Who’s that Pokemon in Pro-Life Propaganda?

Lately, I’ve been searching through pro-life/abolitionist groups on Facebook and reporting any photos of bloody/dismembered fetuses. Why? Mostly to annoy anti-abortion supporters by getting their photos slapped with a warning of graphic content. Sounds petty, I know, but being a dick on Facebook is nothing compared to anti-abortion protesters of varying degrees of wrath and confrontation parading outside women’s healthcare clinics and abortion providers to stalk and harass women.

Before realizing that Wisconsin Right to Life is the type of pro-life group that doesn’t use graphic imagery, I came across this photo from July 14, 2016:

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Facebook caption: All genetic info you need for development is present at fertilization – all you need to do is “evolve”! 😉 #PokemonGO

I never thought I’d be discussing Pokémon in relation to a pro-life group considering that the series has been put on blast by Christian conservatives since its debut. Yet, here we are.

Perhaps WRTL inserted the Pokémon mascot into their propaganda in order to appeal to teenagers and young adults, but it’s laughable they would even consider using Pokémon GO in their pro-life propaganda due to one major aspect of the game: Pokémon transferring.

Let’s say I catch a Pikachu. What happens if I realize I don’t have the time, space, resources, and/or desire to train a Pikachu (or another Pikachu if I already have one or more)? What if I ended up with the Pikachu because someone took my phone and played around with my Pokémon GO app without my consent? What if an assessment reveals low IV stats and the Pikachu won’t be able to battle like all the normal, healthy Pikachus?? I can Transfer it. That means, I get rid of it. And easily! I don’t have opinionated Arceus zealots outside PokeStops telling me if I didn’t want that Pikachu I should have kept my storage bag closed and not thrown any Pokémon Balls. There was never an underground channel of Nurse Joys willing to risk prison to help female trainers illegally Transfer their unwanted Pokémon before Transferring was legalized. Gym Leaders aren’t making rules to limit access to Pokémon Transferring. The game only asks me if I’m sure I want to transfer that Pokémon and, if I choose “yes”, it takes away the unwanted Pikachu forever and I get a Pikachu Candy.

Maybe it’s not such a good idea for a pro-life group to reference a video game where you can easily get rid of living creatures for being an inconvenience or conflicting with your avatar’s lifestyle.

But wait! It gets worse!

Where does the Pokémon Candy you get after transferring the Pokémon come from? No one really knows, but some theorize (and joke) that the Candy is the result of KILLING the Pokémon you just transferred and being made into Candy.  Candies are used to raise Combat Power. If these power-ups are truly made with transferred Pokémon, then we have an in-game equivalent of using aborted fetuses for stem cell research and making vaccines.

MAYBE it’s not such a good idea for a pro-life group to reference a video game where you can easily get rid of living creatures for being an inconvenience or conflicting with your avatar’s lifestyle…which then may be killed to make strengthening sweets.

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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.

Baby steps and not being an activist bad ass

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Not all harassment towards women is of the sexual-type as I’ve seen outside the women’s clinic every other Wednesday.

My husband recently went to an Anti-Flag show and came back home with free reading materials given to him by a band called Sharptooth that were about being supportive of women. One card was about how to stop harassment with “Badass Bystander Moves”. In the earlier days of my activism, I would converse with the local protesters, mainly Faust. After a while, the political, religious, and abortion-related debates got draining because of the way pro-lifers go around in circles to get people to back off. Being the anxiety ridden person I am, it just got to exhausting for me.

I realized much later that those conversations were probably helping as it distracted the protesters from engaging with patients because they were focused on me instead, but I never had any motivation to get back into it. Seeing this card my husband brought home, listing “Distract” as one of its bad ass bystander moves, re-inspired me. “YOU HAVE THE POWER TO END HARASSMENT” it said.

I had to go to the clinic anyways to get more birth control pills and to schedule an appointment for a minor problem I’ve been having, intending to sit on the sidewalk the protesters were making their rounds on afterwards instead of across the street within the comforts of the library. I was a determined badass ready to tackle whatever was

 

…until I saw the three protesters across the street. In that moment, my anxiety issues kicked in. I’m surprised with my anxiety issues that I even made it this far these past almost-two years. It wasn’t the kind of anxiety that I could easily calm down by listening to political rap metal on my headphones, though I thought that would do the trick. My cowering heart felt like it was trying to heavily pound its way out of my chest and I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it pathetically plop onto the floor at any moment. Whatever sort of bravery I felt had dissipated upon the sight of three old people holding signs like “Abortion Hurts Women”…the very same signs they held at the Life Chain I counter protested.

