Today’s post comes from guest blogger Amanda, who is a pro-choice volunteer from the Phoenix area. Amanda recently discovered that she is pregnant. This is her story about seeking out prenatal services.
Would you feel comfortable if you went to a clinic and had the counselor that you spoke with laugh that “she could say anything to her clients” and not have anyone to answer to? What if you were young, scared, and pregnant? This is what I experienced at a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) in Mesa, AZ. I knew that these places were shadier than the guy with the van that has ‘Free Candy’ spray painted on the side, but I must admit that I previously thought the morale of these places and the character of those involved with them had to be exaggerated. I went because I wanted to obtain an ultrasound and my insurance wouldn’t cover one in the first trimester. It wasn’t for medical purposes, just my romantized desire to have one for my pregnancy scrap book. I also knew that they could provide a variety of items that I otherwise couldn’t afford (clothes, baby items, cribs, etc) in exchange for my participation in their parenting classes.
I knew that these places were “pro life” centers, and I knew that the pro life movement was primarily Christian. I accepted that I might be confronted with some religious idealogy. I have a lot of devout religious friends and I grew up in the Church, so I thought that I had thick enough skin to handle what they dished out. I was clear about my intentions from the time I arrived, and I checked my personal beliefs and ideals at the door. I was informed that a counseling session was mandatory before anything else. I had only seen my regular counselor once since I had learned of my pregnancy, so I obliged thinking it would feel good to have someone to talk to about my situation. They had me leave a urine sample and directed me to a room where I waited for the counselor.
One of the first things that I was asked was my religion. I politely answered that I didn’t really partake in one, that I was raised Baptist, but now only labeled myself as spiritual. I was hoping she would leave it at that, but instead she began trying to interrogate me. I tried to explain that even if I told her right then and there that I accepted Jesus as my savior, I just couldn’t force myself to believe it as true. She persisted to keep pressuring me, and even told me her own story of how her “sinful” teenage years had somehow led her to be unfaithful in her later marriage. After the first few minutes, I stopped trying to defend myself and just let her go.
Nearly an hour later, I was asked if I wouldn’t mind watching a video as she checked my test results. I agreed, and she gave me a choice of four topics, two regarding abortion and the other two regarding fetal development. I chose one of the latter and was left alone. The video was like something from my seventh grade health class, nothing special or over the top. I entertained myself for the 15 minute duration of it by reading various literature that was scattered about the room. To point out the inaccuracies on each handout would take an entire new article. Shortly after the video finished, the counselor returned to congratulate me for being a new mommy, and handed me a pair of knit booties with a slew of pamphlets and information. As I was on a page of pictures about fetal development, I asked her, “I’m about ten weeks, how big would my fetus be?” She holds her fingers up about 4-5 inches apart. I looked at her a little awestruck, then glanced down at the page and replied, “Really? Because it says here it’s only about an inch and a half.” She paused for a moment then giggled and said “Well, I guess I tend to exaggerate.”
I have no problem with them being able to discuss religion, nor do I have a problem with their stance against abortion though neither of those things agree with my own outlooks. What I have a problem with is incompetent or dishonest personnel at any facility that serves as or acts as a clinic. I’m not even asking for unbiased information, I would settle for accuracy. The Pearson Foundation actually published a handbook called “How to Start and Operate a Pro-life Outreach Pregnancy Service Center,” which many centers still use as a guide. It openly discourages clinics from admitting that they are “pro life” and says to ensure that the decor does not “expose your purpose.” It instructs to never counsel or refer for contraception and to “make every effort to keep the daughter from the parents.” It suggests that they open near abortion clinics and use “neutral” names and pro choice vocabulary. These centers, and their deception aren’t new (the first one was opened in 1967), though their tactics have lightened up. In the ’80s, crisis pregnancy centers would actually provide shelter to pregnant women right up until the eligible date for legal abortion had passed before kicking them out with nowhere to go. A number of states began cracking down on such tactics. As a result, the centers evolved to putting on a facade of caring about women’s health. They offer dollar store pregnancy tests, occasionally ultrasounds, and sometimes various items. That is all.
This wasn’t the end of the lies I was told. For example, I was told that all crisis pregnancy centers operate solely on donations, that they receive no funding or aid from the government. That’s ironic because our state, paired with nine others, have state-subsidized funding for CPCs. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States estimates that over $130 million in federal abstinence-only education money has gone to CPCs since 1982. They also receive money through tax credits and revenue generated by “Choose Life” license plates.
Direct federal funding began in 2000 via the Special Projects of Regional Significance Program where $3 million was given that year, doubling to $6 million by 2002. In Texas, a single clinic received $5 million in state family planning funding to provide “abortion alternatives.” In previous years, this money had been granted to actual reproductive healthcare providers. In 2006, the Texas Department of State Health Services estimated that, as a result, nearly 17,000 women lost access to preventative family planning and reproductive health care services – including pap smears and breast cancer screening. Because CPCs have so little overhead, they are proliferating while clinics offering actual medical care lag behind.
Currently, there are an estimated 2,300 to 3,500 CPCs in the US, compared to 1,800 clinics that provide abortion. This is unsurprising considering the cost of real medical care versus a stick to pee on and a video to watch. No matter which side of the fence you are on about abortion, it is unacceptable for clinics that have a history of lies to flourish and diminish the availability of real health care. The “education” about alternatives to abortion isn’t worth a dime of taxpayer money, even from those who would prefer fewer women to have abortions. Laws that regulate the operations of these clinics have made huge steps in the past to allow these clinics to continue providing their services, but forcing them to do so honestly and morally.
For example, the Texas attorney general sued to prevent crisis pregnancy centers from advertising themselves as abortion providers in 1985. As of June 30th, a bill called Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act (HR5652) has been referred to the House Committee. The bill simply states that “the Federal Trade Commission shall promulgate rules to prohibit, as an unfair and deceptive act or practice, any person from advertising with the intent to deceptively create the impression that such person is a provider of abortion services if such person does not provide abortion services.” Introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, the bill currently has 25 co-sponsors.
To help stop this deception, please write your state representatives and encourage them to become a co-sponsor of HR5652.