Love Line: Another pipeline to antiabortion crisis pregnancy centers

The front page of Love Line uses phrasing similar to what crisis pregnancy centers commonly use in their advertising.  

October saw the launch of Love Line, an initiative dedicated to connecting women facing unplanned pregnancies to resources. On the surface, this sounds like a fantastic program for women. Unfortunately, there’s reason to be wary of Love Line.

The woman behind Love Line is antiabortion activist Abby Johnson, who now instructs antiabortion crisis pregnancy centers to give potential clients the false impression that they offer abortion services. Much like her ideal crisis pregnancy center, the website is professional and business-like without a trace of an antiabortion agenda despite an article and a video describing Love Line being pro-life in nature and it being a project under Abby Johnson’s antiabortion umbrella organization ProLove Ministries.

Love Line connects women to antiabortion crisis pregnancy centers, which exist to steer women away from abortion services regardless of whether they follow Abby’s advice to practice deceptive and predatory advertising tactics. This is not made clear until you go seek help from Love Line. The contact form on the “Need Help?” page includes “I’m considering an abortion” as an option for why you’re contacting Love Line. Without the knowledge that the initiative was created by a well-known antiabortion activist using the very tactics she tells crisis pregnancy centers to use and the website connects women to antiabortion ministries, women seeking to terminate their unplanned pregnancies may be lead to believe that Love Line will help them obtain abortion services.

I wanted to see for myself what Love Line was really like and see if it was like how I anticipated. I tried using the chat on November 10th at around 4pm. Despite Love Line touting itself as a 24/7/365 crisis line, there wasn’t a representative available on the online chat. The chat still gave me the option to send a message with the indication that someone would contact me through email. I sent the message “Looking for abortion information and where to get one”. By the time I went to lunch at 10am the next day, I still had not received any sort of response in my inbox.

There was a representative by the name of Pam on the chat when I went to lunch the next day. So I went on the chat using a pseudonym to see what Love Line does when faced with a woman that is seeking abortion services. Were they going to be truthful or were they going to resort to the same tactics Abby Johnson has told these antiabortion crisis pregnancy centers to use in order to bring in more abortion-minded women? Let’s dissect that chat? Let’s dissect the chat that occurred.

(Note: I have omitted the fake name I used. I also had screenshots of the chat. Unfortunately, the editing program I was pasting the screenshots to decided to close out and I was an idiot who didn’t make a save file before the program crapped out. So I just have the chat I transcribed with the timestamps.)   

Me (10:17): Hi. I’m looking for abortion information and where to get one.

Pam (10:18): Hey [name omitted]. My name is Pam. Have you taken a medical grade pregnancy test and had an ultrasound?

Pam starts off the chat with an unassuming question that’s actually a crisis pregnancy center tactic. Crisis pregnancy centers often use terms like “medical grade” or “lab quality” to describe their pregnancy tests to make them seem like they’re like what you would get in a doctor’s office or that they are of a superior quality.  Some centers like the Choices Pregnancy Services even outright claim their urine-based pregnancy tests are better at detecting the hCG hormone.

A nurse practitioner at my clinic explained that their urine tests aren’t better than over the counter tests at detecting hCG. Lab Corp explains, “Generally, when used correctly, the home test should produce the same result as the urine hCG test done by your health practitioner.” Google “medical grade” or “lab quality” pregnancy tests and the vast majority of the results are from crisis pregnancy centers and their affiliates rather than actual medical providers or medical suppliers, indicating that only crisis pregnancy centers use these terms.

As for ultrasounds, we’ll get into that in a bit.

Me (10:19): Just a pregnancy test from Walmart.

Pam (10:20): ok. Where do you live?

Me (10:20): Eau Claire, WI

Choosing Eau Claire will come into play later.

Pam (10:21): alright – have you ever had an abortion before?

Me (10:21): No.

Pam (10:21): Ok. How old are you?

Me (10:21): 29.

That’s younger than my actual age, but in hindsight I should have went even younger and played that “Young woman who has her whole life ahead of her and is not ready for kids” sort of angle, I guess.

Pam (10:23): Alright. So there are a few requirements in your state. First, you need options counseling which is required 24 hours before an abortion. An ultrasound is also required. I can send you to get an ultrasound at no cost. This is helpful to determine if your pregnancy is in the right place and growing. This will also determine exactly how far along you are. What has you considering abortion?

It’s obvious to me she intends to send me to a crisis pregnancy center for the no cost ultrasound—that probably won’t be obvious to someone actually experiencing an unplanned pregnancy going onto this website seeking help.