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The protesters usually work in shifts. The first shift (shown here) usually involves two others joining Faust (in middle). Those two will leave Faust around mid-afternoon and then Brian shows up to take their place, sometimes bringing his wife and kids along (especially during the summer).   

I didn’t want to admit it, but the pro-life opinion piece condemning our counter protest had shaken me to my core. Actually, it wasn’t the written piece itself, but the accompanying picture next to it of us holding the sign that was described as vulgar and inappropriate. It felt like they were putting up a Wanted poster. It was just one “pro-death” label and death threats shy from being like the times I heard of extreme activists plastering the picture of a pro-choice activist or abortion clinic worker somewhere. Is taking an unflattering photo and publishing it the worst they could do or would they go to further extremes? It had scared and embarrassed and my resurfaced depression probably added to these negative emotions I felt. I stopped going to the library for a while and only went to the clinic when I had to pick up more pills, trying not to make eye contact as I rushed inside while blasting my music so I couldn’t hear Faust attempts to greet me in that genuine politeness of his. Fearing that it might turn off people to the possibility of ever taking on women’s rights activism, I never told anyone that the aftermath of the Life Chain counter-protest wasn’t something that I easily brushed off.

It was embarrassing and humiliating and still is. But you know what? Its okay to be scared. Its okay to feel uncertain. Its okay to have an activist plan only to chicken out because my anxiety sucks and the plans were too much to handle right now. Its okay if I’m not exactly a badass motherfucker like the political rap metal artist that inspires me to defy those pro-life tyrants in front of my healthcare provider. And its probably okay for me to take tiny baby steps away from the comfort of the library window and onto the same sidewalk I watch those tyrants parade on with their signs every other week.

In the meantime, I have a crisis pregnancy center online chat to log onto and pretend I’m several scared women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. (More on that later).

Some random thoughts on yet another anti-abortion opinion letter.

Faust submitted another one of his pro-life letters to the paper. I don’t find it coincidental that he wrote and submitted one right before the annual pro-life event “March for Life”.

“Regrettable and Avoidable”

On this 45th anniversary of the SCOTUS Roe abortion opinion, there is ample evidence that child killing is regrettable. First are the nearly 60 million lives that have been snuffed out. Second is the collective accumulation of regret by the very women abortion was touted as helping. If abortion is so liberating and positive, why do most women seek other alternatives and use abortion as a last resort? As we converse with women outside the Essential Health Clinic about the dangers and risks of abortion, the most common response is, “That’s why I’m here, to get my contraceptives.” If abortion is so beneficial, contraceptives would never be used. If you get pregnant, simply have an abortion.

The second most common response is, “I would never have an abortion.” This is also why we point them in the direction of real, tangible help without killing the baby should plan “A” fail and they become pregnant. The fact that women change their mind outside clinics moments before they are scheduled to abort is more evidence that they want to avoid it. When help is offered, many women choose life. Even among those who would consider abortion, no one looks forward to that day. It is puzzling that if abortion is so liberating and positive a choice, wouldn’t young girls dream about having one? How absurd. At best, it is a necessary evil which most girls hope they never have to experience. Doesn’t that tell you what the true nature of abortion is like?

To counter this reluctance (and regret from post-abortive women), Planned Parenthood promoted the “Shout Your Abortion” campaign, inviting young women to share their stories. The campaign barely registered a whisper, let alone a shout. The stories are sad and women don’t want to share them, which is more evidence that abortion is regrettable.

Thankfully, abortion is also avoidable. The best resort to assure never having to use the last resort of abortion is abstinence until marriage. Though constantly maligned, abstinence proves itself over and over as the surest way to avoid both the physical and emotional fallout of sex outside of marriage. Those practicing abstinence need never worry about pregnancy, STDs, or the emotional meltdowns that accompany sex outside of marriage.

What a blessing it would be if 2018 was the last year for legalized killing of babies.

—Pastor Sam Faust

I promised myself I wouldn’t respond to anymore letters, but I’m sort of debating it. We’ll see if I actually do, but I will blog some thoughts on it in the meantime (it may or may not sound incoherent as I’m writing on the fly).

