Last week, an article in Time Magazine, written by Nancy Gibbs, addressed the burgeoning business of so-called, "crisis pregnancy centers" or CPC's. If you recall Tyler's post about the L-Word episode that featured such a center, you'll remember what hypocritical hoaxes they conjure and the trickery and deceit they market.
The CPC's, most often supported and sustained by Christian charities, often operate under the umbrella of one of three national groups: Care Net, Heartbeat International and the U.S. National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. Since they are not affiliated with a national organization, Gibbs claims that we cannot say precisely how many such pregnancy centers there are. Care Net puts the figure at around 2300 (not including traditional maternity homes, adoption agencies or Catholic Charities) while other sources put the number higher, anywhere from 2500 to 4000 in the US. Last year Care Net spent $4 million on marketing, including more than $2 million on billboards reading slogans like, "PREGNANT AND SCARED? 1-800-395-HELP. WE'RE HERE 24/7."
A woman walks into one of these centers, hoping to get some information about contraception or abortion or any number of reproductive health concerns she might have, and what does she find? Not care and support, certainly. Instead, she'll have to counter conversion tactics and false information.
[Deborah] Wood is the CEO of Asheville Pregnancy Support Services in Asheville, North Carolina, one of the thousands of crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. that are working to end abortion… "They've been fed these lies, that it's just a bunch of cells that's not worth anything," [Nurse Joyce] Wilson says. "But those limbs are moving. That heart is beating. You don't have to say anything …" She brings out a black velvet box that looks as if it holds a strand of pearls. Inside are four tiny rubber fetuses, the smallest like a kidney bean with limbs, the biggest about the size of a thumb. This is what your baby looks like, she tells clients; this is about how much it weighs right now. "When we do the ultrasound, we ask the girl how she's feeling," Wilson explains.
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Ask the girl how she's feeling. Not what she's thinking. Centers like Woods' simply don't trust women to do any of the thinking. Wood claims that she and her co-workers are caretakers and that her center does not pursue fear and guilt tactics. Yet they do not hesitate to offer ultrasounds, despite the highly questionable medical necessity of them, and brochures that clearly have misinformation that are still in use. One such brochure is called "You're Considering an Abortion: What Can Happen to You?" warns, "Your next baby will be twice as likely to die in the first few months of life" and "After an abortion you may become sterile." The citations throughout are to journal articles dating back to 1967, with none from the past 20 years. Other centers offer severely misleading information as well. For an example, have a close look at the checklist from the Rockville Pregnancy Center. With all the effort put into offering elaborations that sound like medical advice and buildings that look like hospitals, such methods are not a far cry from hoaxes manufactured on any Las Vegas magician's stage.
Yet if despite all this, a woman still wants an abortion, such centers most often refuse to refer her to a place that can help her. Woods claims that her center is not about bullying anyone into a decision that they don't want to make. Yet her center, and centers like it, do not seem to take seriously a woman's right to truthful and honest communication about her options.
The article in Time is titled, "The Grassroots Culture War," invoking an ideological battle of sorts. There are sides to be taken and issues to be clarified. Let us get down to business, then. What is this debate really about?
Both sides talk about the importance of complete information and informed consent, then argue over what that means. Each side challenges the other's motives: pro-life activists say abortionists are in business for the money and don't care about women; pro-choice advocates counter that crisis pregnancy centers are in the business for the ideology and don't care about women either.
Is this where the story ends? Is informed consent the real crux of the debate? It is crucial, but certainly not the locus of contention. An Affront to Choice, a report by the National Abortion Federation, is an incredible resource for more information about how crisis pregnancy centers operate, demystifies these operations and dealings to put us in touch with the methods employed by those claiming to protect life.
In a preposterous effort at recognizing the economic pressure on women who may choose an abortion, some CPC's offer resources like food, formula, baby clothes, strollers and help with the month's rent. "We're willing to offer $200, $300, $400 on the spot, no strings attached," says Pat Foley, who runs the Wakota Life Care Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. "No life should end because of money."
Hmm. This sounds promising, at first. Will these CPC's offer monetary support for the next 18 years, though? Will they offer childcare for the next 13-15 years? Start a college fund for the potential child? Of course not. Will they even support legislation that supports increased funding for education in extremely poor, rural and urban areas where the potential children might live? Where they often target women who are "at risk" for abortion? Will they offer the mothers-to-be skills or job training so they may better provide for their families? Will they support government programs that will? Will they support an alternative family structure that might be required for a person to raise a child on his/her terms? Will they challenge legislation that gives corporations free reign to load those poor, urban or rural communities with toxins that might affect the mother's health or the potential child's development?
If I were you, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Instead, they send a woman off with some scary and false information, a stroller and some formula in an effort to recognize her hardship. No life should end because of money, they say. How should life be lived, though? What does "pro-life" mean under such circumstances? What rights and securities are human beings owed once born? Will these self-proclaimed advocates of life, fight tooth and nail for the human rights of each of the potential children they claim to be saving? Will they take to the streets when the schools they attend are under funded? When they are sent to war? When their parents are unjustly incarcerated? When they need basic health care or an expensive, but life saving operation?
What are the proponents of such centers and ideologies of "life" willing to commit their time, energy and money to, once a woman decides to carry a pregnancy to term?
Those are the questions I'd like to see some answers to.