milieu control was a cardinal principle used in the gothic maternity homes of the past. I know because I was locked up in one of those places. No phone, no mail, no visitors, all mail monitored, no excursions beyond the tripe locked doors….it’s deja vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra

    Some of the worst enemies of American womanhood are these fundamentalists who want to deny women accurate sex education, birth control, access to abortion, and force them into childbearing and adoption.

    The fundie alliance with the adoption industry is an especially unholy union.

    For more on how adoption affects women who lose their children please see this six and a half minute You Tube video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Vx6Fagv7bk

  • invalid-0

    “Unfortunately, most of these girls who come to these homes have no place to turn. They feel abandoned. These homes are created to provide housing and to guide these girls who truly don’t know where they are headed. This isn’t like the days when a parent would drop their daughter off because they don’t want the neighbors to know she is pregnant. These girls are going into these homes voluntarily.”

    How do you know this?

  • http://originsusa.org invalid-0

    I note that there is funding and support for the women to carry their babies to term, but little for support to maintain THEIR family, built by the God whose work these people are supposed to be doing.

    And, while there is so very much interest in these women’s immortal souls that they must surrender their infants to appease this God, why is no one concerned with the immortal souls of the fathers of these infants? Why are they not recieving the same concern as their girlfriends? Why are their souls not so in danger that they, too, require incarceration and indoctrination? Could it be because they are not carrying the payload?

    This sickens me. I have BEEN in one of the homes during the 1960′s. They are getting exactly as much education about what is happening to them as we did in 1967…zero.

    The smug self-righteousness of these Maternity Home Christians seems out of place until one remembers that one healthy white infant currently retails at around $60,000, take home. Isn’t that a reason to scratch your head and wonder about their true motivation?

  • invalid-0

    “”America…protect your daughters…from the Adoption Industry of the United States of America!””

    That should have read…

    America…Protect your daughters and your future grandchildren…from the Adoption Industry of the United States of America!

  • http://www.originsusa.org/ invalid-0

    “However, there is also reason to fear that some young women are being subjected to a variety of coercions under the guise of ‘choice.’”

    This fear is very well-founded! OriginsUSA recently published a study on the experiences of mothers who lost children to adoption between the 1950s and 2000s and found that, although the places where they reside during their pregnancies has changed, much has stayed the same in terms of coercion. The vast majority of mothers in the study said they had no choice other than surrendering their child.
    http://www.originsusa.org/MainPages_w_Navbuttons/questionaire.htm

  • invalid-0

    Hehehe!!!

    Lock up your daughters, and hide the chickens!!

  • invalid-0

    SLYoung,
    When I read about the lockdown requirements ( ie, no phone, visitors, incoming and outgoing mail read, lockdowns) my blood ran cold.

    Sounds to me like they are using the same playbook they used when I was incarcerated in one of those places in 1968.

    The question in my mind is, what are they doing in there that they are trying to hide?

  • invalid-0

    When will these baby snatchers stop???? Help out these scared pregnant woman until they get on their feet. Help these babies stay with their real families, and experience their true biological path in life. And their true heritage.
    More infertiles behind the scenes to take another’s child to be their own.

  • http://www.amyadoptee.blogspot.com invalid-0

    This is not an option for reproductive health. It is a way for the adoption industry to steal a baby from its mother. These things should be banished to the hell from which they came. They abuse women in these places. No one wants to help these women get on their feet to raise their child. We are supposed to be a family oriented country but only if a single mother gives her baby up for adoption.

    No phone calls. No visitors. Prisoners in prison get treated better. Sorry burn every single one of them down. They just want to hide more secrets.

  • invalid-0

    What is it going to take before society wakes up to all those preying on pregnant mothers who have their own agendas?

    “In exchange for help, young women may have to accept controversial theological teachings. One Ohio-based home tells prospective residents: “Abortion is wrong. Harbor House will do everything possible within the law to prevent abortion,” and “Single-parenting does not fit God’s perfect plan for the family.”

    How is this not a coercive tactic?

    Protect Pregnant Mothers

  • lindsay-beyerstein

    Some maternity group homes are truly voluntary, others less so. At the extreme end of the spectrum you have maternity homes that belong to the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs–expensive bootcamps where kids are frequently shipped off against their will and held in isolation for extended periods of time. Read "Help and Any Cost" by Maia Szalaviz for more information about programs on that end of the spectrum.

    My major concern is ideologically anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers are the main referral conduit for the highly religious private maternity homes. These so-called crisis pregnancy centers are propaganda centers for the anti-abortion movement. They don't provide reproductive health care or accurate information about birth control or abortion. Their goal is to turn as many unplanned pregnancies into births as possible. If young women learn about their options through CPCs, I have grave reservations about whether they are hearing the full gamut of options available to them if they decide to continue the pregnancy.

    For example, I doubt that most CPC staffs know or care about the large range of options available through the regular, public social service system.

