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Actress shares story at pregnancy center

DULUTH - With starring roles in movies such as "Summer of '42" and "Rio Lobo," and a stint as a Cover Girl cosmetics model, Jennifer O'Neill appeared to have the perfect life back in the '70s. But Thursday night she shared with hundreds of strangers something that many people did not know - that she was faced with an unwanted pregnancy at the height of her career.

O'Neill was the guest speaker at a benefit Thursday evening at the Marriott Hotel in Duluth. O'Neill, 57, shared her personal experience with an unwanted pregnancy 30 years ago with patrons attending the Gwinnett Pregnancy Resource Center dinner.

Following advice from the father, her parents and even her doctor, O'Neill decided to have an abortion.

"Forty-three percent of women who reach the age of 55 have had an abortion," O'Neill said. Based on this experience and others, O'Neill wrote her autobiography entitled, "Surviving Myself." She expressed her dismay at not having a place like the Pregnancy Resource Center to turn to years ago.

The benefit dinner was for the Gwinnett Pregnancy Resource Center in Lawrenceville. The center exists solely for the purpose of giving pregnant women a place to get medical care and counseling when they feel they have nowhere else to turn. Until recently, the focus of the center's care was counseling, but today the focus is on medical attention, with counseling still available.

The center's Senior Director Donna Perry said, "Since last year, many things have happened to sharpen our focus at the center. We've moved from a house to a 4,000 square foot office facility. We've gotten a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine. We do about 35 ultrasounds a week, and they're free to women who qualify."

Free pregnancy tests are also available.

"We offer men and women facts and medical care, which helps them make decisions that are good for them and their babies," Perry added.

About the switch from an emphasis on counseling to an emphasis on medical care, Perry added, "We had to remain relevant. The X and Y generation today are very savvy. We need to provide services that women are seeking. They want information, not necessarily counseling."

Carrie Soles, nurse manager at the center, performed a live ultrasound on a woman who was almost three months pregnant at Thursday night's event.

"Many women have no idea that this is what a baby looks like at 11 weeks," said Soles. For some women, seeing that developing fetus moving and kicking is the first time they really grasp the concept that they are carrying a child.

WWEV Radio personality Margaret Cheely was the master of ceremonies at the dinner. "It's so exciting to be able to work with the Pregnancy Resource Center," Cheely said before introducing O'Neill.

The Gwinnett Pregnancy Resource Center was founded in 1991. In 2004, there were more than 3,005 client visits. Future goals include establishing a regional telephone center and satellite office. Administrators also plan to add medical personnel and trained staff to expand the medical services offered.

The Center is located at 501 Crown Pointe Way, Suite 140 in Lawrenceville. For more information, call 770-338-1680.