The leaders of a Texas pregnancy center say they’ll turn a shuttered abortion clinic into a site for parenting classes, counseling programs, and a “baby boutique,” where new moms and dads can get diapers, clothes, and other baby supplies for their growing families.
The founder of the pregnancy center told The Pillar that using a former abortion clinic to serve mothers and children is a “huge, huge win for the Lord.”
Whole Woman’s Health operates abortion clinics in six states across the U.S. Until 2022, it operated four clinics in Texas. Describing itself as a “a privately owned feminist organization” and founded in 2003, the chain has been the lead plaintiff in lawsuits at the U.S. Supreme Court and in the state of Texas, challenging legislative restrictions on abortion.
After a 2021 Texas law came into effect which banned abortion in all cases in which fetal or embryonic cardiac activity could be detected, the Texas clinics struggled, but kept open their doors.
But after the U.S. Supreme Court issued Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health in June 2022, abortion became completely illegal in the state. Whole Woman’s Health closed its Texas offices, with staff relocating to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they’d open a new abortion clinic.
For Yolanda Chapa, founder of the McAllen Pregnancy Center, it was a miracle when the McAllen office of Whole Woman’s Health closed. The facility — Chapa calls it “the mill” — had been the only abortion clinic in the Rio Grande Valley, four counties along South Texas’ border with Mexico, which make up one of the poorest regions of the U.S.
Chapa, 80, had spent years praying in front of the Whole Woman’s Health facility in McAllen, she told The Pillar.
“I was on that sidewalk for 17 years,” Chapa said.
“I was there in the rain, or heat — sometimes it was 105 degrees and we were there — from 7 in the morning until like 1. That’s when the abortionist would leave, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays,” Chapa added.
Praying the rosary and talking with women outside the abortion clinic for years, Chapa said she’d talked with thousands of women, and seen hundreds of them change their minds about abortion.
Chapa served those women, and thousands of others, at the McAllen Pregnancy Center, which she opened in May 2008, after she’d already been praying and sidewalk counseling for years outside Whole Woman’s Health.
On South Main Street in McAllen, the pregnancy center is just three doors down from the abortion clinic.
Both the abortion clinic and the pregnancy center were featured in “On the Divide,” a 2022 documentary distributed by PBS, and before it closed, McCallen’s Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic was profiled in the NY Times and the New Yorker.
Most of the women who visit McAllen Pregnancy Center are not “abortion-minded,” Chapa told The Pillar. Many come for a free pregnancy test, a sonogram, for counseling with a licensed professional counselor, or for clothes and baby supplies from the center’s baby boutique.
But before Whole Woman’s Health closed, women who had second thoughts about abortion — even as they approached the clinics for appointments — were referred to McAllen Pregnancy Center by sidewalk counselors, and often came inside to consider their options, Chapa said.
“We were able to see a lot of girls turn around if we talked to ‘em far enough down the sidewalk. But after the sidewalk escorts came out, it was almost impossible. It was really only the grace of God that allowed any of that to happen.”
Chapa said that before Whole Woman’s Health closed, there were also women who came to the pregnancy center inadvertently, thinking they were at the abortion clinic down the street.
While the pregnancy center has never advertised itself as an abortion clinic, or hidden its pro-life convictions, she said, “we’ve had women come to us from as far as San Antonio or Laredo to have an abortion, because they were thinking that we were an abortion center, and they didn’t want anyone in their town to know.”
“There were women who had an appointment scheduled over there, and Googled the address to their appointments, and ended up here,” explained a staff member at the pregnancy center, adding that staff and volunteers are careful to explain when women arrive that the center is not a medical clinic, but that it can offer resources, referrals, and ultrasounds
“Our medical director is an ob-gyn, and we do have medical staff, but the services we provide are very limited. So we do not diagnose, but we can refer, and we have pro-life ob-gyns who help. So every client, if they want, will leave with a doctor’s appointment, and the doctors can help them apply for Medicaid,” the staff member explained.
“All of our services — every single counseling center and every single thing we offer is strictly confidential,” the staffer added.