     

    In my home state, mothers in foster care have the right to a placement with their baby when it is born. Pregnant adults can access a wide variety of housing and income support programs. There is no need for a woman to be on the street just because she's pregnant. Our threadbare social safety net can assure us of at least that much. Women don't have to sit through sermons or hard-sells for adoption in order to get social services. 

     

  • invalid-0

    “”They don’t provide reproductive health care or accurate information about birth control or abortion. Their goal is to turn as many unplanned pregnancies into births as possible.””

    And into harvesting the newborns of these young mothers to bring to the Adoption Market.

    “” If young women learn about their options through CPCs, I have grave reservations about whether they are hearing the full gamut of options available to them if they decide to continue the pregnancy.””

    Precisely…because the overall agenda is not to help the young mother and her newborn as a unit, but rather to separate them..again to bring the newborn baby to the adoption market with a high price tag.

    “”For example, I doubt that most CPC staffs know or care about the large range of options available through the regular, public social service system.””

    Personally, I doubt that. Better to keep the young pg mother or newly delivered mother ignorant of her options. I do believe that these ‘new’ ‘private’ maternity homes are only resurrected maternity prisons from the past. Just as in days of yore, keep the mothers isolated, alone and in unfamiliar surroundings and to only hear the ‘voices’ of stranger women brainwashing confused, alienated young mothers to surrender their children for adoption. As you must know there is now a shortage of newborns for adoption in America, thus forcing adopters to go international.

    Maybe you don’t know Lindsay..but the majority of the women here writing, are former ‘unmarried’ young mothers who were forced to surrender their babies for adoption during the Baby Scoop Era..Post WWII – Pre-Roe v Wade. Many of these women were ‘inmates’ of maternity homes and each and every one of them, us..lost our babies, with no other option or ‘choice’, than adoption. We had no access to birth control, not even legally, nor legal abortion. I agree wholeheartedly that young women today need to be apprised of all their legal, civil and social options when they find themselves not in a ‘crisis’ pregnancy, but rather in an ‘untimely’ pregnancy. Us much older now former unmarried, surrendering mothers, know what we lost, we have lived with it for decades, the loss of our own flesh and blood, our babies. From the bottom of our collective hearts, we sincerely wish and hope that no young pregnant woman today, would ever have to endure the heartache and pain that we older mothers and grandmothers were forced to endure for a lifetime.

    Thank you so very much for posting your article on Maternity Homes. It is timely and so very important.

  • http://www.motherhelp.info invalid-0

    Leading women to believe or allowing them to believe they have already “choosen” adoption before their child is born and before they have signed anything is NOT helping.

    Your child is your closest family member. Many religious groups believe that your child is an “it” (a bastard) and does not become “real” (legitimate) until “it” has been sold to married people. How sick. No mother can know before she has given birth and held her baby in her arms, until she has been separated from the baby who has been her constant companion, what such a separation might be like.

    God and nature choose parents. God chose Mary, a very young teenager who was less-affluent. Mary was with an older man who made such poor “choices” that she was forced to give birth in a very unsanitary, unsafe environment – a barn. Evidently God did not want his Son raised by hoity-toity people with fine yards and expense accounts. If you believe the Bible literally, Jesus was raised in a home with a step-father, Joseph. The adoption businesses generally claim it is risky to have an unrelated male, a step-father, helping to raise your child. However, with adoption the child has a whole family of step-relatives who are unrelated to her/him. Not only that, but often the true father is very willing to be a part of his own child’s life if given the chance.

  • invalid-0

    Can help to initiate change in these situations. I find it quite tragic that young or homeless women are forced to live in these types of situations in order to safely give birth to infants that may or may not be thiers to keep.

    I am a Birthmother to a beautiful little girl that will be 9 this December. I was involved in an open adoption that was not financially lucrative for me which leads me to believe that it was QUITE lucrative for some party involved (the attorney by chance?) I was promised that I would have contact with the family and my daughter through out her life. It has been almost 6 years now since I have heard from the family or the attorney that represented us/them. I have never spoken to my daughter. I do not regret the choice I made nor would I change my decision, my only regret is that I was decieved by the people that I trusted most at that time in my life.

    I hope that I will be able to help other mothers make decisions that they can not only live with, but thrive upon once I have established a practice. The choice to release a child for adoption should be that of the mother and the mother alone, it should not be swayed by church, State, or even family!! Our responsibility to these women is to provide them with unbiased information that will facilitate the decision making process, not coerce them in to a decision that serves any other agenda. If all women’s health practitioners could just commit themselves to serving the needs of thier clients (and provide continuing support) rather than to making a quick dollar the state of childbirth, maternity care, family, and mental health in the US would be drastically improved.
    Kari

  • invalid-0

    I’m glad I wasn’t birthed at such an inconvenient time in my mothers life that by getting rid of me she’d be proud to say she ‘did the right thing’ and allowed her own flesh and blood to be bought and sold. For sure proud to be birthmothers are the most compliant birthing things the adoption industry’s could ever ask for.
    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

  • invalid-0

    I read the article with interest because I am admittedly very pro-life.
    Homes for pregnant women are a brave concept in any age, but especially this age when so many young women who find themselves pregnant to young, yet bravely choose to carry that baby full term, might find themselves in a group home.

