Potential Harassment and Sidewalk Bullies

The women’s clinic was open this past Wednesday and, of course, was plagued with the outside presence of a couple of pro-birth men holding their professionally printed anti-abortion signs out in the cold. I was perched in the café room of the library across the street researching credentials of RN’s and medical directors that were listed with some of Wisconsin’s crisis pregnancy centers. Occasionally, I glanced out the window to watch the two men conversing with each other while ensuring that their signs were in full view of the public.

I’ve been too afraid to stand up to them since a picture of me with a couple women was printed in the opinion section along with an unflattering pro-life letter because we had dared to counter-protest their pro-life event last October. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that it shook me. With my anxiety and fear of retaliation, I’m surprised I even managed to stand up to them at all. It hasn’t stopped me from coming to the library every other week to observe them outside the clinic and occasionally checking the pamphlet holders in the entryway to see if Faust has left cards for a local crisis pregnancy center.  But when I have to go to the clinic for birth control, I rush past them like a scared mouse to avoid any interaction.

It was another typical bi-weekly Wednesday: Zealots with signs that read “Abortion Hurts Women” and “Abortion Kills Children” while I watched from afar and typed away on my laptop.

Or I thought it was going to be.

I looked out the window to see the two men with a young woman carrying a small child. Faust was standing towards the back of her while Brian (aka. “Dicktator) was standing in the middle of the sidewalk facing her. Brian looked like he was scolding her rather than speaking to her, empathizing with one hand while his other hand held his sign so that it could be seen. To be fair, he’s always looks mean, but he earned the nickname “Dicktator” for being the most aggressive of the protesters. I couldn’t see the woman’s face as she spoke with him. I’ve seen women approach the protesters to speak with them, usually to tell them off, but Brian blocking the sidewalk concerned me. Maybe she was being polite and putting up with their nonsense. However, I assumed she was just speaking with them so I snapped a photo on my phone and went back to typing.

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I basically had the mindset of a BBC nature documentary photographer: Don’t get involved and only observe and document. But something came over me. I didn’t feel right just being an observant bystander with the assumption that she was willingly talking with them. I wasn’t really sure if my assumption was correct and the uncertainty bothered me enough to take action despite whatever anxiety I felt. I finally quickly gathered my things, strapped on my heavy backpack, and strolled out of the library with a brazen determination that felt wonderful yet foreign.  As I crossed the street, the men took notice of me, but I didn’t care.

“Miss…are these men bothering you?”

It seems like a simple thing to ask, but approaching a complete stranger for any reason is not simple when you have a lack of social skills and an abundance of anxiety. No amount of confidence and determination could have stopped my heart from beating rapidly as it was when I walked up to this woman. I wouldn’t have been surprised if my heart violently beat itself out of my chest and plopped right onto the sidewalk.

She explained to me that she had conversed with some of these protesters before she had given birth to her child. She was open to understanding different views so she was just talking to them. Turns out my initial assumption had been correct after all, but asking if she was okay was still the right thing to do.

Before I could feel better knowing that she wasn’t being harassed (or at least didn’t feel like she was being harassed) and tell her “I wasn’t sure and wanted to check if you were okay”, Faust opened his mouth.

“This is Sam. She accuses us of being bullies in the paper.” (I haven’t written anything for the opinion section of the paper for several months).

Brian chimed in, but Faust’s comment had thrown me off guard so all I heard was “She’s a Satan worshiper”. (During our second interaction a couple years ago, he learned I had donated to the clinic and scolded me of continuing to live in ignorance as our previous conversation obviously hadn’t turned me into a God-fearing Christian. I responded by telling him I found Satan because I knew it would get a rise out of him.)

I find it ironic that Faust chose to bring up my accusations of pro-life bullying considering the men’s behavior towards me at that moment. There was a number of ways Faust could have introduced me to this woman, but he chose something that sounded negative and belittling. Brian felt the need to point out to her that I was a “Satan worshiper”, a trait he most certainly finds undesirable being the religious fanatic he is. Introducing someone with insults…well, that sounds like bullying to me.