Again, Pam’s answer seems unassuming, but there’s a tactic about crisis pregnancy centers laced within. She truthfully stated I needed an ultrasound for abortion services. She stated she could direct me to a place (which turns out to be a CPC) that will provide an ultrasound for FREE. By putting those two things in the same paragraph, she created the impression that CPC’s provide ultrasound imaging for women seeking abortion services…FOR FREE. They may very well provide an ultrasound for women seeking abortion, but there’s a crucial piece of information that’s left out: Ultrasounds from CPCs likely won’t meet abortion requirements.

In Wisconsin, under SB206 (also known as “Sonya’s Law”), an ultrasound with certain requirements must be done before any abortion is performed and it must be done by the physician performing the abortion or by a physician of the woman’s choosing. If a woman chooses a physician outside the abortion provider, that physician has to supply the woman with a certificate stating that she had the ultrasound and that it meets state requirements as shown in Section III of the Abortion Information Certification Form that has to be filled whenever an abortion is performed—options counseling, an oral explanation of what the ultrasound depicted, displayed the ultrasound image so the woman could view (though she has the option to refuse), a medical description of the ultrasound images, and provided the means to visualize the fetal heartbeat and an explanation of it. As many CPCs aren’t medical in nature, its likely a crisis pregnancy center won’t have a licensed physician that can perform the ultrasound as many CPCs don’t have any qualified medical staff. Even in cases where a CPC does have a physician on staff, there’s probably zero chance of that physician—being that they work for an antiabortion ministry—giving the proper certification required to obtain an abortion.

Women more than likely will be unaware of what the law requires and crisis pregnancy centers take advantage of this by luring women with promises of completely free ultrasound imaging services, knowing full well that their ultrasound images don’t comply with abortion laws. The idea is that women who decide to have an abortion will schedule an appointment only to find they haven’t met state requirements when they get to that appointment because their no cost ultrasound is medically worthless, thus delaying the abortion—hopefully past the point where she is able to get one.

Me (10:24): I don’t want children.

Pam (10:25): Ok. Do you have any idea how far along you are – if you could take a guess?

Me (10:26): Its been about 7 weeks since my last period.

Pam (10:27): Ok what was the first day of your last period

Me (10:29): I think it was around September 28th?

Pam (10:30): That would put you right at 6 weeks pregnant having conceived on or around October 11. Does that sound right?

Me (10:30): I’m not sure. I’ll take your word for it

The First Response “How Far Along Am I?” tool matched Pam’s estimate of how far along I was so at least that checks out.

If I had thought of it then, I would have picked an earlier date and made my non-existent pregnancy further along. One tactic of crisis pregnancy centers is to tell women they’re further along than they actually are to get them to believe they are past the point of being able to get an abortion. It might have been interesting to see if she would use that tactic.

Pam (10:31): That’s okay. [name omitted]- are you available to talk on the phone?

Me (10:31): I am not.

Pam (10:33): This is an important decision. I would love to be able to talk with you at some point. I don’t take this lightly—so if you would like to speak on the phone let me know when you’re available.

Me (10:36): I’m not that comfortable speaking on the phone.

I was being honest about not being comfortable speaking with her on the phone. Damn phone anxiety and general anxiety.

Pam (10:38): Ok. I can give you information about what is required by law in your state, clinical information about steps of the procedure whether it’s medical or surgical, the development of your unborn baby and I can refer you for free ultrasound and STD testing. Talking to you helps me in determining your emotional state and what support you have. This is not a decision you should make when you’re emotional. And it shouldn’t be made in haste.

She didn’t ask me about my emotional state or what support I had. She asked one question regarding why I was considering an abortion. My answer wouldn’t have given her enough of an indication of what I was feeling and she didn’t really press the issue further. I think she automatically assumed I was being emotional and in a rush to get an abortion.

Note the use of “unborn baby”. Not my pregnancy or the fetus, but “unborn baby”. At six weeks gestation, I’d argue the resemblance to anything that looks like an actual baby. Another tactic of CPCs: Calling it an unborn baby in hopes that it will play into my feelings and I’ll connect with the fetus so that I won’t want to abort. It’s subtle and sometimes effective.

Me (10:39): Okay. So where can I get one?

Pam (10:40): The ultrasound?

No, the procedure I asked about over 20 fucking minutes ago.

