The grassroots response to her idea was overwhelming, and the Toronto chapter quickly grew into Birthright International, the world's first international crisis pregnancy service.
Love and Affection
Many Birthright volunteers and clients feel a special affection for Louise Summerhill- an ordinary woman who did something extraordinary to help others. Events in her own life helped her understand the feelings pregnant girls might experience, including feelings of loneliness, fear of criticism, tension with parents, and even the shock of finding oneself unexpectedly pregnant.
Birthright began very humbly in 1968, with a one-room office and only $300 in the bank. But Louise's steady leadership and powerful vision ensured that the new pregnancy service survived. In later years, Louise was glad the organization did not begin with a lot of money because it caused Birthright to rely on the "good hearts and hard work of volunteers". Over forty-five years later, Birthright International remains true to Louise's original vision of personal, one-on-one contact in helping relationships. Louise's Birthright means "approachability and informality" for clients and volunteers, instead of bureaucracy and meetings in highly structured, business-like environments.
A Different, more Universal Approach
Birthright takes a non-moralistic, non-judgmental approach toward helping women through their pregnancy dilemmas. Louise regretted the fact that some young unmarried mothers were belittled or ostracized by their relatives: "I can never see anything wrong with any of them." At Birthright, Louise recreated the supportive homelike environment they deserved. Moreover, Louise helped formulate a Charter, followed by all Birthright chapters worldwide, to define Birthright's services, to ensure that pregnant women receive the same considerate treatment at every Birthright chapter, and to help volunteers preserve Birthright's good reputation in the future.
Louise Summerhill’s Legacy
On her death, three of Louise’s daughters assumed the Co-presidency of Birthright International. To this day, Mary Berney continues to provide administrative and management support in her work at the Birthright Headquarters, while Stephenie Fox, a CPA, oversees financial matters. Louise R. Summerhill, Louise’s namesake, is a practicing lawyer who provides legal and other support as needed. All of them are committed to their mother’s vision of Birthright and to ensuring that her legacy lives on as long as Birthright is needed. Louise Sr.’s legacy has also taken hold in her family’s next generation: her granddaughter, Victoria Summerhill Fox, provides assistance to Mary in the office. This multi-generational legacy plays itself out in Birthright chapters all over the world!