In 2003, Heartbeat International and Care Net joined forces to create Option Line, a pro-life contact center designed to reach out to women seeking answers about pregnancy options. Care Net president, Melinda Delahoyde, stated about its website upgrade, “When a young woman suspects she might be pregnant, she often goes online for help. We’ve designed our new Option Line website so that it’s one of the first places she visits. By putting her in touch with a local pregnancy center, Option Line is connecting her to life-saving support for her and her unborn child.”
A feature the website promotes is its 24/7 Option Line live chat:
“If you are wondering whether or not you’re pregnant, your mind is probably racing with questions. It’s common to feel confused, scared, or overwhelmed. Option Line live chat is available any time, day or night. We offer free, confidential help, information about pregnancy signs and symptoms, information on all your options, and we can quickly connect you to the local assistance you need. Call our pregnancy helpline at 1-800-712-4357 or chat with us now!”
I decided to see what the chat service is like. I tried it three times, posing as different women with different pregnancy situations. Here are the results along with the conversations, which had to be screen shot in sections and put together.
Maya. Age 21. Los Angeles. Missed a couple periods.
After answering the initial automated message, I waited for about three or four minutes before I got a response. This would probably feel excruciating if I had been a woman seeking help for a pregnancy scare.
With this chat, she almost immediately directed me to a crisis pregnancy center, which she basically got from putting the zip code I had given through the “Find A Center By Zip Code” on their website and copied and pasted the information on it in the chat. She insisted on their “free and confidential” services, but at the the same time didn’t know anything about it because “every center is different”.
While I was glad to know that she was upfront with me about the center not being like a doctor’s office, I wondered if it was because I had asked. What bothered me was her saying “It is not a doctor’s office” and then going onto say they may have medical staff, they may have me fill out medical paperwork, and its helpful to bring an ID. They’re not a doctor’s office, but I might have to fill out medical paperwork and ID information for medical professionals working there? She repeatedly noted the confidentiality of the center, but by her own words they’re also not a medical facility that would have to be required by law to safeguard patient information.
The conversation abruptly ends because…well…she stopped responding! I waited for ten minutes on information about the kind of resources the center would offer and eventually assumed I wasn’t worth her time. From her perspective, I was experiencing a pregnancy scare. I thought I could get information from the actual chat, but it seemed like she was pushing me to go to this center to get all my questions answered.
As far as the crisis pregnancy center she gave me, it looks insanely medical. Calling itself “a licensed medical clinic”, it apparently offers pregnancy testing, options counseling, proof of pregnancy, limited ultrasounds, facts about abortion and risks, STD information, post abortion counseling, information on natural family planning, and a ton of referrals. But there are little hints that it’s a crisis pregnancy center like emphasis on miscarriage and scheduling an appointment to get abortion information and a total lack of reproductive health care service like pap smears, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and birth control despite claiming to be a medical clinic for women. The center is listed with a few pro-life groups including the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a “faith-based Christian ministry that seeks to glorify God by proclaiming the sanctity of human life, both born and unborn” that also helps equip crisis pregnancy centers with legal counsel. A couple Yelp reviews commented that they were pushy about religion and marriage, one noting that she didn’t find the prying into her personal life and relationship appropriate or desired.
Shiloh. Age 19. Madison. Looking for abortion clinic
I conducted this chat the next morning to see if it would be any different from the experience I had the previous evening (I did the chat from my phone instead of the laptop). Again, I waited several minutes for a response after I answered the automated question. I was transferred to “Stephanie”, the same support agent who took my previous chat.
Again, she immediately promoted a nearby pregnancy center with “free and confidental” services.
When I read the description of the chat services, it sounded like it was staffed with pregnancy experts that would talk women through their options in addition to connecting me with one of their centers. (In fact, Google “pregnancy experts” and Option Line is the third search result). I assumed there would be at least some exchange of information, even if that information was based on pro-life propaganda. So far, there wasn’t exchange of information other than addresses to these crisis pregnancy centers that would discuss the answers I was seeking. She did state without any prompting that “We do not perform or refer for abortion”. Yet she was still trying to get me into a crisis pregnancy center to get more information on that option.
This chat reminded me of a NARAL report that references a documentary called “12th and Delaware”, quoting a CPC director training volunteers on how to answer phone calls and get abortion-minded women through the doors:
If you don’t hook her right away, she hangs up on you. When she calls and says, “Do you do abortions?”, I say “Are you calling for yourself or are you calling for your friend?”…and we engage in conversation. Because if she calls and says “Do you do abortions?” and I say “No”…click! [The CPC director pantomimes hanging up the phone] I’m trying to get her in the door. Take control of that conversation. I don’t mind the criticisms of taking control. “That doesn’t sound fair.” Well, too bad!
That scene seems to match perfectly with what happened in this chat. I explained I was looking for an abortion clinic. The support agent could have just stated they don’t help with abortion. Instead, she went, “Well, we don’t perform or refer to abortions. But our pregnancy centers have a lot of good information on abortion that you may find useful and they would be happy to discuss it with you. Oh, look! Here’s one in your town! Did I mention services are free and confidential?”
I felt like sticking it to her by telling her that I would look elsewhere for abortion information. It didn’t seem like she was willing to give me any information beyond contact information for a crisis pregnancy center, anyways.
