t was shaping up to be a busy day for Sara Hernandez. Her first client stepped off the Nobles County Heartland Express bus at 10 a.m., toting her one-month-old daughter, Ariadnee: eyes wide, black hair prominent, tiny tongue peeking in and out.

"Siéntate," Hernandez said: Have a seat. The woman, Geholmin Yomilner Coronado Morales, 29, came from Guatemala two years ago. When she got pregnant, she didn't consider abortion. Morales came to this non-medical pregnancy resource center — which receives $155,000 of state money annually from Minnesota's Positive Alternatives program — because of financial worries. She was already sending money to family in Guatemala.

As a client service advocate at Helping Hand Pregnancy Center, Hernandez helped with prenatal care, accompanied Morales to doctor appointments, talked through relationship issues. Now that the baby was here, Helping Hand would provide assistance for a year: diapers and wipes, plus education on topics such as safe sleep and infant growth and development, which upon completion earns "baby bucks" for baby clothes, strollers and more.

This center supports women in many ways, from helping with baby materials to testifying at family court. Statewide, there are nearly 100 pregnancy resource centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers. Their approaches vary widely, but they have one thing in common: All refuse to refer for or perform abortions. And now their state funding is at risk.

Most centers are exclusively donor-funded. But Gov. Tim Walz's proposed budget would cut all state money — about $3.4 million annually — to the 33 sites that receive it. A DFL-sponsored bill aims to save the program. An early version of the proposal would have required the centers to refer women for abortions if requested, but now it reads they may not "interfere with a person's ability to independently decide whether to continue a pregnancy."

Some leaders of these centers said most of their work has nothing to do with abortion. They help pregnant mothers realize it's possible to carry to term then either parent or place the baby for adoption, and they provide resources during pregnancy and after birth.

But last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade upended the abortion landscape and further politicized these centers. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison put out a consumer alert, saying these centers "attempt to prevent or dissuade pregnant people" from obtaining an abortion. Last weekend, a Minneapolis center was vandalized; among the spray-painted messages was, "If abortions arn't safe neither r u." Protesters also picketed that center.

For Helping Hand, losing grant money would mean more than half of their budget disappears. Director Susan Voehl, a registered nurse who used to work in labor and delivery, remains committed because the need is so great. Their center serves primarily immigrants in this town where Hispanics outnumber whites; two Spanish speakers are on staff, and the grant pays for a web-based translation service. Over the past six months, the center has helped pregnant girls and women from age 14 to 47 in this southwestern Minnesota agricultural hub.

They call this joyful work — clients have named babies after Hernandez and Voehl. But both women fear what losing this money could mean.

"We have to trust," Voehl said, "that God will provide for us."

Just because you know one crisis pregnancy center — which outnumber abortion providers 10-1 in Minnesota — doesn't mean you know them all.

Some have ultrasound machines; some don't. Some are explicitly religious; others avoid religion, fearing they could scare women away. Some adhere to a more old-fashioned approach of saving as many babies as they can; others say their charge is to, in an unbiased way, present pregnant women with three options (abortion, adoption, parenting) and give them space to make their own choice.

But for those who hope funding is cut, this portrayal — pro-life social service organizations out to help mothers, babies and families — is far from the truth.

Critics say these places can lure in pregnant mothers by promising free pregnancy testing and ultrasounds and are ideologically driven organizations that manipulate women to choose giving birth.

"If their actual goal is to ensure they carry to term and give birth, that's coercion," said DFL state Sen. Erin Maye Quade, citing examples of constituents' traumatic experiences at these centers. "You went in thinking this was a non-biased place to talk about your options."

Critics point to how these centers sometimes promote scientifically disputed things like abortion pill reversal — progesterone intended to "reverse" medical abortions if taken within 24 hours of the first abortion pill. (That protocol isn't FDA-approved; the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls it "unproven and unethical" and "dangerous to women's health," though the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it's safe and effective.) Critics also say these centers create unnecessary fear by speaking about post-abortion stress syndrome, which posits a woman can experience PTSD-like symptoms after abortion; organizations like the American Psychiatric Association do not recognize it, and a 2016 study found women receiving abortions at no higher risk for PTSD than women denied abortions.

The grant program passed the Legislature with bipartisan support in 2005 and was seen as a middle ground in the tempestuous abortion debate — the money supports mothers and babies in need, something both sides can agree on.

"This had been seen as a compromise position — as if there's a compromise," said Maye Quade. "We've allowed health care for abortion to be totally separated out from other health care ... [These centers] are sucking up that money that could go to people who actually need it."

The bill would require grant money not be used "to encourage or counsel a person toward one birth outcome over another." Maye Quade said that if these centers are truly presenting unbiased information, this proposal wouldn't change anything.

Supporters of these centers have a simple explanation for why the other side wants to defund them: The heated politics of abortion.

