Savannah Marten is a pro-life activist who thinks like a missionary. When she became the director of the Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo in 2016, she was frustrated by a suspicion that the community had no idea it existed. So she set up her office with trendy furniture and prints of hand-scripted Bible verses, then promptly left it.

“We can only show up and serve to the level that we understand the people that are walking through our doors,” Marten said. She took a roll of quarters to the local laundromat, started conversations with patrons, learned about the families in the neighborhood, and spread the word about the center.

She started church-hopping nearby. She networked with local organizations, connecting over shared concerns for Lucas County and offering to partner with them or serve on their boards. She worked with hospital systems to get the center direct scheduling access with more than a dozen ob-gyns, so pregnant clients could see obstetricians earlier in their pregnancies—a proven factor in combating infant mortality.

It’s been a few years, but Marten estimates she still spends about half of her working hours outside the center. Though she wasn’t new to pro-life advocacy or the pregnancy center movement when she took the director job, she was willing to listen to her community and try new strategies. That approach has been a crucial part of the center’s success—leading to a 22 percent jump in clients last year alone—and could be the key to making pregnancy centers more effective for a new generation.

The Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo opened in 1984 as part of a wave of centers popping up all over the country in the decade or so following the Roe v. Wade Supreme ...

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