Not long ago, I stood before the Vermont Senate and testified about my experience as a human trafficking survivor who became the first black female pregnancy center director in the state.
I had been asked to testify against a bill targeting pro-life pregnancy help centers, falsely claiming that we “mislead” the public about our services.
But my story puts the lie to this narrative and proves the beautiful truth of our work — that pregnancy centers love, serve and commit ourselves to the men, women and children of our communities who need our help. We know firsthand how our assistance can transform someone’s life.
From age 2 to 29, I was trafficked in 33 states. I suffered serial abuse, rape and even murder attempts by various pimps. I was heavily addicted to hard drugs such as crystal meth and cocaine. I eventually reached a point where I intentionally sought to end my life by overdosing.
Even though I was losing weight from the drugs, my belly kept growing, and I soon discovered the pregnancy that would ultimately save my life.
Shrugging off the news with disgust, my pimp demanded money and then attempted to shoot me when I told him I was done being his slave. Pregnant, terrified and with nowhere to go, I literally ran away from the only life I had ever known.
Fighting despair, and with only $1.38 to my name, I had very few places to turn. After endless phone calls, I finally reached a woman at a domestic violence shelter in New Hampshire who agreed to help. She flew me there and connected me with a local pregnancy center, where a woman named Phyllis changed everything. She calmed me with a single kind touch and the words, “I know a man named Jesus who can help you.” The warmth of her hands filled me with an encouragement and hope that I’d never known before. In that moment, despite my hardened heart, I abandoned my former life forever.
The pregnancy center provided me with free resources and support to take care of my son. I was also able to realize and pursue dreams I had never imagined, such as earning a college degree. I worked with families at the pregnancy center and secured a job at a local hospital.
Years later, I applied for the executive director position of a pregnancy center in Vermont — Branches Pregnancy Resource Center — the position in which I have served since last December.
I have worked in this role to raise awareness of the services we provide to the local community. I developed a strong relationship with our town manager to help address a severe homeless problem in the area. Now, Branches helps to care for and connect those who are homeless with the resources they need.
The CEO of one of the largest hospitals in Vermont recently requested to collaborate with us. We are also training the local police department, as well as local schools, to learn how to identify human trafficking and save victims of the industry. My job is incredibly fulfilling.
If it hadn’t been for Phyllis and the pregnancy center, I would be dead. They saved my life. My son saved my life. Now, it’s my turn to defend the very cause that saved me.
The bill I testified against was signed into law in May. Now, if we advertise our services in a way that Vermont’s pro-abortion rights attorney general claims to be “misleading,” we face fines of up to $10,000 for each violation. But the law is vague. For example, one witness during a legislative hearing absurdly said that even naming a pregnancy center “The Women’s Center” should violate the law, because a name like that is too neutral and therefore implies that abortions are available there.
The law also bars our staff members who are not state-licensed medical professionals from handing out health-related information. But the law applies only to pro-life pregnancy centers in the state. Abortion businesses’ non-licensed staff members can still pass out brochures about abortion, but our staff members cannot.
Vermont wants to shut down pregnancy help centers because we don’t support the state’s extreme abortion agenda.
So, last month, we filed a lawsuit challenging the law. My pregnancy center, Branches, along with Aspire Now (another Vermont pregnancy center) and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom. Our case makes clear that the government has no business shutting down our lifesaving work. Pregnancy centers should be free to serve their communities without fear of arbitrary and unjust government punishment.
Our work powerfully shows that there is real help for men, women and children in need who are caught in impossible snares and feel there is no hope — whether it’s human trafficking, homelessness, abuse or abortion. Pregnancy centers like Branches exist to provide for them.
The hateful narratives that smear pro-life pregnancy centers would have some believe that I fell “victim” to their work. On the contrary, because of their work, I was set free.