I decided to bring up something someone had told me they had seen while picking up his daughter at the bus stop near the library.

“So you’re not bullies?” I asked. “Would you explain to me why someone told me they witnessed you chasing a young woman in crutches?”

I expected they might say how absurd such a claim was and attempt to reassure me they would never do such a thing being the pro-woman champions for human life that they are (#sarcasm). Instead, they laughed in my face like I had told them the funniest joke. Getting laughed at was humiliating.

“A woman in crutches! Oh, that’s a good one! You ever hear of Fake News?” Faust asked me, still laughing.

I looked down at their signs feeling embarrassed. The protesters have favorite signs. Faust’s favorite is “Abortion Hurts Women”. Brian was holding his “ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN” sign and I saw it had been modified recently—it now has a printed cut out of a mutilated fetus pasted next to the word “KILL”.

“This…” I said, pointing to their signs, “This…is Fake News. I’ll make a donation to the clinic in your honor.”

I’d be lying if I said the situation didn’t make me feel flustered and put off guard. I’ve admittedly gotten rusty at standing up to “pro-life” protesters. I felt small and stressed after giving my retaliation donation and going back to the library café room, but also had a sense of pride having asked a complete stranger if she was okay and being prepared to get her out of that situation if she was truly being harassed.

Would I do it again even if it felt scary and overwhelming? Hell yeah, I would!

Analyzing an opinion letter on Planned Parenthood and crisis pregnancy centers

Whenever Faust submits one of his anti-abortion letters to the paper, more letters echoing the same ideology are likely to follow so I wasn’t surprised to see this letter in the paper last week:

Here are some tidbits of information regarding Planned Parenthood (PP) and Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Wisconsin. According to Planned Parenthood’s own report from 2014-2015:

*PP’s non-abortion services (birth control, cancer screenings, etc.) have decreased over time.

*98% of American women never visit a PP facility in any given year.

*.08% of women of reproductive age went to PP for a breast exam (none received a mammogram).

*PP performed 323,999 abortions in 2014 nearly one-third of the nation’s abortions.

*Their revenue in 2014 reached almost $1.3 billion dollars, and they received $553.7 million in taxpayer dollars that year.

There are eight Crisis Pregnancy Centers within 50 miles of Black River Falls. There are four-plus centers in La Crosse, one in Eau Claire, two in Marshfield, and one in Necedah:

Apple Pregnancy Care Center, Eau Claire 1.800.712.4357

Agape Pregnancy Resource Center, La Crosse 608.784.4966

Birthright of La Crosse, La Crosse 1.800.550.4900

New Life Resource Center, La Crosse 608.785.2377

Gerard Hall La Crosse (Maternity Home) 608.392.3985, 24/7 helpline

Birthright Marshfield, The Hannah Center, Marshfield (Maternity Home) 715.387.6300

7 Sorrows of Our Sorrowful Mother, Necedah 608.565.2417

These dedicated centers do not receive tax dollars but are helping women over the long haul.

This list does not include help provided by Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Service.

Katie Edwards

Black River Falls

I had seen the report she was referring to some time ago and I remember wondering what factors could be contributing to these decreases in healthcare services. Were they affected by new guidelines recommending pap smears be performed less often? Were women getting longer-term birth control like IUDs, which may result in fewer visits as women only need these types of birth control replaced every few years? Did some low-income women gain access to insurance through the Affordable Care Act and now gets reproductive healthcare through a regular doctor? Could Planned Parenthood performing nearly 1/3 of the nation’s abortions be the result of anti-abortion groups and lawmakers lobbying for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that have forced many independent providers to close down?

Anti-abortion supporters don’t ask questions as to why healthcare services are decreasing. They see reports like this and automatically declare that it’s proof of their beliefs that Planned Parenthood is nothing more than a “murder mill”.