Me (10:40): I meant an abortion, but that too

Pam (10:41): Ok. Let’s get you a medical grade pregnancy test and ultrasound first. This will be at no cost and give you some clinical information. What is your zip code

Me (10:42): 54701

Pam (10:45): Ok. There is a pregnancy care center that is free: 2600 Stein Blvd 715-834-7734. They are open from 9AM-3PM

This is why I chose to tell her I lived in Eau Claire: APPLE Pregnancy Care Center on Stein Boulevard. Aside from researching the center, I went there a couple years ago posing as a woman facing a pregnancy scare. They are so deceptive they have TWO websites: one for potential clients devoid of any antiabortion agenda  and one for potential donors and supporters detailing their “pro-life” mission (Two websites like this is another CPC tactic).

I laughed out loud when Pam gave APPLE PCC for the free ultrasound and “medical grade” pregnancy test. First off, they don’t have ultrasound services at all—legit or not. Second, to call their pregnancy tests “medical grade” would be ludicrous as they are self-administered. Seriously, they look almost exactly like the one you can get at Walmart for $.88 and I had to drop my own urine onto the test while a non-medical volunteer watched, which is not how a medical setting would perform a pregnancy test. Also, no STD testing because they’re not medical at all. This CPC has no medical staff or actual medical services, a fact I wasn’t informed of at my walk-in appointment until a volunteer had me sitting in a room. I certainly wouldn’t trust them to give any woman accurate “clinical information” as Pam told me they would.

Me (10:45): Free?

Pam (10:47): Yes. It is free. I can call ahead right now and get you an appointment if you give me a moment. Is your last name [name omitted] (from your email addy)

Me (10:48): Yes, but I’m on lunch right now. I can give them a call later.

I should have let her book an appointment for me and waste APPLE PCC’s time. Why the Hell didn’t I think of that while doing this chat?

Pam (10:48): Ok. They are open until 7PM on Thursday so maybe that will work better!

Me (10:49): I’ll have to check my schedule.

Pam (10:50): I understand. Just so you understand – this is not an abortion clinic. It is a resource center that provides services at no cost and options counseling for women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy. I don’t want you to go in thinking it is an abortion clinic.

At least she gave me the courtesy of informing me it’s not an abortion clinic. HOWEVER, it’s been over 30 minutes since I asked about where to obtain an abortion and her telling me about a place that can give me that abortion ultrasound for free. NOW she tells me they are not an abortion clinic.

By this point, I felt I was being led on. I noticed she wasn’t giving me the answers I actually wanted, but instead trying to get me into a crisis pregnancy center to get ultrasound and “medical grade” pregnancy test services. Dragging out a conversation and not giving direct answers to get women into a center is another tactic of crisis pregnancy centers as described in a NARAL report:

* The Option Line Handbook stresses to volunteers that “while [they] are on the phone, [their] objective is to schedule an appointment” so that women will come to the center. While the guidelines advise volunteers to give clients only factual information, the handbook also pressures them to keep the client interested and provide responses, whether or not the volunteer is qualified to do so, by reminding them that “callers are looking for fast answers and may turn elsewhere if they do not get them.”

* In a documentary about crisis pregnancy centers called 12th & Delaware, a CPC director trains volunteers in the telephone script she uses to divert questions from potential clients and lure them into the center: “If you don’t hook her right away, she hangs up on you. When she calls and she 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 the conversation…I don’t mind the criticisms of taking control. ‘That doesn’t sound fair.’ Well too bad!”

Me (10:51): Will they help me obtain one?

Pam (10:52): They will give you all of the information you need before you obtain one but they will not help you get an abortion. In order to make an informed decision, they will provide you with these pre-surgical services at no cost.

Not exactly what I asked. Good job at misleading. And “pre-surgical” services at a place you don’t even realize lacks the services you’re trying to sell me on? Give me a break!  

Me (10:53): Where they tell me where to get one?

Pam (10:53): Not likely.

Probably the first straight answer I’ve gotten to any of my questions!

Me (10:53): I don’t think they are going to help me then

Pam (10:56): They will help you by giving you the free test and ultrasound. You can at least get that before you pay an abortion clinic to provide that service. A Planned Parenthood charges anywhere from $100 – $150 for an ultrasound and then an abortion costs between $450-$550 in the first trimester, depending on the type of procedure and how far along you you are. They don’t provide ultrasounds for free at abortion clinics especially when they are required by the state in advance.

And any organization that offers funding won’t fund the ultrasound.

