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Three years ago, Michelle Smith was pregnant, alone, and afraid. The 28-year-old Nashville resident was a full-time student working two jobs to make ends meet. She was in a serious, but shaky, dating relationship.

Smith, who prided herself on being independent, felt ashamed about her pregnancy. She feared her boyfriend would bolt and was convinced her churchgoing family would shun her.

"It was not a good situation," Smith says. So, like more than one million American women each year, Smith decided to have an abortion. But first she wanted to have an ultrasound—a step that changed her life and saved the life of her unborn daughter.

After seeing sonographic images at Nashville's Hope Clinic for Women, Smith says, "I knew I could not have an abortion." But with no health insurance, no support system, and not enough money to buy even the essentials, she felt trapped. Talking with a clinic counselor, Smith began to sob. "I was overwhelmed because of the chain of decisions I had made to get me to this point."

With her counselor's assistance, Smith figured out how to talk to her family about the pregnancy. To her surprise, instead of rejection they offered support. Clinic staff also helped her apply for government programs for single mothers.

Renee Rizzo, director of Hope Clinic, says most of the women who come through Hope's doors are between the ages of 18 and 24. "They barely know how to take care of themselves. They fear they are going to lose everything and be alone, forever."

Stigma Declines

This spring, the National Center for Health Statistics released findings based on its research of birth certificates that show a historic surge in the number of children born out of wedlock. About four out of every ten births are now to ...

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In the Magazine

December 2009

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