When Morgen Trube was 20, she thought she was pregnant. So Trube, then a sophomore at Hawaii Pacific University, Googled “free pregnancy test in Oahu.” An ad popped up for a facility called A Place for Women in Waipio.
Trube had just moved to Hawaii. She had out-of-state health insurance and no local doctor. She called Planned Parenthood and dozens of doctors. No one could fit her in.
She was desperate to confirm her pregnancy so she could decide what to do.
A Place for Women told Trube they could see her that day.
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What happened next launched Trube on a painful odyssey that today, three years later, can bring the 23-year-old to tears. Trube was forced to battle to protect her privacy, going so far as to send a cease-and-desist letter to the anti-abortion clinic. As Trube would soon discover, A Place for Women is not a licensed medical clinic, though she thought it was one.
“I didn’t really understand what was happening and that this place wasn’t a place that was going to help me,” Trube said during an email interview with Rewire about her experience at A Place for Women.
A Place for Women in Waipio is a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), or fake clinic. It’s one of 17 such facilities in Hawaii and more than 4,000 across the United States, according to a national anti-choice umbrella group that many CPCs are affiliated with called Heartbeat International.
The staff at these facilities, which are typically tied to a religious group, are known to peddle mistruths and engage in emotional arm-twisting to discourage individuals from ending their pregnancies. Peer-reviewed research, and federal and independent investigations, have caught CPC staff dispensing false and misleading information on the risks of abortion care.
Democrats in Hawaii’s Democratic-controlled legislature are sponsoring legislation to require facilities like A Place for Women to abide by state and federal patient privacy laws and to provide information about state programs to access abortion services, contraception, and prenatal care. California legislators passed a similar bill in 2015, but the Aloha State is taking the measure one step further to safeguard patients’ privacy.
State Sen. Laura Thielen (D-Honolulu), part of the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus, which submitted the bills in the state house and senate, said the legislation came amid reports that local pregnancy centers were disclosing patient information to outside parties and refusing to hand over medical records to patients.
“We want to make sure our medical privacy laws are applying to them,” Thielen told Rewire. “We think we need some more investigation into what’s going on at the centers.”
The federal health privacy law, known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), applies to health providers, such as clinics and doctors. HIPAA gives patients a variety of rights, including the right to access their medical records and keep their medical information private.
“We’ve had instances here … the centers have used personal health information that patients disclosed to contact their employers and families to intimidate them not to pursue an abortion,” said Dr. Shandhini Raidoo, an OB-GYN in Hawaii, who has seen patients from these centers.
She told Rewire the facilities “do not comply with standards that physicans should follow.”
The Hawaii Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which represents more than 200 OB-GYNs in the state, told lawmakers in written testimony that limited-service pregnancy centers provide medically inaccurate information, allow unlicensed and unqualified staff to perform medical exams, and delay critical time-sensitive health care.
Meanwhile, dozens of religious organizations and people have urged lawmakers to oppose the legislation, which they say infringes on their right to free speech and freedom of religion.
A Place for Women looks like a health center in a promotional video on the facility’s website. The video shows a reception area like you’d see in a doctor’s office and an examination room outfitted with medical equipment, including an ultrasound machine. Staff appear clad in scrubs and lab coats, and wearing stethoscopes.
A Place for Women’s website says the facility offers “free, confidential services,” such as pregnancy tests and limited ultrasounds. The website says the center does not “perform or refer for abortions.”
Still, Trube thought she was in a health clinic. She was handed patient forms, which she filled out.
“I figured that all of the forms they were having me fill out were forms to protect me as a patient, just like any doctor’s office would do,” Trube recalled.
In Hawaii, A Place for Women is considered a “limited service pregnancy center.” Hawaii doesn’t license limited service pregnancy centers, or most medical clinics, for that matter, according to a spokesperson from the state health department.
