Walk for Life fundraiser focuses on community needs, compassion

May 20—ANDERSON — Nearly a year after the Supreme Court's historic decision overturning Roe v. Wade, services like those offered by First Choice for Women are more urgently needed than ever, according to organizers and participants in the group's Walk for Life fundraiser Saturday.

"Our services are needed no matter what the (political) climate is, no matter what choices are made with laws," said Kailee McKnight, executive director of First Choice for Women, a nonprofit pregnancy care center with offices in Anderson and Muncie. "We're here as a support team for those who are parenting, those who are going through foster care, where they have guardianship and they need services, we're here to support them."

The high court's ruling last summer in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization freed states to decide abortion policy and changed the dynamics of a decades-long cultural debate. Since then, more than a dozen states — mostly in the South and Midwest — have made abortion illegal. Three others have enshrined abortion rights in their constitutions.

In Indiana, lawmakers approved sweeping restrictions on the procedure during a special session last August, with the only exceptions being when a pregnancy seriously endangers a mother's health or life; a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest; or the unborn child has a lethal anomaly. Indiana was the first state to pass such a ban after last year's decision, but advocates on both sides of the issue acknowledge that court battles and upcoming elections at the state and federal levels will ensure that abortion remains a hot-button topic.

"I think it's important to stay involved and to just make sure that people are informed about recent changes," said Kevin Lewis of Yorktown, who joined Saturday's walk with his wife. "We just want to make sure that people know they have choices. They have options."

Even as anti-abortion advocates assess their progress and consider how and where to focus their efforts moving forward, many are quick to emphasize that their message needs to be delivered with compassion.

"If we want (abortion) to remain outlawed, I think that we need to support organizations like First Choice, because they are on the front lines supporting people that need help — ones that are vulnerable and may have even been considering an abortion," said Amanda Trimble of Muncie. "We have to step up and meet those needs that those people have."

McKnight said demand for her agency's services has increased in the last year, especially so among men. She noted that First Choice's male client base has quadrupled in that time, making fundraising efforts like Saturday's all the more vital as the agency seeks to become more holistic in its program offerings.

"That was a big gap that we didn't really see," she said. "We're glad to have guys who are stepping up, because no one can teach a man to be a man like a man, and we aren't men. We've needed those fathers to come in and help be mentors and walk alongside these dads."

Saturday's one-mile walk at Mounds State Park drew more than 450 participants, which McKnight said was the biggest turnout for the event since it moved to its current format in 2017. As she addressed the walkers before they set off, McKnight told them that supporting women, regardless of their situation, exemplifies an approach that, rather than being pro-life, is something more: pro-abundant life.

"We don't turn anyone away," she said. "We are here, no matter what."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.