Something worth mentioning: “Pam” is likely Pamela Whitehead, an executive director of Abby Johnson’s umbrella organization ProLove Ministries. She spoke with Catholic News Agency about her work fielding calls for Love Line. “Too often we think we know what a woman needs and we don’t really listen to what she says to us and I think if we listen long enough, we really hear her need.” Pam seems to be acting in the manner of the very person she describes. It’s one thing if you listen to a woman’s situation and find there’s a better solution to her issue, but that’s not what’s going on. I came into this conversation seeking abortion information and her immediate response was to ask if I had an ultrasound and pregnancy test with the intention of shoving me into a crisis pregnancy center. That tells me that she thinks she knows what abortion-minded women need and already had a solution lined up

Pam has just informed me that the center won’t help me obtain an abortion. Now that I’ve expressed that I don’t believe they will help me with what I’m asking–which they won’t–she’s desperate to get me into that center with promises that they’ll help me obtain the requirements needed to get an abortion. See the problem? If you offer services that help women meet the requirements of abortion, you’re helping women obtain abortions. You can’t say you don’t help women get abortions AND your services will help women meet state requirements so she can get an abortion.

Note that she keeps emphasizing the “free” part—you guessed it, another crisis pregnancy center tactic. Free sounds way better than $100-$150. But as noted before, crisis pregnancy centers likely won’t comply with state laws as a delay tactic.

The last sentence isn’t specific on what she’s referring to, but I believe she’s referring to organizations that help with funding abortion for women. If that’s the case, it’s a damn lie. The National Network of Abortion Funds lists various groups offering funding to cover the costs of abortion. Depending on the group and how they use the funding, which is all based on donations, they can also cover the costs of things like travel and lodging. While Wisconsin based groups didn’t specifically list ultrasounds as something they covered, one Michigan based group that also helps surrounding states (like Wisconsin) did. “When funds are available, the following applies: If you live in Michigan or a surrounding state, the Jane Doe Fund can help you pay for your abortion. They can also something help pay for ultrasound [emphasize added], contraception (including emergency contraception), or assist with transportation, lodging, and childcare related to your appointment.”

Me (10:57): I think I’d rather go to the Planned Parenthood. Can you tell me where the nearest one is?

Pam (10:58): You’ll have to seek that on Google.

Me (10:58): I’ll go do that. Bye.

She tells me how much Planned Parenthood charges for ultrasound services, but then won’t direct me to one when I think it’s the better option for my situation. I should have called her out on it—“I figured you could tell me where one is since you told me their prices.” But I was so shocked that she told me to Google it…arrrrgh! This is supposed to be an initiative that helps women with unplanned pregnancies, but if women are seeking an option they don’t agree with—and they don’t make it clear beforehand they’re against it—then the extent of their so-called help is “You’re on your own. Google it.” It was infuriating and frustrating, even though I wasn’t actually seeking abortion services and knew the “catch” behind Love Line and the crisis pregnancy center she was getting me into. I was so pissed that I decided to end the conversation right then and there and left a bad review on the customer service. (Fuck you, Pam.)

I think this experience made me angry because I put myself into the position of a woman considering an abortion and found how they would treat this woman. They will not give her straight answers and drag out the conversation for as long as they possibly can while trying to get her into the nearest center that also won’t give her the answers or services she’s seeking. (And a center that doesn’t even offer the no-cost services Pam went on about for 41 minutes about!) She’s not going to get answers to the questions she’s asking because these people are doing everything they can to get her into a center that will guilt and shame her or promise to offer material assistance to convince her to not terminate her pregnancy.

Love Line is obviously not good for women seeking abortion services, but it may not even be that great of a resource for women who do want to continue their pregnancies. It’s true that the vast majority of crisis pregnancy centers offer material goods and resources for women who want to be mothers, but it’s almost always connected to a program (“Earn While You Learn”) where women have to earn points to be able to “buy” the items they need. Love Line makes no indication on their website that resources from crisis pregnancy centers often aren’t simply given and women may have to work for them.

If the center follows Abby Johnson’s advice, resources may be limited further. During her workshop “Competing with the Abortion Industry”, she stated, “If I were to open a pregnancy center, I would not have pregnancy items past six months. Are we running a charity? Are we running a place where we want women to become self-sufficient? Self-sufficient right? …have maternity clothes, have those things available for the women while they’re pregnant, but cut them off.” It’s concerning that a woman that has instructed crisis pregnancy centers to cut women off from resources after a certain period of time has now created a website to connect women to those same resources without informing them whether or not those already limited resources may have a limited time period.

Love Line is essentially another pipeline to crisis pregnancy centers that hide their true nature of attempting to limit a woman’s pregnancy options under the guise of being helpful and resourceful. Sure, if the website is to be believed, Love Line has already helped women who did want to keep their pregnancies or already were raising children and that’s not a bad thing. But women also deserve transparency and honesty alongside unbiased, accurate information on all their options and reliable resources regardless of whether or not they want to continue their pregnancies—not being lead on and preyed upon with predatory, misleading tactics by the antiabortion movement.

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