However, some of the staff at A Place for Women are licensed health professionals. The medical director, Dr. Vivien Wong, has been a licensed medical doctor since 2004, and Rebecca Zaman, a registered nurse, has been licensed since 2014, according to the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs website. A Place for Women also holds an active state business license.
Wong did not respond to requests for comment about the facility and Trube’s account. Wong said in written testimony to lawmakers that she is a board-certified radiologist licensed to practice in Hawaii and California, and A Place for Women is HIPAA compliant.
Trube filled out the forms with her personal information: Her first and last name, birth date, address, phone number, and email address. She might have shared her medical history. She can’t recall.
“To be honest with you, when I filled out the forms I didn’t really read much of what they said,” Trube told Rewire. “I was scared out of my mind and was so desperate for help that I probably would have signed anything they put in front of me.”
Trube’s first inkling that she wasn’t in a medical facility came during a series of “counseling” sessions with four women at the facility. Trube recounted the “counseling” in testimony to lawmakers:
They asked me how far along I thought I was, if I was in a committed relationship, what my religion was, if I was considering an abortion, and if I believed that life began at conception. After all of the questions, the women proceeded to tell me their personal stories about abortion and how they wish they never would have gotten one and put the baby up for adoption instead.
Trube was then shown plastic figurines to demonstrate what a fetus looks like at various gestational stages. She watched a video that suggested abortion is murder.
Finally, Trube took a pregnancy test. Staffers told her she was pregnant, and showed her another anti-abortion video. Trube said the four women accompanied her to the ultrasound room, all the while questioning her about her belief in God and her relationship with her partner. They gave Trube a handful of brochures on parenting resources and the ultrasound photo, which they’d placed in a frame with the words, “Baby Trube.”
Trube, at that point, wanted nothing more than to escape the center, she told lawmakers. The entire experience, she said, was “incredibly horrible.”
As I drove home, I felt like I had just stepped out of the Twilight Zone and I couldn’t believe what I just went through. All I wanted was somebody who could help me, but instead if felt like the only thing they cared about was the baby.
That visit, Trube soon learned, wouldn’t be her final encounter with A Place for Women. She opened her email one day to find an unexpected message that included her full name and the gestational age of her “baby.”
Trube can’t recall the organization that sent the email.
“I’m assuming [A Place for Women] signed me up … because I definitely didn’t,” she told Rewire. “The email had something to do with saying the number of weeks, what was developing with the baby, and how big the baby was. I remember that it had a picture of the fetus in a womb.”
She unsubscribed and quickly deleted the message, she told Rewire.
Now, three years later, Trube is a senior majoring in public health at Hawaii Pacific University and president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at the university.
Trube said the experience at A Place for Women spurred her involvement in advocacy and health policy. She graduates in May, and plans to go to law school next year. “Learning that I wasn’t the only woman out there who has had this experience made me want to stand up and say this is not OK,” she said. “No other woman should ever have to go through what I went through.”
The visit to A Place for Women came at a particularly painful time in her life. The effects of that brief visit linger to this day.
When Trube testified in February before a joint meeting of the senate’s commerce, consumer protection and health; and judiciary and labor committees, a women who identified herself as Stacey Jimenez, the director of operations with A Place for Women, attempted to undermine Trube’s account.
Jimenez held up what she said was a copy of Trube’s patient survey, which Jimenez said Trube had completed at the end of her visit. Jimenez began to read. She was quickly stopped by state Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D-Maui), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health. Jimenez asked whether there was any way to share the survey with the committee. Baker told Jimenez she could submit it in writing.
Trube later told Rewire, “When she tried to read my exit survey I was in utter disbelief. I was first shocked and then super pissed.”
Trube wondered, would the center share more of her information? What about information from other women? “It made me sick to my stomach,” she said.
Rewire asked Trube whether A Place for Women still has her personal information. She believes they do.
Trube has taken action against the center. On Monday, Trube’s attorney sent A Place for Women a cease-and-desist letter telling the facility they can no longer use her personal information.