"These centers actually walk alongside the woman," said Cathy Blaeser, co-executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. "They provide a place where the family can be strengthened, where obstacles, concerns, and fears can be truly addressed as opposed to being swept under the rug and quote unquote 'solved' by killing your child."

Abortions have steadily decreased in Minnesota, from more than 19,000 in 1980 to around 10,000 annually the past decade, according to the latest statewide report.

When Scott Fischbach, now executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, lobbied the Legislature in 2005 to begin the Positive Alternatives program, he studied women's reasons for abortion. In the most recent statewide report, 13.3% cited economic reasons, while 14.8% cited physical or emotional health.

Those reasons for abortion are what this program tackles, Fischbach said.

"This program is not buying anti-abortion tracts," Fischbach said. "I don't know why there's been such an attack on these care centers that really, really do good work. They are the ones telling women, if you choose to go the route of having the baby, or placing the baby, we're going to be with you every step of way. If you choose to have an abortion, you can come right back here. These centers aren't places of judgment. They are places of support."

Fischbach sees Minnesota's $18 billion budget surplus and is flummoxed why this relatively cheap program is threatened.

"I want my taxpayer dollars going to something like this," he said.

Resa Clarke came to Pregnancy Choices in Apple Valley determined to have an abortion.

She already had two older boys. The dry-cleaning business where she worked was struggling with COVID. She was in a new relationship. "I'm almost 40," she thought. "What am I doing having another kid?" Without health insurance, she came to the center for a free ultrasound. After previous miscarriages, she wanted to see whether the pregnancy was viable. It was.

Clarke was surprised when Lynesha Caron, the center's executive director, brought her into a life-coaching session. Caron laid out options — abortion, adoption, parenting — but didn't coerce her, Clarke said, saying she'd support her decision.

"She was just asking, 'Why do you want to have an abortion, or why would you not?'" Clarke recalled. "She just really made me question everything."

Still, Clarke made an abortion appointment elsewhere. But the day before, she decided against it. She'd had an abortion previously when she was a single mom with two young boys, working and in college. She didn't regret it. This time, Clarke felt differently.

Avery was born premature in August 2020, 1 pound 6 ounces. The past three years have been incredibly hard — yet Clarke calls the energetic 2-year-old boy "the biggest blessing in my life." Clarke calls Pregnancy Choices' support "life-saving." She still visits for life-coaching sessions with Caron.

Caron says her center isn't a cliché, and neither is she. She's a young person of color who was a gender studies major and worked at a domestic violence shelter. She quit her job as a mental health practitioner to travel the country in an RV, then she came to Pregnancy Choices, which receives $181,000 annually in state money.

Caron wants women with an unexpected pregnancy to step back, take a breath and not make decisions out of fear or panic.

"The work of pregnancy resource centers today is around putting the choice for life in front of our clients, helping them to see how it could be possible," Caron said. "We live in a culture that's, 'You believe what I believe or I don't want to talk to you.' I want people who want to engage with the conversation in the messy middle."

Clarke still supports abortion rights. She also believes Caron's coaching helped her make the right decision for her family.

"You're stuck in this little box with really no out," Clarke said. "She really just made me open up that box."

Inside the storefront on Worthington's town square, Hernandez asked the woman cradling her 1-month-old if they could pray.

"The Lord will keep you from all harm," Hernandez recited in Spanish from Psalm 121. "He will watch over your life."

The new mother watched a DVD on car-seat safety, got diapers and wipes and left. All day, Hernandez hardly caught her breath: One woman had a pregnancy test. A teen mom needed help getting the father's name on the birth certificate. Hernandez brought out a flan cake and sang "Happy Birthday" for a 1-year-old. Two church ladies brought an SUV full of donations.

Voehl, the director, isn't shy about her faith. She only hires devout Christians; her ring tone is "Joy to the World." But she ensures grant-funded programs are separate from faith-based services. Her goal isn't to convert people, she said; it's to help women unravel issues further complicating an unplanned pregnancy.

Voehl knows the feeling: At 39, she became pregnant with her fifth child, and prenatal testing indicated the baby likely had Down syndrome. She had the baby, despite feeling societal pressure to abort; that child will graduate from high school in spring.

"We think women are smart and capable of making a good decision — if they can stop and calm their troubled heart," Voehl said. "We're their cheerleaders: 'You can do this, and we'll show you the way.' And if they made their decision [for an abortion], if down the road they need any support, they can come back to us. We extend grace."

That afternoon, Maria Guzman, a pregnant mother of two from El Salvador, had her final appointment before her scheduled C-section. Her husband and family were all supportive, but she still loved coming here. Hernandez was like her counselor, she said: "I'm emotional, and a little nervous."

Two days later, Guzman's baby was born: Alison Daniela Batres Guzmancq, 7 pounds 14 ounces, 20½ inches, perfectly healthy. Their next appointment at Helping Hand is this week.