Possible Pro-life Intimidation (and Disney analogies!)

As mentioned in “The Irritating Sand at the Life Chain”, crippling depression and anxiety has greatly affected my ability to do activist work.

One aspect that wasn’t affected by my emotional struggles was writing opinion letters for the paper. Faust is perfectly content with constantly beating a dead horse when it comes to the pro-life agenda, continually recycling the same language and phrases to the point where all his letters sound alike with subtle variations. For me, there wasn’t much point in continuing to write. Facts and statistics don’t matter to a movement that believes they are helping women by lying to them and shaming them in front of healthcare providers and feel their actions are justified by religion. I didn’t have anything new to add so I stopped writing following my last letter earlier this spring.

New subject matter to write about came in the form of Apple Pregnancy Care Center, a pro-life crisis pregnancy center out of Eau Claire, advertising on the high school sports calendar. I am against crisis pregnancy centers due to them presenting themselves as women’s healthcare clinics when they’re actually pro-life ministries with false information and zero medical services. This crisis pregnancy center in question was (and still is) discreetly advertising in the paper and now they were blatantly advertising on a free poster that anyone could pick up, including business owners that would want to display the sports schedule in their establishments. It had the potential of ensuring that these sorts of places continue to dupe women facing pregnancy scares or an unplanned pregnancy.

I struggled to write it for a couple of weeks, but finally managed to submit something to the paper towards the end of September:

“Bad Apple Part of Spoiled Bunch”

Those who picked up the Black River Falls (BRF) Tigers sport schedule poster may have seen the sponsored advertisement for a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), a type of faith-based non-profit established to counsel women against abortion. I suspect it went unnoticed by most due to the way it presented itself

If you thought Apple Pregnancy Care Center was anything but a religious anti-abortion organization, you fell for the questionable advertising tactics crisis pregnancy centers often employ. I was fooled, too, while researching Option Line. Eleven of the fifteen places listed for Wisconsin appeared to be reproductive health clinics. However, the “pro-life” protesters outside Essential Health began distributing business cards for Apple PCC, praising their anti-abortion views despite its website stating that it discusses abortion as an option.

Option Line is run by the two biggest CPC networks in the country, Heartbeat International and Care Net. All the “clinics” were crisis pregnancy centers, most having secondary donation websites explaining they were anti-abortion organizations (example: friendsofapple.org)

Apple PCC’s poster ad is a perfect example of how most CPCs don’t disclose they are an anti-abortion organization in their advertising, official websites, and other media. They’ll use keywords like “options”, “choices”, and “informed decisions” in order to sound neutral or pro-choice. When presented alongside “free and confidential” services like pregnancy testing and all-options counseling in a “non-judgmental environment”, it subtly creates the illusion they are a hospitable women’s clinic that advocates for choice. Because of this, there are countless stories of women that went into these places assuming they were trained medical professionals that offered accurate information and resources only to leave feeling duped and mislead.

What CPCs offer is worse than how they lure unsuspecting women into their establishments. CPCs have consistently touted falsehoods about abortion and reproductive health based on poor research and outright lies. Examples of false hoods include “condoms are porous”, “birth control are abortifacients”, and “abortion causes breast cancer, infertility, and/or psychological damage.” Though their advertisements imply they’re medical, the most CPCs offer in terms of medical services is a basic urine-based pregnancy test that is self-administered. As HIPAA laws only apply to actual medical facilities, CPCs aren’t required to safeguard any client information, which may include contact information, S.S. numbers, and medical history. Not surprisingly, there have been instances where CPCs have harassed women considering abortion at home and work, even going as far to reach out to her friends and family to expose her personal information with them.

CPCs typically do offer material items to women that decide to parent, but only on a one-time emergency basis unless enrolled in an education program (“Earn While You Learn”) where points to purchase items are earned by participating in classes and/or Bible study. Despite its potential benefit, it does not make up for the shady tactics and spreading of misinformation.

Yes, parenting and adoption are both legitimate options and its perfectly acceptable for women to choose either of those options. The thing that is completely unacceptable are organizations that exploit the vulnerability of scared and uncertain women in order to promote those options while discrediting the third legitimate pregnancy option through negative propaganda.

Women deserve to have access to accurate, unbiased information and resources; not be misled and lied to.           

Looking back on it, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Faust popped into my workplace a couple days after the letter was published and on the day his pro-life group was having a bake sale across the street. Maybe I didn’t think anything of it since he’s left me alone these past few months. He hasn’t been appearing in front of my counter at work or going out of his way to greet me in public like he was before. The only time I’ve been truly bothered by him these past few months was when the occasional Planned Parenthood donation made in his honor resulted in mail being sent to my personal address, either in the form of a copy of a letter he wrote to the president of Planned Parenthood or a thank you card informing me he donated Bibles in my name. (Currently, eight Bibles have been donated in my name and I have three copies of letters he supposedly wrote to Cecile Richards). Aside from the random donation and swiping all the Apple PCC cards he leaves at the library, I’ve been mostly inactive. I suppose he wouldn’t have any reason to go out of his way to see me.

Writing that letter for the paper gave him a reason to visit. It doesn’t seem like an accident that he would appear almost immediately following the publishing of my letter when he hasn’t bothered to show up in months.