Planned Parenthood did indeed receive $553 million in tax dollars that year. HOWEVER…A legislative provision called The Hyde Amendment bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services except when it’s medically necessary to save the life of the woman or in cases of rape or incest. Seventeen states use state funds to provide medically necessary abortions—Wisconsin isn’t one of them. Title X, a grant program that helps provide family planning and reproductive healthcare services to low-income women, strictly prohibits its funds from being used towards abortion services. Translation: TAXES DON’T FUND ELECTIVE ABORTIONS!!!

The writer neglected to describe the services crisis pregnancy centers have to offer, but the letter seemed to imply that they were somehow better alternatives to Planned Parenthood and were more beneficial to women. Luckily and somewhat ironically, I’m currently researching 64 crisis pregnancy centers in Wisconsin—here’s a quick run-down of their services:

*21 claim to have medical staff. Yet 56 offer pregnancy tests. This could mean that, for a majority of centers, pregnancy tests aren’t being administered by medical professionals or the tests themselves are self-administered (three centers admit their tests are self-administered. From personal experience, Apple PCC does self-administered tests—they didn’t state they did, however).

*50 provide material support—diapers, formula, etc. —to mothers. 20 of those centers state material support is through an Earn While You Learn program where women earn points through classes and/or Bible study to be able to “buy” items.

*All 64 offer options information. In general, centers insisted on an appointment to receive information, but some had some information on their website. 18 centers had information on their website that was inaccurate or exaggerated (abortion causes breast cancer, miscarriage rates being as high as 40%, etc.)

*35 perform ultrasounds. 18 describe their ultrasound services as “limited”, half of which describe “limited” means only confirming a heartbeat and gestational age. Only six of those centers claimed to have medical staff. There could be 29 centers operating ultrasound machines without people that aren’t trained to use them and/or the guidance of medical professionals. In Wisconsin, women must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion and Wisconsin law states that abortion providers have to perform this ultrasound themselves or arrange for a qualified person to perform it. This didn’t stop three crisis pregnancy centers from suggesting they do ultrasound imaging for the purposes of receiving an abortion. They do this as a tactic to delay or prevent women from getting abortion services. Women seeking abortion services are promised a free ultrasound only to find out at their appointment that their free ultrasound image is medically worthless and doesn’t meet state abortion requirements.

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The Women’s Support Center states it does ultrasounds while mentioning an ultrasound is needed for an abortion, suggesting that they perform the required ultrasound needed for abortion services. They neglect to mention that their ultrasound images don’t meet state requirements for abortion services.  

 

*13 perform STD testing. Only 4 offer treatments for the STDs they test for.

*2 offered prenatal care—in the form of prenatal vitamins.

*Only 1 center performed pap smears.

*None dispensed birth control or performed mammograms.

I wonder if services were intentionally left out of the letter as crisis pregnancy centers have a mixed bag of services and are mostly not medical. Planned Parenthood doesn’t perform mammograms, but neither do crisis pregnancy centers—well, Wisconsin’s crisis pregnancy centers anyways.

Based on the services alone—not including the misinformation crisis pregnancy centers spread and deceptive tactics they have employed—crisis pregnancy centers aren’t a better alternative to Planned Parenthood as most don’t provide medical services and when they do those services are extremely limited.  Planned Parenthood may not provide mammograms, but neither do crisis pregnancy centers—well, Wisconsin crisis pregnancy centers anyways.

Perhaps the only real benefit of crisis pregnancy centers would be its material support to women that carry to term and need help obtaining baby items, but I’m not entirely sold on it. There was one crisis pregnancy center–the Alpha Women’s Center–that actually provided a breakdown of how their version of Earn While You Learn works.

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Provided I’m doing my math right, a woman would have to complete 4 lessons or memorize 8 Bible verses in order to receive the maximum amount of diapers (20) the center will give out per week, per child. This doesn’t seem like a lot when you consider a newborn can go through 10 diapers a day.  Also, I’m admittedly concerned that they list used car seats as used car seats can be unsafe due to lack of instructions, missing parts, unnoticeable damage, or aging plastic.