A quick argument to some of his points: most women aren’t traumatized by their abortion like he suggests (because…facts, studies, research, and a pro-life surgeon general not siding with pro-lifers because of this science), the Shout Your Abortion campaign was actually fairly successful having gone viral with tens of thousands of women telling their own abortion stories, and I shouldn’t have to explain that abortion isn’t supposed to be used as a form of birth control like Faust sarcastically suggests.

Faust is correct that women don’t look forward to abortion. Well, people don’t look forward to or enjoy chemotherapy either, but many chose it because they feel its right for their situation and the end result can be relief. Some don’t even chose cancer treatments because of their beliefs or they’re too far along in the same sense some women don’t choose abortion for the same reasons. These anti-abortion supporters telling a woman she shouldn’t be allowed to have an abortion because she chose to engage in sex is comparable to telling a lung cancer patient he should be denied treatment because he chose to chain smoke cigarettes for 20 years.

I believe abortion can be positive in the sense that it brings a sense of relief to most women and they go on to leave thriving lives they may have not had if they chose to carry to term.  I know this isn’t the case for every woman who has an abortion, which is why I’m highly supportive of access to accurate information and good resources so women are able to make informed choices they can live with (whether that be parenting, adoption, OR abortion) and to think about what they would do in case of an unplanned pregnancy before one possibly happens.

I can only make an educated guess on what Faust meant by his group pointing women in the direction of “real, tangible help” as he wasn’t specific on the details. Honestly, I would be interested in learning how many women they’ve assisted and what kind of help was offered. Regardless, I would like to point out that the Essential Health can legally confirm a woman’s pregnancy (being they are a legit health provider) and help her obtain benefits like WIC, Food Share, and Badger Care so that she is able to take care of herself and her child. Not to mention vital reproductive healthcare services, birth control options, and sex education and resources on parenting, prenatal care, adoption, and domestic abuse and sexual assault. Unlike the protesters, who are a part of a movement that relies on twisting the truth, the clinic provides medically accurate information on abortion procedures and its risks, which are quite minimal in reality despite anti-abortion supporters saying otherwise. However, the clinic staff had explained to me that due to the clinic’s efforts in greatly curbing unplanned pregnancy through birth control and sex education (which, yes, does include abstinence) only the tiniest fraction of what they do at the clinic is counsel pregnant women and give information and resources regarding pregnancy options. If you ask me, that fits the definition of being real, tangible help.

A real blessing would be if 2018 was the year that Faust and his anti-abortion group of ignorant sidewalk counselors stopped pretending to know the facts (they obviously have not done any sort of research outside what anti-abortion groups say) and left the local women’s clinic and its patients the Hell alone. For nearly two years, the protesters have paraded on the sidewalk in front of the Essential Health Clinic while claiming to be some sort of lifeline for women with a message of help and hope, but their presence at the clinic has not been a positive one. At the very least, the group tries to undermine the medical professionals working inside the clinic by presenting their own version of medical information that has been laced with inaccuracies, falsehood, outright lies, religious-based opinion, highly exaggerated risks, and references to biased studies that have been discredited. Based on my own experiences and the experiences and eyewitness accounts of others, they make women feel uncomfortable at best and harassed, judged, intimidated, and bullied at worst. The clinic staff has admitted there are women that wait until the protesters aren’t at the clinic to stop by, which is more evidence that their presence at the clinic is not positive. One person explained while he was picking up his child from the bus stop, he saw one of the more aggressive protesters chase a woman in crutches down the block while she yelled that she was just there for birth control to regulate her menstrual cycle. Anyone I’ve ever conversed with about this group, including those that are against abortion, has expressed confusion over why there are protesters outside a clinic that doesn’t offer the abortion services they are against and wants to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies by making reliable birth control more accessible to all women. Plus, these sidewalk crusaders act like they’re the ones being victimized whenever any woman has decided she has had enough of being stalked and harassed outside her trusted healthcare provider and stood up to these people. If this pro-life group is as positive, helpful, empowering, and supportive of women as they believe they are, then why is the overall reaction to their actions negative and why are patients trying to avoid them?

