Back in late June of 2016, I took an anti-abortion card from one of the young boys the pro-birthers force to demonstrate with them from time to time. It had been a couple of weeks since the Dicktator, the asshole of the protesters outside my clinic, had insulted my literacy after I politely refused to accept one these cards. I suppose researching every aspect of that card was my way of dealing with the bitterness I still felt about what happened and my way saying, “Fuck you, asshole, and your assumption that I can’t read.”
The card titled “Six Facts on Abortion” is about as factual as a conservative fake news website meant to stir up the feelings of Republicans that don’t fact check. Half of the facts have been proven false by real facts, studies, and research while most of the other half is debatable. The back of the card is plastered with Biblical scare tactics in order to convince the reader not to terminate her pregnancy. There were three websites on the back of the card. Not surprisingly, one is for an anti-abortion website that gives false information like abortion causes breast cancer while the other is for a Christian adoption agency.
The third website, OptionLine.org, was a bit intriguing and completely out of line with the rest of the card. Rather than trying to scare women out of abortion with lies and Christianity, it seemed to have accurate information on ALL options. It seemed supportive of a woman’s right to choose abortion. It even included a checklist on what to look for when choosing an abortion provider should a woman decide she wants to terminate her pregnancy.
Option Line has a network of centers and further research indicated that 2/3 of the clinics in my state were exactly like the clinic the protesters were demonstrating outside of in terms of pregnancy options counseling and supporting a woman’s right to choose.
Or so I thought.
I had written my second letter to the editor about the hypocrisy of the protesters handing out cards directing women to places similar to the one they were demonstrating in front of. Two weeks after it was published, the Pastor showed me how they had crossed off the website off all their cards as a result of my letter. As he put it back into his shirt pocket, I noticed he was carrying around a second card and inquired about it. He handed me one. It was for a place called Apple Pregnancy Care Center in Eau Claire, WI. I realized this was a place listed on the Options Line website and he was pleased to find they had included because, according to him, they are pro-life.
The alarming thing was this was one of the places that seemed to be pro-choice.
Months later, I noticed larger versions of the Apple Pregnancy Care Center cards began showing up at the library, no doubt left by the men who protest at the clinic across the street. By this time, I had forgotten about the red flag the Pastor raised, but the cards showing up prompted me to dig a little deeper into the centers affiliated with Option Line. Finding the truth about these centers left me embarrassed and disgusted with myself for having written that letter to the editor stating these places were similar to my health clinic. I cried and nearly vomited—that’s how disgusted I was. It was like finding out a perfect boyfriend is in fact a lying scumbag.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I had gone to see Otep about a month beforehand. I had stuck around afterwards so I could meet her again in order to give her copies of my two letters and nervously explain how her music and activism inspires me to stand up to these fucking idiots outside my health clinic. (“You’re right: they ARE fucking idiots!” she said in that deep, LA accent of hers.) So not only did everyone in town who picked up a newspaper that week read the letter…so did one of my idols. Cue the face palm.
What had happened was I had unknowingly fallen for the biggest trap of the pro-life movement: the Crisis Pregnancy Centers.
Typically run by pro-life Christian groups, CPC’s are non-profit places designed with the purpose to counsel women out of getting an abortion. Unfortunately, like the protesters outside my clinic, they’ve been known to resort to giving inaccurate or misleading information. My second round of research discovered deception is also one of their tactics to try and get women through the door.
APPLE’s official website, like the other seemingly pro-choice centers, had presented itself as a sort of family planning center promising women accurate information on all options, pregnancy testing, resources, etc. When I re-researched the centers, I ended up finding a second website for APPLE further down the search called Friends of APPLE. This website revealed what they truly were: a pro-life ministry staffed with volunteers. It went into further detail that they don’t refer to abortion or birth control and that their “educational services” shouldn’t be a substitute for professional medical advice. These were things that their official site and their cards had failed to mention. They are also listed as a Care Net member, which I hadn’t known in my initial research has one of the largest networks of CPC’s in the nation. APPLE is listed on websites pro-life groups. The big pro-choice group, NARAL, has a list of known Crisis Pregnancy centers and APPLE is one of them. In addition, there were scathing internet reviews pointing out their misleading advertising and wrong information and a couple articles that explained what they really were.
APPLE wasn’t an isolated incident either: every single center that was seemingly about choice turned out to be a pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Center, but hadn’t been quite honest about being one on their official website. Half of the centers turned up on NARAL’s list of CPCs.
My mistake in my initial research had been to trust the official websites of these places. What better way to know about anything than to go to their official site? Quite a few of them looked professional and all appeared straight forward by listing what services they provide, who they were, etc. When I looked at them again, I saw a number of keywords being repeated: “choice”, “options”, “help”, “care”, “non-judgmental”, etc. I never thought to question that. And it occurred to me that maybe the way they misrepresent themselves is the point.