Lessons are 2 points each while verse to memorize are 1 point each. The amount each baby item costs varies, but the larger the item the more points it costs. Consumable items cost less points, but the center limits how many of these items can be earned per week, per child. This is assuming the items are in stock as there’s a disclaimer stating they cannot guarantee the availability of the item as most of the items are donated. This is also assuming women are comfortable participating in this particular Earn While You Learn program as it’s completely based around Bible study. (I personally find it to be an attempt at religious indoctrination in exchange for baby goods.) I don’t doubt this can be helpful to women that need a little help rounding out their consumable supplies, but I do debate that it helps women “for the long haul” when its required that women complete a potentially large number of tasks for a small amount of items that may not be in stock.

Contrary to what the opinion letter claimed, tax dollars do help fund crisis pregnancy centers. A lot of tax dollars that has gone towards crisis pregnancy centers has come from federal programs for abstinence-only education. A center in Wisconsin petitioned the city of Madison for low-interest loans to build a maternity home, which could have come from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Community Development Housing Reserve Fund had the city council not withdrew support over concerns about the crisis pregnancy center’s misleading medical information. While governor, Mike Pence took $3.5 million from the state’s Temporary Assistance For Needy Families and gave it to Real Alternatives, an anti-abortion group that helps open, finance, and direct women to crisis pregnancy centers. Seven states have used TAFN dollars to fund crisis pregnancy centers, apparently giving $30 million over the course of 4 years.  The Bush administration gave $60 million in federal tax dollars to crisis pregnancy centers. These numbers seem small in comparison to the tax dollars Planned Parenthood receives in order to give women access to reproductive healthcare and family planning services. However, its a lot of tax dollars to be giving to anti-abortion groups that have used deception and inaccurate information to misguide women about their options.

This isn’t including money generated from the sales of Choose Life license plates or fundraising events like the various Walks for Life that are tax free because these crisis pregnancy centers are non-profit organizations. Again, money that goes to anti-abortion groups that lie to women and, at best, offer a couple healthcare services that may or may not be provided by licensed medical staff.

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Apple PCC of Eau Claire’s Walk for Life 2017. This sort of money could cover the costs of at least two babies in the first year. 

Of course, the deception or the lack of essential services doesn’t stop anti-abortion supporters like Katie Edwards from praising crisis pregnancy centers and making them out to be valuable alternatives to women’s healthcare clinics regardless of whether they actually provide any medical services or if they’re known to be untruthful to the women they claim to want to help.

For once, some peace and quiet

I had an appointment at the women’s clinic today. There were two older ladies outside with their anti-abortion signs (I know one said “Pray to the end to abortion”.) I nearly slipped on the ice trying to rush past them in case they decided to try and make contact—I was not in the mood for potentially being approached with conversation.

I’m done with my appointment almost half an hour later. Before I head out the door, I prepare myself for being greeting by the presence of protesters by playing Lady Gaga on my headphones.

…except no one was out there. The sidewalk was empty. There wasn’t anybody holding their large anti-abortion signs to watch me as I headed across the street to the library to research and write.

But I know it won’t last long. I’m familiar with the local anti-choice schedule: typically, an older couple or two old ladies are there for the “first shift” while Faust and the ‘Dicktator’ take over to cover the rest of the clinic’s operating hours. I figured I had exited the building in-between rotating shifts. I peek out the window from time to time expecting the next shift to take over and parade around with their signs.

…but no one comes for the remaining hour and a half the clinic is open. It was…pleasant.

I hope for the day when things go back to the way they were almost two years ago. Women not getting harassed by those who think its their business to tell women their twisted version of the truth because they disagree with abortion. Women not having to rush past protesters as they head into their appointments and be confronted on their way out with anti-abortion propaganda pamphlets. This is how its supposed to be: a sidewalk not clogged with opinionated zealots and the front of a reproductive health care and family planning clinic.

In the meantime, I’ll take the second shift not showing up and enjoy it while it lasts.

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I can’t remember the last time I seen the clinic like this for a long period of time during business hours.