The most interesting thing about Faust’s letter is stating that the top two responses he and his group gets from the patients they converse with are “That’s why I’m here, to get my contraceptives” and “I would never have an abortion.” It’s sad that women feel the need to explain their visit with their trusted health care provider to judgmental strangers that have no business being there, but these responses are a huge sign that women are perfectly capable of avoiding abortion without the assistance of sidewalk counselors. Either women are controlling their fertility to greatly lessen the chance of an unwanted pregnancy or women wouldn’t get an abortion if she found they were pregnant regardless of whether they’re taking birth control to prevent a pregnancy when she’s not ready for one. Women who are unsure about what to do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy have access to a wealth of accurate information and resources inside the clinic in order to make informed decisions, lessening the chances of making a choice they’ll come to regret later on.

Seriously, Faust and his band of sidewalk counselors need get a clue and realize that their presence is neither wanted nor necessary. It’s time they started leaving women alone and trust them to make their own decisions…in fact, its been long overdue.

A Crisis Pregnancy Center in Ironwood

Over the holidays, my husband and I traveled to Ironwood, Michigan to spend Christmas with his family. On the way to a surprise birthday party, I caught the words “pregnancy support” on a building sign as we drove by.

The suspicions that aroused from seeing this phrase were confirmed with a simple Google search on my phone: Ironwood has a crisis pregnancy center. And according to their website, they’ve been offering their services to the area for ten years.

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New Beginnings Pregnancy Support Services in Ironwood, MI. 

Why I hadn’t noticed the crisis pregnancy center in Ironwood until then? It stuck out like a sore thumb because I’ve done a lot of research into crisis pregnancy centers, but the last time I was in Ironwood it had only been a couple months since I discovered what crisis pregnancy centers were and began learning how to spot them. Because of the way they present themselves, they typically go unnoticed by the general population while appearing like beacons of hope to women facing unplanned pregnancies.

New Beginnings Pregnancy Support Services is a rarity among crisis pregnancy centers by at least stating somewhere on their website that they do not provide, recommend, or refer for abortion and that their information should not be relied on a substitute for medical/professional advice. Interestingly, their website also isn’t completely wiped clean of their Christian, pro-life agenda and you’ll find the tiniest hints of it sprinkled throughout their website. They also don’t seem to have a secondary website meant to attract donors that states their true intentions of being a crisis pregnancy center.

However, they’re like other crisis pregnancy centers in other aspects. With the exception of admitting they don’t support abortion and the small references about their pro-life view, they present themselves like any other crisis pregnancy center.

*Professional-looking website layout with high quality stock photos of women, pregnancy tests, etc.? Check.

*Lot of empathize placed on being a safe, welcoming, and supportive environment? Check.

*Insistence on being confidential, supportive, etc.? Check.

*Claims of offering accurate information? Check.

*Not calling themselves a faith-based crisis pregnancy center? Check. Despite the few references to a pro-life view and Christian beliefs, they don’t actually come out and state they are a pro-life, Christian crisis pregnancy center. Instead, they refer to themselves in a vague way while still appearing to be supportive and confidential: “We are a safe, welcoming place for individuals, and families to receive education, services and support.  All of our services are free and confidential.” (from their Facebook page)

Additionally, NBPSS states “Client information is kept confidential to the full extent allowable by law.” This gives the impression that they are a professional place that safeguards client information, but this statement is useless. Perhaps the ones that have gained medical status to be able to use ultrasound machines have to follow HIPAA laws to keep client information confidential, but, generally speaking, crisis pregnancy centers are not medical. Therefore, they’re not required to protect client information. Not surprisingly, there have been numerous instances of centers harassing abortion-minded women afterwards or even contacting her family, friends, and co-workers about her abortion plans in order to shame her out of getting one.

NBPSS’ website lists the logos for Heartbeat International and Care Net, the nation’s two largest crisis pregnancy center networks. NBPSS is officially a Care Net affiliate as they are listed on Care Net’s website as one of their crisis pregnancy centers, but not Heartbeat International. The center can also be found on Option Line, a website created by the two organizations to direct women to their pro-life Christian crisis pregnancy centers. Both organizations have a nasty history of falsely advertising themselves and offering inaccurate information in order to lure women and potentially scare or shame them out of getting an abortion, using birth control, having pre-marital sex, or anything not in line with Christian beliefs. Being associated with either one of these organizations is not a good thing.