The crisis pregnancy center she pulled up is one of many Wisconsin-based crisis pregnancy centers I have researched. When I first researched it about a year and a half ago, it went by a different name: Care Net of Dane County. It used to be more open about being a pro-life organization, but it has since removed all the pro-life and Christian references and made its website look and sound like its a legit women’s clinic. It still goes by Care Net of Dane County in its secondary donor website, which includes its real mission statement and all the other Christian pro-life things the organization removed from its client website.
Ellie. Age 19. Eau Claire. Pregnant and scared.
Note: Two replies either weren’t screenshot or accidentally cropped off when assembling the conversation together and didn’t realize this until after saving everything.
Finally, a different support agent!
Whereas “Stephanie” seemed to want a quick answer to the woman’s situation and immediately direct her to the nearest “free and confidential” crisis pregnancy center, “Ashley” seemed to want to have a better understanding of the situation and was more empathetic to what the woman was feeling. She gave sensible advice that I would personally give to a woman unsure what to do about an unplanned pregnancy: get information on all your options and carefully explore them before making a decision. If “Ellie” had been a real woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and was scared and uncertain, she probably would have thought she was helpful, understanding, and caring. But eventually, “Ashley” segued the conversation towards going to a crisis pregnancy center to re-confirm the pregnancy, discuss my options, and possibly get scheduled for an ultrasound.
I purposely picked an Eau Claire zip code knowing they would give me Apple Pregnancy Care Center. After our local protesters began handing their business cards in front of the Essential Health Clinic and leaving them at the library, I decided to go there for a pregnancy test to see what it was like.
“Ashley” said I could possibly get scheduled for an ultrasound. Except that Apple doesn’t list ultrasounds as one of its services. Ultrasounds were also brought up in the last chat as well. “Shiloh” was seeking an abortion clinic while “Ellie” was undecided yet leaning towards abortion, making both women technically “abortion minded”. Take a look at what “Ashley” said about ultrasounds: “It will also be helpful to do an ultrasound to confirm how far along you are and to determine that you have a viable pregnancy. [emphasis added].”
Many crisis pregnancy centers exaggerate miscarriage rates in order to convince women that they don’t need an abortion. By offering ultrasound services they can “confirm” whether the pregnancy is viable. Some crisis pregnancy centers, like Women’s Support Center, truthfully tell women that an ultrasound is required to receive abortion services and then promote their free ultrasounds services. But crisis pregnancy centers aren’t doing this to be helpful to women seeking abortion. They are fully aware that a woman will go to her scheduled abortion and find out that the ultrasound image she was given at the crisis pregnancy center is worthless, delaying her abortion (hopefully past the point she can get one) because she doesn’t meet the requirements. In Wisconsin, according to an actual abortion clinic, the required ultrasound must be performed at the abortion provider and their website warns of a nearby crisis pregnancy center that provides free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds.
Having been to Apple PCC for a pregnancy test, I found the comments on pregnancy testing to be quite interesting. “Ashley” explained the pregnancy tests at the center could be more accurate than the cheap, Walmart one I bought, mainly because they’re done at the center and someone can verify the results and make sure the test is working properly. “Someone” being a volunteer and not a medical professional, by the way.
Apple PCC’s super accurate pregnancy tests are nearly identical to this over the counter pregnancy test that you can buy at Walmart for a mere 88 cents:
Normally, when you go to a doctor’s office for a pregnancy test, you pee in a sturdy plastic cup with a nice screw-on top that you’ll never see again and the nurse gives you results in five minutes. At Apple PCC, I was asked a bunch of medical and moral questions for about twenty minutes before the volunteer even let me take a piss in a LITERAL DIXIE CUP. Then I was taken to a room with the Dixie cup-o-urine where I was instructed to use the dropper to dispense my own urine onto this cheap pregnancy test and the volunteer and I both confirmed there was only one solid line. It was the same as an at home pregnancy test, but with a pro-life volunteer asking questions about my sex life and religion.
Like the crisis pregnancy centers, the Option Line chat is designed to appear helpful to women experiencing unplanned pregnancies and offer guidance on a decision. However, crisis pregnancy centers are not about helping women navigate all their pregnancy options because “all-options” would include abortion and they’re not supportive of abortion. The Option Line chat is an extension of the pro-life movement, which is about restricting choice. Option Line’s goal is to get women through the doors of crisis pregnancy centers. Maybe the support agents are willing to admit that their centers don’t offer or refer for abortion, but they didn’t state that their centers are actually pro-life ministries. The centers that were recommended don’t state they’re pro-life ministries on their client website, but First Care Clinic and Apple PCC both have donor websites that do state a pro-life mission and Christian beliefs (in Apple PCC’s case, admitting they don’t refer or offer abortion or birth control). I feel like these agents try to get women into these centers, providing as little information as possible while asserting that these centers are to be trusted. The agent from the first conversation was singing the praises of crisis pregnancy centers, but wouldn’t offer an answer to my question about their resources. I imagine if I had gotten an answer she would have told me to call the center to schedule an appointment so they could discuss that information with me and remind me that their services are free and confidential.
In any case, Option Line’s chat service, regardless of how knowledgeable a woman using it is on crisis pregnancy centers, is more like the website’s “Find A Center By Zip Code” feature with an added sales pitch rather than a online chat with pregnancy experts that will answer all the questions racing through the mind of a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.