Happy 50th Birthday Heartbeat

by Betty McDowell, LSW, LAS
Vice President of Ministry Services, Heartbeat International

Saying Happy Birthday to an organization may seem a little odd to some of us since we usually save that sentiment for living human beings. However, organizations are very much living breathing organisms. You can see some of the similarities in the chart below.

Living Organisms Organizations
Need for shelter Infrastructure
Need for food and water Revenue
Instinctual need to grow and thrive Organizational growth when the environment is favorable
Drive to reproduce Drive to expand
Survival of the tribe or herd Survival of employees, customers/clients, community relationships
Take advantage of fortuitous circumstances Innovations, collaborations, taking risks
Perceived threats (predators) Perceived threats (competitors, legislation and regulatory actions)
Vulnerable to threats and changing conditions Vulnerable to changes in populations, communities, political/community’s/funders’ will
Identify with larger groups/herds for protection Identify with larger groups (associations) for advocacy

Source: Olsen, J. (7/22/2017). Your business is a living, breathing, organism: Interesting patterns in business and in nature. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://tinyurl.com/ybq4tgrf.

So, let us look at our relationship to this living, breathing organization called Heartbeat International.


I was thinking back to something I read many years ago. I do not remember the secular author’s name, but I do remember what he said. As a PhD. relationship expert he was asked, “what is the most important question we should ask ourselves about a person we might want to have a lifelong relationship with?” The expert responded by saying, “is this person kind?”

This seemed so basic to me, I must admit I laughed at how simple his answer was.

The expert went on to say that while being kind demonstrates true consideration and respect for others, it is also evidence of good character. Is this person kind to all? Are they consistently and genuinely kind both in public and in private? He warned that even a narcissist is often publicly kind to lure others into unhealthy relationships. Observing the consistency of kindness is key to answering the question, is this person kind?

I have been blessed to be married to a kind man and can testify that my genuine, meaningful, and lasting relationships are marked by the common denominator of kindness. My dearest relationships are with kind people. Not perfect people, but genuinely kind people.

While being kind is a virtue we can attribute to people, I also think KIND can be attributed to the pregnancy help movement and more specifically to Heartbeat International. Heartbeat is consistently and genuinely kind. Being kind is part of Heartbeat’s past, present, and future.

Heartbeat and our affiliates consistently demonstrate acts of generosity, charity, compassion, and tenderness towards those in need, those who have no voice and who deserve love and respect.

To be kind also means being willing to confront and to speak the truth to a person, an organization, a system, and/or a government. Heartbeat has been and continues to be willing to be a truth-telling voice to leaders, pregnancy help organizations, the public and government. Confronting issues, even within the pregnancy help community, means disagreements, problems and conflicts get addressed and often resolved or at least clarified. Sometimes the kindest act one can do is to confront.

Dr. Hillabrand, one of the founders of Alternatives to Abortion International, now known as Heartbeat International, in his kind way, eloquently addressed Congress 50 years ago with the following words.

Human life, if it is at all important in our time, must be defended across the board. Any arbitrary exceptions, especially when they become legalized, are potentially dangerous to us all. The most terrible pages of history are those which tell of regimes founded on, or at least tolerant of, disregard of the intrinsic values of human life. The most glorious and courageous are those which recite the contrary. No society or civilization, in the better sense, has survived inhuman principles. Adding abortion through government policy or inadvertent permissiveness to the present state of national and international unrest would suggest little optimism for the survival of our society as we have known it.

The same year Dr. Hillabrand gave this speech, he along with Lore Maier and Sr. Paula Vandegaer founded AAI. An OB/GYN at retirement age, a refugee from Nazi Germany, and a young Catholic nun started something KIND. AAI, now Heartbeat International, a KIND - and one of kind - organization.

K – Knowledgeable. Services provided by Heartbeat and their affiliates are knowledge based. Having a growth mindset learning all things about and connected to pregnancy help is a high priority. From fetal development, pre-natal care, community resources, adoption, parenting, marriage, domestic violence, abortion, drug addiction, homelessness, human trafficking, ultrasound, and pregnancy loss – just to name a few. Creating an Academy providing training, in-person, in print or online. An Academy where we can continue to grow in knowledge and understanding, gleaning from professionals in the areas of medicine, mental health, education, and technology. We in turn offer knowledge and services to our clients helping them make life-giving choices for themselves and their children.

I – Innovative. Heartbeat International holds to our values (Commitment of Care and Competence) while developing and implementing new products and processes to better serve the pregnancy help community. Just look at OptionLine answering 1,000 or more contacts a day – continually improving in efficiency and effectiveness. APRN is a continually growing network ready to assist women with abortion pill reversal. Next Level software development allows us to see in real time the trends happening in pregnancy centers. We live in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous*) which requires innovative and creative thinking to carry out our mission.

*Bennis, W. & Nanus, B. (1987). Leadership skills & strategies: VUCA world. Retrieved from https://www.vucaworld.org/.

N – Nuanced. Our worldwide network celebrates the opportunity to nuance programs and services. We are Heartbeat International, and while we may understand what works in reaching clients in Houston, Texas, we also know it may not work in Johannesburg, South Africa. Subtle or perhaps not so subtle differences in how services are delivered is expected. Heartbeat encourages nuanced services to better reach people in need.

D – Determined. The founders set our course and we continue to be determined to make abortion unwanted today and unthinkable for future generations. We are determined to change the world through LOVE. The LOVE Approach - We listen and learn, open options, give vision and value and extend and empower women to choose life. We are determined to bring hope to those who need it most.

As we gathered for the 2021 Heartbeat Conference to celebrate Heartbeat’s 50th birthday last week, I was reminded once again of our KIND heritage.

May we continue to thrive and grow as we pledge to be KIND - Knowledgeable, Innovative, Nuanced and Determined.

When we come together at gatherings like this, we see who we are, and we are reminded of the bond we share. We become more visible to ourselves and more visible to our world. Heartbeat does not look like we did 10-20-30-40-50 years ago, nor should we. Even months and years from now we will look different than we do today AND we will still be KIND – kind, a most important virtue for a lifelong relationship. 

To this living breathing organization called Heartbeat International I say, Happy 50th Birthday.