Pregnancy center director tells Congress pro-life work 'worth the risk' of attacks

The head of a pro-life pregnancy center in Sacramento, Calif., spoke to members of the U.S. Senate on July 12 about the importance of pregnancy centers and the need to protect them.

"Just last week, a man approached our care center with an armed machete," said Heidi Matzke, the executive director of Alternatives Pregnancy Center. "We have been forced to hire 24-hour on-site security. We've had to reinforce doors and bulletproof our walls. We've had to paint our building with anti-graffiti coating. We've added cameras, armed our staff with pepper spray, and stopped running our mobile clinic because of threats of violence."

Matzke said her center has had to spend roughly $150,000 -- money that could have been used elsewhere -- to protect themselves and their patients.

"What we do, though," she stressed, "is worth the risk."

Matzke testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing titled "A Post-Roe America: The Legal Consequences of the Dobbs Decision." Her comments come as pro-life pregnancy centers nationwide face escalating attacks, including firebombs, broken windows, and buildings defaced with pro-abortion messaging.

Matzke told CNA that her center took "extensive precautionary measures" after noticing attacks targeting other pregnancy centers.

Their security measures, so far, have protected them from two attacks.

Most recently, a man carrying a machete showed up at her center's door at 8:15 a.m. -- 45 minutes before it opened -- on July 8, Matzke said.

"By God's grace, our security guy came around the corner and saw him and they exchanged words and then he ran off," she told CNA. "Fortunately, no damage was done and, at this point, everyone is safe."

While she was not there at the time, security cameras caught the incident on camera.

"I was actually very surprised that he, at 8:15 in the morning, would be as bold as coming that early," Matzke said, noting that most attacks seem to happen in the middle of the night. She called it alarming and scary that it happened shortly before staff and patients would arrive.

Another incident happened several weeks ago, Matzke said, when a woman tried to hijack her center's mobile clinic.

"Our nurse was in the back serving a patient and our mobile clinic has to be on -- and air conditioning running -- in order to operate effectively," Matzke recalled. "A woman basically tried to get in the front seat and take off with it."

The center's on-site security stopped the woman.

A pregnancy center offering alternatives

Matzke's center is one of approximately 3,000 pregnancy centers serving hundreds of thousands of women in the United States. According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of SBA Pro-Life America, these centers provided services and material assistance amounting to more than $266 million in 2019 alone.

Her center, Matzke said, provides more than $1.5 million in free medical and material assistance to women every year.

Matzke said that her licensed medical clinic serves women with a staff of OB-GYN doctors, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, medical assistants, and a phlebotomist. Most of her staff, she added, has personal, former ties to abortion -- including one OB-GYN who used to perform abortions.

The community -- including the local Planned Parenthood -- relies on and benefits from her center. When it encounters pregnant women who want to choose life for their babies, Planned Parenthood sends them to Matzke's center, she said during her testimony.

Among other things, Alternatives Pregnancy Center provides "full medical services to women," Matzke told CNA. Those services include pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, STD testing and treatment, abortion pill reversal services, prenatal care, gynecological care, breast exams, abortion recovery counseling, and parenting classes.

For women who need material assistance, the center offers supplies such as diapers, wipes, baby formula, baby food, baby clothing, and even hotel rooms if the women need a place to stay.

"We pay for all of that," Matzke said during her testimony. "It doesn't matter who she is, where she comes from, or what her past is."

She told CNA that her center does this "because life is a human right and we need to protect that life."

"That is why I was compelled to speak on behalf of all pregnancy centers throughout the country," she said of her testimony, even though "it is a very scary thing for me to do what I just did because I've made our clinic even more of a target now."

Pro-life work informed by faith

Matzke grew up in a pro-life Christian home. Today, her faith informs every aspect of her pro-life work.

"God's word is the foundation upon which I stand and why I serve where I serve," she told CNA.

She was also inspired to dedicate her life to running a pregnancy center after a pregnancy center offered hope and help to her sister.

The day they left for college, she remembered, her sister was throwing up and collapsed on the ground. When Matzke asked what was wrong, her sister said that she was pregnant.

"I realized in that moment, no matter how pro-life we are, I felt for the first time the fear that women feel," Matzke said. "The reality of what my sister was dealing with brought me to a whole other level of compassion and care for women who are facing unplanned pregnancies."

Today, her center ministers to women's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

"Our clinic gets the privilege every day of praying over women and talking to women about faith and the Gospel," she said. "Because, at the end of the day, when a woman walks out of our clinic and her family has abandoned her, her significant other has abandoned her, her friends have abandoned her ... she needs true hope."

This is not the first time Matzke, a client of faith-based legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, has publicly advocated for the pro-life cause. Her center belongs to a network that won the 2018 Supreme Court pro-life speech case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra.

Today, she is encouraging pro-life Americans to help their local pregnancy centers and protect innocent life.

"It is a difficult time, for such a time as this, to stand up and protect life," she said. "And yet, at the end of the day, I believe that God is the author and perfecter and protector of life."