Would a woman question a place if they were honest about their pro-life, Christian view and their goal of “saving lives” and convincing women of making “life affirming choices”? Maybe. I would assume some would wonder if their information is biased or accurate or if she would be put through a religious guilt trip.
Would a woman question a place if they were offering help and understanding in a non-judgmental environment for her crisis situation while stating that she has choices? I think not.
Heartbeat International, the largest CPC network in the world, recommends that CPC’s use two websites: one fundraising website stating its anti-abortion mission to secure donors and one that claims it provides medically accurate information to attract women seeking counseling, contraceptives, or abortion. This would explain why several of the places I had researched, including APPLE, ended up having a second website while their official site at the top of a Google search made them appear neutral or even pro-choice.
Many CPCs have set up shop near or right next to abortion and family planning clinics with the intention that women will wander in by mistake. Some have even gone as far to use similar sounding names as the abortion clinics nearby or names that sound like they are about choice. In fact, several of the clinics in my research had names with “Options”, “Choice” to make themselves appear pro-choice when the reality is they’re only in favor of the choices/options where you give birth. The deception continues on in the center with things like doctor office décor, volunteers with clipboards acting like medical professionals, and/or misinformation about options presented as medical facts.
It isn’t a gross oversight, but a calculated move. In the VICE News documentary “Misconception”, which is about Crisis Pregnancy Centers, there’s an audio clip of pro-life activist Abby Johnson leading a CPC training session. She explains,“Women that are seeking abortions, women that are pregnant, that are vulnerable: they are going into Google and they are typing ‘pregnancy symptoms’. There’s a way in Google where you can basically set that search to your website. Your website would be the first one that would come up. We want to look professional. We want to look business-like. And, yeah, we do kind of want to look medical. The best client you ever get is one that thinks they’re walking into an abortion clinic, the ones that think you provide abortions.”
If the research for the letter I wrote is an indication of anything its that their dishonest tactics are working. But they’re not targeting reproductive rights activists wanting to write an opinion piece for the local newspaper: their target is vulnerable women who need help navigating unplanned pregnancies.
I went to APPLE Pregnancy Care center as a woman facing a pregnancy scare to experience what women go through when they go to one of these Crisis Pregnancy Centers.
When I walked into their office, there was a front desk with computer terminals near the entrance much like my clinic. Two white, middle aged ladies politely greeted me as I flashed one of their cards I had swiped from the library that advertised to scared, possibly pregnant women and nervously asked about their free pregnancy tests.Truthfully, I was terrified as I heard countless horror stories of these sorts of places and wondered what would await me if my pregnancy test happened to come up positive.
I was asked if I wanted something to drink before being given a clipboard with a paper for some basic information about myself and was shown a seat in their little waiting area. I wrote my maiden name instead of my actual name because I was unsure how they’d use my information once I left.
So far everything had been exactly like going into a real doctor’s office with the overly pleasant staff and the clipboard of paperwork. As I glanced around, the décor looked like a doctor’s office: professional yet warm and inviting at the same time. If I hadn’t known any better I would have thought it was an actual medical provider.
But I began to notice little things that were “off”. There was an end table next to my chair that had a Bible placed on it instead of the usual random assortment of magazines. The wall ahead of me had cubby holes for pamphlets like any health provider might have and were labeled things like “pregnancy” and “adoption”, but I noticed one was labeled “marriage”. Why would a clinic need marriage pamphlets? I almost missed the extremely fine print on the paper I was writing on that stated ““This center does not offer or refer for pregnancy terminations or birth control. Information is provided as an educational service and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional and/or medical advice.” This was the exact writing that was listed on their donor website, but not their official one.
I handed in my paperwork and one of the ladies took me into one of their offices. The set up and décor of the office reminded me of my chiropractor’s office with its matching furniture and bookshelf of professional looking books, which I recall some of them were religious. Only after I had sat down did she finally inform me that she was a volunteer counselor and not a doctor. By then I figured out they wouldn’t personally reveal such information until they had a woman through the door and in one of their offices. Yet for only being a volunteer counselor with no medical background she asked me a lot of questions regarding my health and sexual activity that were similar to what my RN at my clinic would ask me at my checkups. I passed myself as an unmarried, sexually active, condom using woman with a long term boyfriend.
In the middle of this questioning, she politely tells me, “Okay, we’re going to change this up a bit.” Not one fiber in my being had a good feeling about this.
“Are you religious in any way?”