Despite NBPSS’ website claiming to offer accurate information about abortion procedures and risks, the section on “Abortion Risks” indicates that at least some of their information may be inaccurate. It mentions that some studies suggest connections between abortion and breast cancer, which is something the pro-life movement has pushed like its fact despite there not being reliable, hard evidence to prove a link between abortion and breast cancer or that abortion increases a woman’s risk to get breast cancer. NBPSS’s “Abortion Risks” section also alludes to symptoms related to Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome, a term coined by the pro-life movement for a perceived connection between abortion and mental health. Though the pro-life movement insists women are likely to suffer from extreme negative emotions following abortion, PASS is not recognized by any health organizations as studies show there’s no link between abortion and mental health problems and more current studies show only a small percentage of women regret their abortion. In general, NBPSS seems like any other crisis pregnancy center by treating abortion as problematic—insisting that women thinking of abortion to schedule an appointment to be educated on with their own version of the facts—while parenting and adoption are presented as positive, noble, and perfect as if either of those options cannot possibly be riddled with their own issues.

Crisis pregnancy centers are strategically set up in key locations. The best spot for a crisis pregnancy center to set up shop is right next to an abortion provider, using a similar name and outward appearance in order to mislead women looking for the abortion provider into the center. They are also found in poverty-stricken areas and college towns as unplanned pregnancies are likely to occur in those places. NARAL’s report “The Truth about Crisis Pregnancy Centers” states that crisis pregnancy centers have also been setting up in areas with high concentrations of African-American and Latina women, noting that “the rate of unplanned pregnancy among African-American women, particularly among teens, far outpaces that of other groups—51% of African-American teen girls will become pregnant at least once before they turn 20.” A crisis pregnancy center in Ironwood seems out of place considering the town doesn’t have any of these ideal features…until you consider its geographical location.

Guttmacher explains, “In 2014, some 6,050 abortions were provided in Wisconsin, though not all abortions that occurred in Wisconsin were provided to state residents, as some patients may have traveled from other states [emphasis added].

Women in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where Ironwood is located, are severely lacking in access to abortion services. The sole provider of any abortion services in the entire UP is the Planned Parenthood Marquette Health Center, which only offers the abortion pill. Women in the UP seeking abortion in Michigan beyond nine or ten weeks would have to travel to Saginaw County in Michigan’s mainland. Saginaw County is at least a three hour drive from Michigan’s UP. As Ironwood is located right next to Wisconsin’s northern border, it’s possible a crisis pregnancy center was set up there to catch upper Michigan women who find it would be easier and are willing to cross state lines to receive abortion services.

Whatever the reason for a crisis pregnancy center in Ironwood, it doesn’t look good between the association with deceptive crisis pregnancy center groups and hints of false information on pregnancy options. Perhaps someday I’ll go in to see for myself if my gut instincts and research are correct.

Note: At the time of posting, the NBPSS website appears to be down. 

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.

Crude Photographs and Thin Skinned Fanatics

“Your ridicule is just typical antics. Spineless, mindless, tragic, fanatics.”—Otep

Wednesday turned out to be quite interesting when it came to the local newspaper.

To the surprise of no one, there was a scathing pro-life letter in regards to our presence at the Life Chain this past Sunday. Although, I did find it shocking that it wasn’t written by local pro-life leader, Pastor Samuel Faust. What was surprising was that the letter was accompanied by a photo of me and two of my pro-choice comrades holding the sign we dubbed the “Picket Rick”. I already knew public photography laws and how a newspaper can use photos, but I had never seen one in the opinion section of the paper so it caught me off guard.

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The writer included all the English signs EXCEPT for “Abortion Kills Children”. Guess he didn’t want the readers to think the “protectors of life” had a sign that might be considered as “crude and offensive”. 

At first, it bothered me. I thought of how more extreme pro-lifers have put up pictures of pro-choice advocates or clinic workers with a frame to make it look like a WANTED poster. I used to think the only kind of pro-life activist that resorted to such tactics were the extreme ones that shout through mega speakers and write down license plates of patients. Those lines have been blurred and even silent sign holders are resorting to more of the despicable kinds of tactics.