    I found the authors criticism of the various house rules (like no visitors for several weeks etc) to be onerous and arcane, stating that these young women are not prisoners etc.

    I would stipulate that, yes, they are not prisoners, but most of these girls are not coming from a healthy wholesome world, and many have boyfriends who have a financial interest to see the pregnanies terminated, so these rules are I think designed to protect the young women from undue influence in her descision. I have even heard of parents trying to force their daughters to abort.

    After all…if she decided and agreed to live in such a home, she deserves every protection she can get.

    And pregnant women, very often, need very ordered, secure and safe surroundings. Pregnancy makes women in general very vulnerable, how muhc more if she has no real support from boyfriend and family???

    I have volunteered at my churches group home, and have seen the ‘strict’ rules in action. And I think they are there to protect the young ladies, not oppress them, and while devotions are required, they are not ‘forced’ in that they may have to sit for the half hour weekly service, but no life commitment is required.

    The veiw is that is wouldn’t hurt the young mother to at least learn about a God who loves them no matter what.

    However…saying all that, it’s really important that any abuse of the home for pregnant women not be tolerated. As I said, pregnant women are very vulnerable and deserve to be protected from abuse in any form.

    Thanks for the interesting and informative article.
    God bless,

    A daycare ‘mommy’

  • invalid-0

    I’m reading all these impassioned diatribes against “baby snatchers”.

    Who are we referring to? People who may be treating adoption as a business (which is wrong, I acknowledge) or those who rip babies out of wombs?

    It just doesn’t jive.

    you people would rather the baby be chopped up and sucked down a sink then allowed to be born and given to loving parents?
    I submit that the abortion industry has created the ‘baby selling industry’ because there are alway a certain amount of people who can’t have children who would like to adopt, and in times past the young girls who made mistakes would filled that empty place. And lets be real…getting pregnant at 15 IS a mistake. But being pregnant isn’t, and that baby is not a mistake in Gods eyes.

    And I don’t ‘buy’ the need for white babies ‘only’.
    I have friends who would take a baby no matter what color, and I know they are not isolated.
    One ended up going to China for a baby and the other adopted a little crack baby of African American descent. He is her pride and joy.

    Don’t push racism in this debate.
    You want racism?
    THIS is real racism. Margaret Sanger was all for eliminating the black race. Hitler was her hero:

    Blackgenocide.org

    ~M~

  • invalid-0

    I am an adoptive mother and it breaks my heart that the adoptive mother of your child has not honored her promise to you.
    I personally send regular updates to the birth mother of my precious girl(I even have a private blog for her to log into for regular updates), and the fact that she loves her and prays for her from afar only adds to my daughters blessings. This precious birth mother filled my empty arms, and I am only to happy and grateful to honor it by sending her pictures.
    And she has since grown up, gotten a college degree and is getting married herself next year. She could not have done this if she kept her baby, and she could not have lived with herself if she had aborted. She is truly my hero.

    God bless and give his comfort to you.
    ~M~

  • invalid-0

    ‘pregnancy without Crisis’ said: Many religious groups believe that your child is an “it” (a bastard) and does not become “real” (legitimate) until “it” has been sold to married people.

    ~M~’s answer:

    Thats sound more like a cult then most mainstream religious groups that I know of. Certainly not Catholic group homes, which hold the most group homes.

    They do not ascribe to the ideology at all.

    So please be careful with your generalizations.

    ~M~

  • invalid-0

    someone said:
    “Don’t push racism in this debate.
    You want racism?
    THIS is real racism. Margaret Sanger was all for eliminating the black race. Hitler was her hero:”

    Margaret Sanger and eugenics did not just target the black race but also targeted the poor, paupers, unwed-mothers, the mentally and physically handicapped and several other groups they deemed to be ‘unfit’.
    There is no debating facts of racism in adoption: Healthy caucasian babies can cost up $50,000 compared to healthy full African-American babies that don’t cost half that. Why not check adoption agency service fees for this to be a fact.
    Healthy white babies have been a commodity since post world war II to present date. And from 1947 through the mid 70′s maternity homes were filled with white girls (not black girls) who were forced into giving up their babies. This too is a substantiated fact see: http://www.originsusa.org

    Studies reveal that less than 2% of mothers want adoption, but the multi-billion dollar adoption industry propaganda is mothers are ‘willingly’ giving their babies away.

    someone said:
    “And lets be real…getting pregnant at 15 IS a mistake. But being pregnant isn’t, and that baby is not a mistake in Gods eyes.”

    Yea, let’s be real, Mary, the mother of Jesus was about
    15 years old when she was pregnant. So she should have given Jesus to some infertile couple because people like you judge a mother’s age as criteria in God’s eyes.
    NO mother regardless of age should be treated as a resource for babies to fill an empty place for those who can’t have children of their own. Thou shalt not covet.