This was not a question I’ve ever been asked at a doctor’s appointment. Religion has never come up at the women’s clinic as a topic of conversation until it was in reference to the protesting zealots outside the building. I had no problem telling off the asshole protester that I am an atheist/Satanist yet I was caught off guard when this woman, who hadn’t given me any indication this would turn religious, asked me about my faith. All I could get out was a “Um…not really?” I wondered why such information was needed, why would she want to know, or what purposes does it serve in the context of receiving a free pregnancy test?
She continued on with questions like if I knew who the father was if I were pregnant, if he knew I may be pregnant, if I had anyone to confide in other than my boyfriend, if I knew what option I wanted to go with if I were pregnant, and how my feelings were on abortion. The whole thing felt invasive and uncomfortable. It was probably about 20 minutes of questions before she sent me into the bathroom to pee in a Dixie cup. And I mean a literal Dixie cup and not one of those urine sample cups with the screw on cap like at a normal health facility.
When we went back into the office with a pregnancy test and my urine, she instructed me—and I can’t make this up—-to take the dropper to drop my own urine onto the pregnancy test. I suppose this was to avoid some sort of liability involved with administering a cheap pregnancy test while not being an actual medically licensed facility. Still, making me do my own pregnancy test was extremely bizarre. A medical facility would have you pee in a cup, you give medical person said cup filled with urine, and you wait for your result without having anymore involvement with your urine sample.
Good news: not pregnant. But I had to deal with 20 minutes of questions to get a test that takes a couple minutes to get results from.
I thought my experience was over until the lady said they offer a packet to women with negative tests, though I was free to decline. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to see what sort of information they offer to women, I gladly took one and proceeded to look through its contents once I had left the office.
The contents of this package included:
*A pamphlet on STD’s which had “SAVE SEX FOR MARRIAGE” at the end of it.
*A pamphlet which stated “Condoms are not the answers for STDS” and “We can show you how you can be proud of your lifestyle and give you the tools to help you choose a man who will be a good father to your children.” (The second bit made me realize the reason there was a cubby hole for marriage pamphlets).
*A pamphlet that said “Many guys just want sex. That’s how they are made” and that I can commit to “renewed virginity”.
At least from the counselor’s prospective, I had just gotten through a pregnancy scare. Then she offers me this packet for women with negative tests that might as well say, “Congratulations, you irresponsible hussy. You dodged a bullet. We suggest you keep your legs closed until you find Jesus and a good husband.” No matter how many times I read and re-read the information that was given to me, I felt like it was slut shaming through leaflets. There was no information on birth control except that I shouldn’t engage in sex until marriage. The information on condoms was condemning simply because they’re not fool proof. The whole thing seemed like it was designed for the unmarried, sexually active woman with the intention of shaming her for having sex outside a traditional, Christian marriage. It also made me feel like there was no room for my own personal beliefs and what I really wanted. The overall view of the information was, “God is great! You should submit to him! Abstain from sex until you find a husband to have kids with!”
Compare that with my reproductive health clinic where they have unbiased, medically accurate information and have NEVER forced their personal beliefs on me or made me feel ashamed for being sexually active before I was married or when I don’t want children. When I went to them for a pregnancy scare and my test was negative, they asked if I was interested in birth control pills instead of telling me I should stop having sex because the Lord says so.
After my experience, I wondered how the Crisis Pregnancy Centers are allowed to operate being that undercover investigations have shown that these places have lied to women and given them medically inaccurate information. I discovered a few cities had passed legislature that either would have curbed the misleading advertising or have forced these places to provide accurate information, which shouldn’t have been a problem if these places truly weren’t dishonest. The CPC’s fought back saying that such legislature violated their free speech. Because they’re non-profits that offer women their services for free, they are able to get around false advertising regulations as they are not commerce that can be regulated. Loopholes allow them to continue to lie to the women they claim they want to help.
Perhaps they feel they’re somehow justified in lying to women in order to “save lives” or maybe they truly don’t believe their tactics are dishonest. It doesn’t change the fact they’re targeting and exploiting women who are at their most vulnerable. It doesn’t change the fact that their tactics are completely deceitful. They’re still liars whether or not they believe their own lies. Claiming to be “pro-life” or morally right because of a faith in God doesn’t make anyone less of a vulture preying on women who are scared and uncertain.
So whenever I spot those damned APPLE cards the protesters leave in the pamphlet cubby holes inside the library’s entrance area, I swipe them so that maybe some woman won’t end up going there. I believe women should have access to unbiased, accurate information and resources when facing an unplanned pregnancy, which women are not getting at these Crisis Pregnancy Centers. It’s not a pro-choice or pro-life issue. It’s simply a matter of human decency and women don’t deserve to be lied to.