Chapa told The Pillar that since the abortion clinic closed last year, the McAllen Pregnancy Center has seen an increase in the number of women — many of them migrants to the United States — looking for help with clothes, for counseling, or for assistance applying for Medicaid.
She added that through the Texas state-funded Alternatives to Abortion program, the pregnancy center receives a stipend for each woman who receives counseling at the center — in 2020, the center received roughly $250,000 from the program, according to media reports.
Both mothers and fathers can come for clothes and other supplies for the first three years of a child’s life, she added.
“And then we always ask the girls when they come in if they want spiritual guidance. And we tell them that all it means is that we’re going to be praying for them. And most of ‘em say no. But if they say yes, then we’re able to bring them into the chapel. We give them Bibles, or rosaries if they’re Catholic, or we give them holy cards.”
“And they leave here restored, renewed, and with a lot of hope.”
With an uptick in clientele, Chapa told The Pillar that she’d begun praying last year for a bigger space for the pregnancy center’s operations — especially during the rosary that begins the center’s every day, and during her monthly day of adoration in the pregnancy center’s chapel, when Chapa spends most of the day in prayer for the organization’s ministry.
“And then it came up for sale,” Chapa said. “But we knew that if we tried to buy it … those women over there hated us so much, they would never sell it to us.”
Whole Woman’s Health listed its McAllen medical building for sale in July 2022, the month after the Dobbs ruling. The building, which had initially been owned by the clinic’s long-time abortionist, was listed for $275,000.
In October 2022, the clinic was contacted by a group of doctors, operating under the name Peruvian Alliance, about a cash sale of the building. The group was led by Dr. Luis Alberto Rosas, a local infectious disease specialist — who is publicly listed in tax filings as a board member of McAllen Pregnancy Center.
Amy Hagstom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, told the Texas Tribune last year that she believed the Peruvian Alliance wanted to open a family practice clinic in the building. The parties soon came to terms — though the financial details of the sale are not available in Texas public records.
Peruvian Alliance bought the building Oct. 17, 2022. The group sold the building to McAllen Pregnancy Center later that month.
Whole Woman’s Health did not respond to The Pillar’s request for comment. But the company, which had apparently not done research into Rosas, told reporters last year that had been “duped.”
Chapa sees it differently. She told The Pillar that God provided for her center’s needs, in a most unexpected way.
“This is a huge victory for the Lord. Because we did nothing. He did it all.”
The international pro-life group LIFE International has administrative headquarters in a former Michigan abortion clinic, and the “40 Days for Life” campaign offices in a former Planned Parenthood. But Chapa believes her pregnancy center will be one of the first in the U.S. — and in Texas — to actually offer direct services for mothers, fathers, and families inside a shuttered abortion facility.
“It will be a place of resurrection, right?”
“We want it to be a place where women who have had abortions will come and feel resurrected,” Chapa added. “I want to even have a wall with a waterfall in there, because water gives life, and reminds us of life.”
“It is just amazing to see how God has provided for us now,” she added.
McAllen Pregnancy Center’s board of directors hasn’t yet formally decided exactly how it will use the Whole Woman’s Health building, but Yolanda Chapa said plans are in the works.
“The main idea is to have an expanded baby boutique in there, where moms and dads can come, and where we can have rooms for cribs and changing tables and big things we don’t have the space for now. And it will be beautiful.”
“And we’d like to have a parenting center, where we can offer classes for parents. And we might also have NFP classes there,” she added.
Chapa has a lot of ideas. For now, the board is planning to assess the structural needs of the building before planning renovations, she said.
“But we’ll get there,” she said. “We’ll be in there soon.”
According to the Texas Tribune, the building was an abortion clinic for more than 40 years, owned and operated by physician Pedro Kowalyszyn before Whole Woman’s Health took over in 2004.
But the abortion clinic — or, the former abortion clinic — has stood mostly empty since the doors closed last summer.
During a tour, Chapa pointed out dirt around the baseboards, bags of garbage piled high in one room, and a stale odor, which may have arisen during months of disuse.