Now I kind of find the whole letter and our picture being plastered in the paper to be hilarious. There were fifty-three individuals on their side. We had five on ours. They had almost 11 times as many people as we did. We were clearly outnumbered. With only a handful of us, we logically shouldn’t have had any effect  on them. Oh, but we did have an effect on them despite our small numbers judging by this letter.  I mean…why write such a letter about our horrible picket sign language against those who pretend that they care about life and include a picture of the offenders? I’d wager that it was meant to somehow shame those that stood up in the hopes that they’ll back down and give up. Are these pro-lifers so weak and thin skinned that a small gathering of fed-up people collected on a whim is enough to make them feel like they’re the ones that have been victimized? To quote an Otep song (“Feeding Frenzy”): “If there’s strength in numbers, why are you so weak?”

The Life Chain was nothing more than a larger version of the demonstration held outside the local women’s healthcare clinic every other week. Being that this special demonstration was on the bridge in order to obtain more visibility, the public didn’t witness what such a demonstration is like when it’s paraded a few feet away from the door of the clinic. There weren’t any female patients to intimidate or harass. There weren’t any women “of a sexually active age” they felt needed to hear the gospel and anti-abortion misinformation so badly that they’ll chase those women down the block, including a young woman on crutches who yelled back she was only received birth control from the clinic to regulate her menstrual cycle. They didn’t have anybody to ask “Are you Christian?” and then belittle and pick apart that person’s personal beliefs if they were even the slightest out of line with their own. They weren’t able to distribute a wealth of misinformation and lies to those that aren’t informed. That’s being a bully. Our sign was indeed crude, but what these pro-life protesters do is downright cruel.

Our crude Picket Rick had the precise effect on the protesters we were hoping for. I hope they felt intimidated and made uncomfortable by our presence. I hope they felt disgusted by our words. I hope they felt we were being invasive and intrusive despite that we were just standing there not personally bothering anyone. Because when the demonstration moves from the bridge and back to the front of the clinic, that’s how they’ll make women feel. The letter indicates they got a good dose of their own medicine, even if they’re so caught up in the belief that what they’re doing is righteous and pure that they don’t realize this is the effect they have.

Just as women that utilize Planned Parenthood or similar women’s clinics have had to accept that there will always be pro-life protesters flaunting their anti-abortion signs outside their healthcare provider, the local Life Chain participants will have to deal with people that are fed up with their bullying agenda showing up at their vigil.

I realize I could have used more “appropriate” language to demonstrate the frustration I feel towards this “pro-life” agenda. Except…I already did through my opinion letters.

In my first letter I wrote:

“Women shouldn’t have to call the clinic feeling uneasy about going to her appointment because of the protesters outside. Women shouldn’t have to feel that there are judgmental eyes on her when she walks in and out of the clinic. Women shouldn’t have to be anxious that she will be approached and be made to feel awful about themselves, guilty, or embarrassed. It may not be the intent, but that’s the effect they’re having.”

A 12-year old pro-life protester had written to the paper and I wrote that although I found her desire to help people to be genuine, I thought that she should make better use of her efforts and reach out to organizations that directly help those in need to volunteer instead of unhelpful sidewalk crusading. In response to a letter reprimanding me for essentially daring to make such a suggestion, I wrote the following:

“A recent discussion with clinic staff revealed there are women who explain that the presence of the protester made them feel intimidated, and they come in when the protesters aren’t there. I have yet to have a discussion with anyone, including mothers and those who identify as pro-life, that didn’t feel negatively after witnessing their demonstration or speaking with them.

I don’t know how anyone believes the protesters are not judgmental or interfering with anyone’s lives when they’ll ram religion and their view on abortion and reproductive rights down your throat if given the opportunity. It’s these things that have led me and others to the conclusion that these people are not of help to women, but a hindrance to women, specifically those seeking help with family planning and reproductive health.”

Frankly, after several opinion editorials and discussion with pro-lifers that continue to harass and intimidate women while fawning over themselves through rose-colored glasses, I’m exhausted of more appropriate language. I’m exhausted attempting to argue with those that talk around in circles and throw stones. Therefore, I don’t intend on writing any more opinion editorials for the paper on this subject. I’m not even going to write a letter defending my actions or Picket Rick as we’re well past the point of polite diplomacy.  I don’t mean I have given up on standing up to this deceptive nuisance movement that calls itself “pro-life”. I’ll most certainly be counter protesting the Life Chain every year from now on (unless they give up on harassing women) and I’ll learn to fight through my anxiety in order to stand up to them when they chase women down the sidewalk. What it will mean is that I’ll be more focused on helping people in need and working with those that want all women to have access to healthcare without being harassed by these fanatical false-Christian bullies.