There’s a part of Robyn Blessing’s story that she shares all the time now, but for a large part of her life — 28 years — she never spoke of it to anyone.
“I had an abortion in 1988,” she said. “I was married and had a 5-year-old and had just moved to Montgomery from Texas.”
Blessing was taking over a sales business and traveling all over the state, and when she found out she was expecting a baby, she told her husband that she just couldn’t be pregnant.
“There were three abortion clinics here then,” she said. “My husband and my 5-year-old went with me and sat in the TV room, and I had an abortion. It was horrible, but I left feeling relieved.”
Blessing said she grew up in a denomination where abortion wasn’t talked about, and she didn’t think of what she’d done as murder. She served 14 years on a church staff in Montgomery as a children’s minister and never mentioned it to anyone.
Then one day in the fall of 2016, when she was working as a secretary in the labor and delivery unit of Baptist Medical Center South, something happened that made her view of abortion begin to change.
Dr. Matt Phillips, an obstetrician-gynecologist who worked on Blessing’s floor, asked her if she would consider volunteering with a new ministry he was starting — Life On Wheels, a mobile ultrasound clinic aimed at giving pregnant women the resources they needed to be able to choose to give birth to their babies.
And Blessing told Phillips she had something to tell him.
“We walked out in the hall, and I said, ‘I’ve had an abortion,’ and I started crying. I didn’t know why I was crying,” she said. “And he put his arm around me and said, ‘God will take that sin.’ I thought, ‘What sin?’”
On the way home, Blessing began to think and pray about whether what she had done had been sinful. The next day, she and her husband went to visit Phillips’ Life On Wheels bus.
“They had a loop of ultrasound pictures on a screen,” she said, “and when I stepped up onto that bus, the first thing I saw was a 9-week-old baby, and I said, ‘Father, what did I do?’”
Before that day, she’d just seen her pregnancy as a problem. Now she saw it as a baby.
Two months after that moment, Phillips hired her as the executive director of Life On Wheels.
“It’s crazy that they would’ve hired me — two months before, I was pro-choice,” Blessing said. “But I understand how women feel and what would bring them to that point. It’s our job just to tell them the truth, give them a moment to breathe and think for themselves and show them their options.”
She said Phillips’ vision for Life On Wheels started when he would see women come to the emergency room for treatment after botched abortions. A while later, the mobile clinic became a reality when a patient began helping him raise funds.
“We’re part of a fleet called Image Clear Ultrasound,” Blessing said. “The goal is to be where the women are.”
Image Clear Ultrasound is at work in more than 40 cities in the U.S., including four in Alabama. Two of those are covered by Life On Wheels — they have one mobile clinic in Montgomery and two in Birmingham. They’re also working toward having a Life On Wheels unit in Tuscaloosa in the coming months.
The Montgomery clinic has seen 315 women choose not to abort after seeing their baby on ultrasound. Birmingham — which got its first unit in February 2020 and added a second in February 2022 — has seen 57 women choose not to abort.
“We’re not coercive, but the statistics say 89% of women who see their own baby on ultrasound will choose to parent,” Blessing said. “What we’re doing is personifying that baby — showing them their head, arms, heartbeat — and letting the women see for themselves.”
After that, Life On Wheels connects mothers with pregnancy resource centers that can provide parenting classes, prenatal care and items they may need. They also help them get Medicaid and connect them with other resources in the community.
“We catch the mother at the moment when she’s freaking out and give her a safe place to sit down and think a little bit,” Blessing said. “We can’t talk her out of an abortion, but we can show her the ultrasound and let the Holy Spirit do the work.”
Professions of faith
They’ve also seen 290 women profess new faith in Jesus after hearing the gospel at Life On Wheels. Blessing is able to connect those women with local churches that have volunteered to follow up with them for discipleship.
She said churches from 14 denominations serve on Life On Wheels’ staff and board.
“It’s 100% God,” Blessing said. “No way I would’ve thought I could do something like this. He’s brought us people and resources.”
Neal Hughes, director of missions for Montgomery Baptist Association, said Blessing and Phillips “lead the Life On Wheels ministry from their knees.”
“They know that prayer is not part of the work, it is the work,” he said. “Robyn and Matt are constantly inviting Kingdom-minded people to join them in prayer for the unborn and the moms they regularly see in this incredible ministry.”
Blessing said for her, it’s personal — her own story colors her approach to the ministry, both to the women and to the volunteers.
“I interview people all the time to volunteer, and at the end of the interview, they’ll tell me that they’ve had an abortion,” she said. “For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve told anyone. We need to be aware that there are so many wounded people.”
Blessing said statistics say 1 in 3 women have an abortion before the age of 45, though she feels like it may be more like 1 in 4. Either way, it’s a large number.
She said after she started telling her own story, she learned two close family members also had an abortion.
“Nobody talks about it until somebody talks about it,” Blessing said.
That’s why she wants to give women the information before they make a choice and wants to point women who have already chosen abortion toward healing.
“It’s a tender subject,” she said, “but if nobody’s talking about it, how are we going to educate people and stop it from happening?”
For more information, visit lifeonwheelsalabama.com.