The story of a west coast Stork Bus
By Brittany Smith
On Tustin Street in Orange, Calif., sits a two-story Planned Parenthood. The brick structure is just a few miles from Interstate 5, what locals call “The 5,” or “the Orange Crush” — one of Southern California’s busiest highways.
I know this location because I drove by it multiple times with a film crew last week.
We were there to document California’s newest Stork Bus. This neighborhood is where it will soon be operating. But traffic was heavy and other cars kept blocking the camera, so back and forth we went past the Planned Parenthood — one of two within a 10-mile radius.
The building looks like any other office building. Light brown bricks, large glass windowpanes – an appearance meant to lull you into normalcy. It is one of the 110 Planned Parenthood facilities operating in the state of California. A state where each year more than 132,000 abortions take place.
That’s roughly the entire population of Berkley, California or Rochester, Minnesota.
The Stork Bus’s name is Courage 2.
As we drive by the abortion facility for the eighth time, I think, “In California, they’re going to need all the courage they can get.”
Twenty-four hours later the Save the Storks team arrives at Horizon Pregnancy Clinic, just 3 miles away from another Planned Parenthood facility. This is the clinic that will own and operate Courage 2. It is located in a shopping center surrounded by an Edward Jones Financial Advisor and a dance studio. Palm trees rise up behind the building. The tall, thin, classic California kind, straight out of an Eagles album.
We walk inside and the nurses greet us and usher us upstairs since there are clients in the building.
It’s not like I imagined at all.
There are no Bible verses or cheesy photos of babies on the wall. It is a professional office space with medical-grade rooms, sonograms, and exam tables.
Debra Tous is the executive director at Horizon Pregnancy Clinic. She spent years in the for-profit world in sales and marketing. Now she runs the center and is a force to be reckoned with. She is tall, blonde and energetic. She walks through the center greeting everyone who comes in, hugging moms with their babies who found help at the center, showing people around, and asking Jason, Save the Storks’ Mobile Operations Manager, when she can see the inside of her new mobile unit. Her excitement bubbles over at every second.
“I’m going to cry,” she keeps saying. “I’ve already cried today but I’m going to cry again, I know it. You have no idea how amazing this is. We’re going to reach so many more women.”
Margie, the mobile manager for the clinic, smiles at Debra, as if she is used to this kind of emotion. Margie is a quiet force. The kind of personality I imagine one needs to help women in crisis feel calm when they board the Stork Bus. Under her management, the team has helped save over 400 babies.
Soon people begin arriving for the celebration.
I wander outside and see the old bus that Courage 2 is replacing. Sitting outside of it is a man named Ron Anderson. He is in his late 60s, well dressed, and looks like the kind of person who would be satisfied retiring to a nice beach house. That was his plan anyway.
But God had other plans.
“Debra came and spoke to my church about what they were doing. And I told my wife, I want to get involved. I was supposed to be retired, but I just thought I need to do this.”
So now he drives the Stork Bus 2-3 days a week around Huntington Beach and moonlights as both security guard and baby whisperer. A few other volunteers told me how Ron is always able to calm people down outside the bus, and children who happen to be on the bus. Recently, a mom was inside getting an ultrasound and her child would not stop crying. Ron offered to hold him and within a few minutes he was fast asleep while the clinic staff helped the mom get her ultrasound and options counseling.
“It takes my breath away,” Ron says when he sees Courage 2. “It’s going to be a tool these nurses are going to use to save a lot of babies. It’s astounding. This new bus is like an upgrade from a Motel 6 to the Hilton on the beach.” He is beaming.
It really is a beautiful sight. This mobile medical unit. A state-of-the-art van covered in orange and magenta and purple bands of color that swirl around the outside with promises of free ultrasounds and pregnancy tests.
I think about it driving past the Planned Parenthood, its contrast with the drab color of the bricks.
Finally, it is time for Debra to see her clinic’s new bus. Her magenta dress matches the colors on the mobile unit. She walks up the stairs slowly and covers her face as soon as she is on board.
“I’m crying,” she says. “I told you I was going to cry.”
She stares at the inside silently for a moment, contemplating what this all means for her center. Then she steps down and addresses the crowd who have come to celebrate.
“This is really God’s bus,” she says. “God is going before us and planting us in places we need to go. Last year we saved 293 babies, think about how many more we can now, with this bus.”
Women who might be driving down Tustin street, women who are afraid, who don’t have a supportive partner, women who don’t know how they are going to raise another child.
“I was wrong,” I think as she speaks.
The Horizon team already had more courage than I had ever seen. They weren’t sitting around wrestling with politics or laws or fighting with people over their pro-life stance. They were on the street, in front of clinics, reaching women. Women in real crisis, facing hard situations, looking for a refuge from their fear and uncertainty.
They are forces of nature. Forces with passion and God on their side. With the quiet fortitude of Margie, the calm patience of Ron and the empathy and love for women that Debra displays every single day.
“We’re not going to miss a beat,” Debra tells the crowd. “We’re going out tomorrow just like always.”
And the next day that is exactly what they do. Margie, Ron and the team load up Courage 2 and hit the road.
Read more about our Stork Bus here.