“It’s just dark in here,” she told The Pillar. “I hate thinking about girls coming in here, and everything is so small and so dark and it’s just not beautiful at all.”
“That’s what girls would tell us that had come [to the abortion clinic] initially, and then come to us at the pregnancy center. They’d say ‘what a difference, this feels so different.’ And I think that’s because of how beautiful our center is — we’ve tried to make it that way.”
“And then, of course we have the Blessed Sacrament. So of course you’re going to feel different,” she added.
While exam tables and other medical equipment were removed before the building sold, Chapa has printed out photographs — taken from Whole Woman’s Health’s website — and taped them to the walls. The pictures show how the rooms in the shuttered clinic were once used.
In the operating rooms, where abortions once took place, Chapa stopped to pray. Looking through the building’s front door, she recalled her days on the sidewalk out front.
“They followed me around. They’d call me every name in the book,” she remembered.
“The escorts — escorts to the girls coming in here — they tried to prevent us from getting close to them. And they gave us hell,” Chapa laughed, looking out the window, onto the sidewalk.
“But we pray for our persecutors. And — wow — look what God has done now.”
Chapa is not given to sentimentality about the pro-life work that has filled her life in the decades since she retired from a career as a teacher — or about its spiritual side.
As she gave a tour of the closed clinic, Chapa was matter-of-fact about the significance of working to transform an abortion clinic into something new.
“It’s another Auschwitz,” she told The Pillar.
But Chapa said that she hoped her pregnancy center would “just bring Christ into this place,” she said.
“And all of this was exorcized,” she told The Pillar, mentioning by name the prelates who performed rites of exorcism inside the building.
One of those priests declined to comment on the prayers offered at the former clinic, explaining only that “everything that needed to happen spiritually has happened.”
“They were here for like 45 minutes, at least,” Chapa told The Pillar, emphasizing her faith in the exorcism’s work.
Chapa said she recognizes it is unusual that her pregnancy center will operate a satellite office in a closed abortion clinic. But she said it seems to her the natural next step in the work she’s already done in McAllen.
“I trust that God knows what he’s doing. He made this available for us, and he will continue to provide what we need, and take care of our needs, and protect us well. When we walked in here, and we owned this place — my God. It was liberating.”
Chapa emphasized the importance of prayer in her pro-life work, especially as McAllen Pregnancy Center prepares to occupy the former abortion clinic.
Before she offered a tour of the closed clinic, she started in the parking lot, with a prayer for protection, to St. Michael the Archangel.
And Chapa told The Pillar that she depends on her prayer life.
“Since day one, I have never — ever — stepped into the pregnancy center without going to Mass first, going to monthly confession, going to my spiritual director. And of course, that holds true today. I never go over there without having gone to Mass.”
“And adoration is so important as well. I was in adoration for almost six months prior to opening the center, in discernment. And so the Lord’s been unbelievably merciful.”
During her tour, Chapa stopped at the end of a long hallway at a cashier’s window, through which women could make payments, and cash could be deposited in a safe.
"This is where they paid. Can you imagine? This is where they had to stand to pay. And you can see there’s a safe right there."
She seemed to mouth another prayer before she moved on to the next room, talking about how the “baby boutique” could be laid out in the space of shuttered clinic.
In another room, Chapa stopped to reflect for a minute:
“I feel strongly that when you allow the Lord to work in your life, and give him the honor of being the director, he will do anything and everything that he knows is best. And that’s exactly what God’s done here,” Chapa said.
“We never ever stopped praying on this sidewalk. People would come from all over the Rio Grande Valley to pray here. And our prayers were heard and answered. And that’s the hope and advice that I would give other pregnancy center workers or sidewalk counselors. Don’t give up.”
“Now let me show you another area — we think it was where the nurses came for breaks…”
She stopped again.
“You know,” Chapa said, “we never thought this would happen. Not in my lifetime.”
Walking through the ruins of an abortion clinic, and seeing hope around every corner, Yolanda Chapa kept talking about her plans for women and their babies — and about the God who, she says, has begun to turn those plans into reality.