How One PRC is Flipping the Script on STI Testing, Sexual Health and the Spectrum of Care
By Brittany Smith
Recently, over the course of one week, Heather Lawless did intakes at her clinic for four women from the University of Idaho.
Finally, when the fifth client from the university walked in, she had to ask: “How did you hear about us?”
Lawless knew there was a Planned Parenthood just 10 minutes from the college campus. While her clinic was a 35-minute drive for the students.
“A girl from my sorority told us to come here because the people are really nice,” the client told Lawless. “They all said that coming here made them feel comfortable and safe. One girl even said she wished you were her mom.”
This type of care is exactly why Lawless started her pregnancy resource center (PRC), The Reliance Center, three years ago. And it is a model she wants to see more of in the pro-life movement.
The idea for The Reliance Center came from an encounter she had with Amy Ford, the founder of the pro-life group Embrace Grace.
“I saw a different kind of approach at Embrace Grace,” she said. “It was changing the way people look at the pro-life movement. It was addressing more than just the pregnancy.”
Lawless knew then that she wanted a PRC that addressed the full spectrum of needs that women have.
“We [the staff at Reliance] listened to all the reasons women say no to life and came up with practical support,” she explained. “We want to eliminate the need for abortion.”
The Reliance Center does this through its reproductive health center that provides holistic care – pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing. They will also be adding well-woman checks and prenatal care to their services this year.
But it’s their STI testing and care has put them on the map in the community while also putting them in direct competition with Planned Parenthood.
“We are the only place in the area that offers completely free STI testing,” Lawless explained. “We do tests for men, women and the college students in the area. Our center also gets referrals from hospitals and other clinics. We don’t require income verification and don’t receive government funding.”
A normal test can run anywhere from $200-$300.
“Our testing also opens the doors for other conversations,” Lawless said. “People completely open up to us. We’ve had women talk about their past abortions and that often opens the door for post-abortive healing.”
Lawless created Reliance for just this type of cross-communication.
“We want to break underlying cycles. We don’t want to just eliminate abortion, we want to eliminate the roots that cause it — unhealthy relationships, treating sex as a transactional act, lack of information,” she said.
Plus, people are more open to conversations when they are not in a crisis situation.
“We’ve had women come back after they found out they were pregnant because of the first intake they had with us.”
And, something the center is especially proud of: 99 percent of their clients say that they are going to make a change in their sexual choices after meeting with the staff at Reliance.
“To have that touch before there’s a crisis with the pregnancy, that’s how we change the conversation,” Lawless said. “Our message has to be crafted in a way that is palatable to the people we serve and meet them where they’re at, just like Jesus.”
Read more about how PRCs are changing the model of care for women.