Between my major depression and the overwhelming workload that day, I was already distressed even without Faust coming over to carry on awkward conservation. He spoke with that programmed politeness that has earned him the name “Stepford Wife”. He thanked me for, as he put it, “coming out of retirement”. Odd that I write a letter condemning the kind of organizations he supports for being dishonest and he thanks me for it like he was an adoring fan of my work. I felt like he was mocking me under that polite facade that sounded like he was reading a scripted speech from a teleprompter. I wasn’t in the right state of mind to deal with him and certainly was in no mood for his presence, but he approached me while I was on the clock at my workplace. I just stood there and was forced to listen. What else was I supposed to do? If I told him off at work, I have no doubt he would go straight to management outraged by the employee that was rude to him. I think he knows he backs me into a corner by approaching me at work and that I’m powerless to stand up to him without potentially risking my job for it.

Then he pretended that he remembered something he was supposed to tell me as if it weren’t the main reason he stopped by out of the blue: Melinda Gardner, director of Apple Pregnancy Care Center, was going to be speaking at their annual youth pro-life meeting and apparently wanted to meet me, extending an invitation for me to come.

Everything else is kind of a blur. With that unwanted conservation piled on existing stress, I think my brain shut down manual mode and started running on auto-pilot. I vaguely remember a co-worker who was standing by asking what that was all about and then going to the bathroom to wait out a small panic attack.

It sounds a bit strange, but all I could think about in the bathroom stall was the scene in “The Little Mermaid” after Ariel’s grotto gets destroyed. If the “Dicktator” is like Judge Frollo, then Faust is Ursula. Popping up at the precise time to seize the moment, both Faust and Ursula display kindness and claim to be sympathetic and helpful toward the “poor unfortunate souls”, but it doesn’t take much to realize that the compassion is superficial and part of a calculated act. He might as well have said, “Oh! And there is one…more…thing!” like Ursula did concerning the price for helping Ariel when he suddenly remembered having to tell me about the speaker at their meeting. I can’t rule out that his visit was possibly a means of intimidation or shame even though he halfheartedly acted like he was supportive of what I wrote. It doesn’t seem all that far-fetched when I consider what occurred following the counter protest of the “life chain” he was in charge of a couple weeks later: He approached us, thanked us for coming, and even encouraged us to write letters to the paper…then we found ourselves vilified in the paper by another pro-life supporter (and featured a picture of us taken by yet another supporter) because we stood up to them. Ursula was also encouraging and supportive of what Ariel wanted to do, but made every attempt to sabotage her because she didn’t want the mermaid to succeed in her goal.

Maybe it’s just a crazy thought from overthinking it too much. Then again, pro-life supporters have tried to silence pro-choice supporters through shame, intimidation, and even threats. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that Faust wishes to take my “voice”, so to speak.

Silly mermaid analogies aside, why on Earth would a director of a secretly pro-life crisis pregnancy center want to meet with someone that has spoken out against such places? An activist I’ve been speaking with for the past year or so provided a possible answer: “They really like to try to talk in circles and get people to back off.” She has a point. Every time I’ve written a letter and both times I’ve counter protested the Life Chain, a pro-life supporter has been quick to write a criticizing letter in response. Faust has appeared at work whenever I wrote a letter and was quick to approach us at the Life Chain. I expect thank you letters for Bible donations made in my name or copies of letters to Cecile Richards whenever I press that donation button on the Planned Parenthood website. Basically, I stand up to them and they go on the offensive. Honestly, I think the director of the crisis pregnancy center that I was overly critical of wanting to meet with me was another attempt by pro-life supporters pushing back against the lone pro-choice woman that dares to speak out against and question this movement.

Last year, Faust invited me to this annual youth meeting so I could learn what they were about and what they were teaching teenagers. “At the very least, it’ll give you more fodder for your letters,” he said, still speaking in that programmed politeness. At the time, I had just written a letter that had referred to these pro-life supporters as “anti-woman” and I swear the speaker looked straight at me when she explained to the teenagers that her pro-life beliefs didn’t make her anti-woman. I’m sure this year’s meeting would have been more of the same: pizza, annoying hymns, and adults giving teenagers misinformation about abortion and birth control while staring down the elephant in the room wearing the Butcher Babies t-shirt.

Obviously, I didn’t go this year’s meeting. I imagine the director of Apple PCC would wear that noble and righteous front like a mask and put on a show to try and convince me that they’re not the deceptive villains I’ve found they are. I found better plans for that night. While pro-life supporters pretended they were brave crusaders standing up for human lives by attending a meeting and eating pizza while planning on doing nothing else, I went to a meeting about domestic violence (which was unfortunately canceled) and a fundraiser for a local organization that seeks to help teenagers aging out of the foster care system.

My absence at the meeting was brought up a couple weeks after the meeting was held when I went to get a refill on my birth control. Faust was outside with his damned sign and was insistent on striking a conversation with me.

“Hey! We missed you at the meeting! But the director of Apple would still like to meet you and said you’re welcome to come and tour the place anytime you’d like.”

I’m certainly not going to take up that offer. A personal tour would probably be as dishonest and misleading as their official website. Plus I’ve already been through the place because I posed as a client experiencing a pregnancy scare (actually, I was experiencing a scare at the time as I hadn’t had a period for about seven weeks).

Maybe I was powerless to say anything at work, but I wasn’t in front of the clinic. I quickly and curtly told him, “Sorry, but I had a fundraiser to go to” and walked inside the clinic while he disappointingly said, “Oh.” Thus, ends this frustrating and weird chapter of my activism story.

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