When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the feeling was “complicated” for Aubrey Schlackman, who considers herself “pro-life.”
As someone who believes the “unborn” should be saved, she was thankful. But Schlackman also felt the “sobering reality of the fact that we have to step up to the plate and help these moms” with a sense of urgency.
Schlackman runs a North Texas ministry called Blue Haven Ranch, west of Denton, that provides housing, support and other resources to single mothers who are pregnant and choose to have the child. A mother herself, she knows motherhood is a life-changing decision not to be taken lightly.
With the court’s decision, Blue Haven and other faith-based organizations in Dallas-Fort Worth anticipate increased demand for the parenting resources, housing and support systems needed to raise children. And while such organizations vary in philosophy and approach to abortion, some advocating “pro-life” policies and others avoiding discussing abortion at all, they align in feeling that their mission to support women and families has become more urgent.
“While so many are rejoicing over this decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, I think they need to take the stance of taking action, too, by stepping in to help us organizations,” said Thana Hickman-Simmons, founder and executive director of Viola’s House.
A need for housing
Housing applications are already spiking at Viola’s House in Dallas, a maternity home for mothers age 18 to 24 who find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness, Hickman-Simmons said. Now that Roe v. Wade is overturned, she expects a larger housing crisis. Through a partnership with Cornerstone Baptist Church, Viola’s House plans to close on a 12-unit apartment building in the next 30 days.
Viola’s House currently offers five beds for 10 residents, with each bed accommodating a single mother and one child for up to six months. The new apartment units will be available for them for up to a year, and will accommodate mothers with multiple children.
Schlackman, who runs Blue Haven Ranch, is trying to expand and began receiving more donations and volunteers after the court’s decision. The facility serves five mothers and has a waitlist of 12.
“I can’t help them all,” Schlackman said. “And I know that’s only 12. I know there’s so many more that they just haven’t found us. And I know that will grow.”
The ministry provides housing, paid maternity leave, baby showers, support groups, farm therapy, cooked meals and other resources for up to 18 months after birth for a single pregnant mother who already has a child, she said.
Starting with one mom who came to Schlackman’s home in January 2021 to cook meals and study the Bible together, the idea quickly expanded. As the organization’s name suggests, Schlackman ultimately plans to create a “maternity ranch” with cottages for families, a community center and resources to create a healing environment for moms.
She and her family recently moved to Krum, northwest of Denton, and she began the process of purchasing 124 acres of land nearby for the nonprofit. Blue Haven has until the end of October to determine whether it will use the land to build the ranch, which will cost $3.3 million.
For now, Blue Haven uses a church facility in Argyle for support group meetings and Bible studies and to cool meals.
Last week, the families gathered at the church to celebrate the birthday of the third child born into the program. Yellow and green balloons and a “happy birthday” banner marked the occasion for Victoria, a one-year-old girl in a yellow tutu.
For moms, the community aspect of the family services is crucial.
Tia Stelzer, a member of Watermark Community Church in Dallas, said even her planned pregnancy was difficult, and it made her realize how challenging motherhood could be for women experiencing unplanned pregnancies.
“It’s absolutely important as the church that we come around these women and these babies and really support them, because honestly, the best way to love these babies is to love and care for their parents,” she said.
Stelzer joined the church four years ago and used the ministry service that provides guidance to first-time moms.
“It was a great, great sense of community and camaraderie and just support during a very vulnerable time in my life,” Stelzer said. “I felt very blessed, I was a part of a church that offered that ministry because it kind of felt like a breaking point for me … and it was much needed during that time.”
A year after she joined, she became a mentor in the unexpected pregnancy ministry, where she paired up with a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and spent about two years guiding her. Now, Stelzer is the ministry’s coordinator.
The church offers additional ministries to families, women and men with unexpected pregnancies and past abortions. Watermark has three urgent care clinics that provide sonogram, UTI care, and services for unexpected pregnancy and miscarriages.
“We would never wait until a child needs to be adopted to begin caring for them,” said Bruce Kendrick, director of the church’s Life Initiative program. “And so we don’t want to wait until a woman’s had an abortion or man’s been involved in that to begin caring for them.”
Samela Macon, vice president of domestic operations and support services at Buckner Children and Family Services, said it’s too early to predict the court’s impact on adoptions. While Buckner International focuses primarily on adoption and foster care, the ministry also provides social services.
Macon expects those services for women experiencing unplanned pregnancies to be in demand. The organization provides resources for families in underserved communities, which tends to reflect the population experiencing unplanned pregnancies, she said.
Buckner doesn’t give referrals to abortion clinics; it focuses on empowering women to make informed decisions during pregnancy, Macon said.
“We really work to meet them where they are, treat them with respect and dignity and empathy, knowing that they’re making very difficult decisions that have an impact on the rest of their lives,” Macon said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unintended pregnancy rates tend to be highest among women aged 18 to 24, Black women, and those who have income below the federal poverty line, have not completed high school, or were cohabitating but never married .
When Lisa Olgin-Galindo begins to tell the story of her experience with Buckner, she tears up.
“I have a brand new life,” Galindo said. “I can give hope out now freely in abundance because it was given to me.”
Galindo is a case manager at Exodus Ministries, which helps formerly incarcerated moms and their children by providing a safe place to live and other resources. Exodus was Galindo’s first stop when she came to Dallas in 2016 trying to piece her life back together.
Galindo said she was estranged from her two oldest daughters and had a baby while in prison. She struggled to pay bills and child support while living on her own and trying to avoid her old lifestyle.
After Exodus, she went to Buckner’s Family Pathways program, which helps single parents attain affordable housing, child care, counseling, mentorship, money management training and more. She said the program was “dire to the success” of her family, relieving financial stress and helping her rebuild her relationship with her children.
“Had I known that there were people who believed in me, who believed in the unity of family, who believed in goals, hopes and dreams, I don’t think it would have taken me as long to make it to where I am today ,” Galindo said.
Galindo said she found herself in a similar situation in life as her own mother, and events sent her “down a path of depression and worthlessness” and led to drugs and a cycle of incarceration. She said Buckner’s positive influence will last for generations, giving her children an upbringing different than her own.
Galindo met her husband while in the program and they got married soon after graduation. They have a family of nine. But to raise a child on one’s own, she said parents need support.
“You can do it all on your own. You can push everyone away, but you’re bitter and you’re isolated, and you are not able to teach children social skills,” Galindo said. “But if you will receive a community, and you have a community of other single women, of those who believe in you, who support you, community groups, counselors … you can thrive to be a stronger version of you, which trickles down into your family.”
Following the overturning of Roe, there must be a focus on the “collective responsibility,” said Macon with Buckner; Texans have to advocate for vulnerable families.
“People are really struggling right now,” Macon said. “There’s a lot of anxiety around the ruling and I think we first have to keep front-of-mind the importance of empathy and compassion.”
Schlackman, who founded Blue Haven Ranch, said no matter where someone stands on the legality or politics of abortion, there is a “heavy responsibility” to care for women that can’t be carried by the government alone.
“I wish people could get past the labels and understand these are just women in need,” Schlackman said.
Hickman-Simmons, at Viola’s House, said the organization simply doesn’t get into the politics of abortion.
“We are pro-love. Love is an action word,” she said. “So, no matter what myself or my staff’s personal views, we step into action and we support the mother and the baby.”