Lisa Vinton is part savvy businesswoman, part wife and mother, part radio host, and part reality television personality. She is opinionated, conversational, funny, politically conservative, and the kind of pro-choice that puts an important emphasis on the word “choice.”
“From the political and religious view, it’s all about saving the baby,” Vinton said in our recent interview. “Then what? They don’t understand it’s not just about saving a life, it’s about creating a life.”
That is why Vinton – president/CEO of Services for Success, a business management consulting firm -- founded the Southwest Pregnancy Counseling Center in Murrieta, Calif. in June of 2006. Now in her 40s, Vinton was pregnant and unwed at age 21 and remembers the challenges of that time all too well.
“People were really judgmental,” she said. “No one asked me what I wanted.”
Which is why the center’s Web site says this on its homepage in a nice clear font: We do not give advice or opinions. We are non-judgmental, compassionate and loving. We explore options that are available within the community and assist in accessing them. We do not refer out to or perform abortions.
Instead, Vinton is all about providing information, resources and support so that whatever decision a woman makes she feels it’s a thoughtful one. After working as a director and counselor at a center through her church, she felt driven to start one. Her passion comes from her own experience growing up in what she describes as a dysfunctional family.
“My mom was an alcoholic,” she said. “My sister was a single mom at age 18. Then here I was. This was the beginning of the recession in the late ‘80s. I was laid off. My boyfriend had left me. I had been with him for five years and he said he was having a baby with another woman in two weeks.
“I thought about all my options. Adoptions were closed. Abortion was an option. And parenting, can I pull it off? I wanted resources but nobody wanted to share with me. They didn’t know how to support me.”
As it turned out, Vinton can pull off parenthood. Many years after giving birth to her daughter (she also has a son), she and her husband Scott can be seen parenting rather publicly on MTV’s World’s Strictest Parents. This, too, is why the passion for this cause has blossomed in her. She wants pregnant women to at least consider taking on parenthood or give someone else that option through open adoption. Much of her joy comes from helping a young woman make an adoption match or alleviating a modicum of fear in a mother whose teen daughter is pregnant.
“Many parents tell their kids to have abortions,” Vinton said. “So many people object to laws where there’s no parental consent required for an abortion. The fallacy of it is that if the parents knew, in a lot of cases they’d send them for abortions.”
Here’s how Vinton’s approach is refreshing. A few years ago she woke up thinking, “Lord, give me a reason to get out of bed today.” As it turned out, she heard from a mother who was crying because she wanted to get her daughter an abortion. The girl was 24 weeks into her pregnancy. The mother was a nurse who witnessed parents praying every day for their kids to live through things like leukemia. Vinton met with all the parties involved.
“What are you afraid of?” she asked the mother. “And she said she was afraid her daughter wouldn’t graduate high school. So I said, ‘OK, let’s find out the resources available in her school.’”
Typically, Vinton takes people through those questions and topics like medical coverage, visitation, and custody.
“It’s like a twilight zone,” Vinton said. “I help them see there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
The child in the above scenario, a boy, is now two years old and his mother has earned her high school diploma.
Vinton has talked to a battered Catholic woman who felt obligated to stay married and who never thought she’d contemplate abortion.
“She said she’d spent her entire life judging people in that situation and she’d never do it again,” Vinton said. “We all spend so much time judging people instead of walking in their shoes. That’s powerful.”
And there was the 31-year-old woman with four kids who was ready to have an abortion because she felt “smoking, meds, and money issues” might jeopardize the baby’s health.
“Let’s have a look at resources,” Vinton said to her. “And she said, ‘I have resources?’ I bring a light to the picture. What are your options? Let’s start with an ultrasound. Later she said, ‘Thank you. You never made me feel bad I might have to terminate this pregnancy. I’m going to keep this baby and make it work.’”
It is no wonder Vinton finds the work is satisfying or that it feels divine in the grandest sense of the word. When she began contemplating opening the center, she clearly didn’t have the funds needed.
“Literally, God told me I didn’t need money,” said Vinton, who calls herself more spiritual than religious. “God told me I’d never have to pull a penny out of my pocket. It’s run on all donations, all with volunteers.”
At one point, when she had about three months worth of rent ($350 per month) left in the coffers, the divine intervention felt like it went to a whole new level. She met a man who wrote her a check for $1,000. Then, later, he and his wife decided, also God-inspired, their donation would continue to be $350 per month.
“That was three years ago,” said Vinton with a smile. “I just pay for my gas and cell phone use.”
Vinton smiles a lot when she talks about this part of her life. She is a huge advocate of open adoption and loves having the opportunity to educate people about it.
“It’s opening up more and more,” she said. “It’s being able to give a baby to someone and pick the parents, choose what kind of life they have and keep in touch. It’s understanding this is not about you. It’s about giving your baby a chance, giving you a chance. It’s the most unselfish thing a person can do.”
Happy Mother’s Day.