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.

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Option Line Chat Services

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In 2003, Heartbeat International and Care Net joined forces to create Option Line, a pro-life contact center designed to reach out to women seeking answers about pregnancy options. Care Net president, Melinda Delahoyde, stated about its website upgrade, “When a young woman suspects she might be pregnant, she often goes online for help. We’ve designed our new Option Line website so that it’s one of the first places she visits. By putting her in touch with a local pregnancy center, Option Line is connecting her to life-saving support for her and her unborn child.”

Like many of the crisis pregnancy centers its connected with, Option Line hides its pro-life agenda and Christian imagery in favor of more medical and pro-choice sounding language. The only mention of Heartbeat International or Care Net, organizations that run the two biggest networks of Christian pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, is found within the website’s Privacy Policy. (Let’s face it: what average person is going to the Privacy Policy on any website?)  Option Line has enough correct information on pregnancy options and birth control that only the most informed will realize the few falsehoods laced in (like Plan B possibly causing early abortion or how abortion may not be necessary as many pregnancies end in miscarriage.) There actually is a fine print disclaimer stating that Option Line and its participating pregnancy centers don’t offer or refer for abortion services—something not all of its participating crisis pregnancy centers state—but its not right on its front page.

A feature the website promotes is its 24/7 Option Line live chat:

“If you are wondering whether or not you’re pregnant, your mind is probably racing with questions. It’s common to feel confused, scared, or overwhelmed. Option Line live chat is available any time, day or night. We offer free, confidential help, information about pregnancy signs and symptoms, information on all your options, and we can quickly connect you to the local assistance you need. Call our pregnancy helpline at 1-800-712-4357 or chat with us now!”

I decided to see what the chat service is like. I tried it three times, posing as different women with different pregnancy situations. Here are the results along with the conversations, which had to be screen shot in sections and put together.

Maya. Age 21. Los Angeles. Missed a couple periods.

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After answering the initial automated message, I waited for about three or four minutes before I got a response. This would probably feel excruciating if I had been a woman seeking help for a pregnancy scare.

With this chat, she almost immediately directed me to a crisis pregnancy center, which she basically got from putting the zip code I had given through the “Find A Center By Zip Code” on their website and copied and pasted the information on it in the chat. She insisted on their “free and confidential” services, but at the the same time didn’t know anything about it because “every center is different”.

While I was glad to know that she was upfront with me about the center not being like a doctor’s office, I wondered if it was because I had asked. What bothered me was her saying “It is not a doctor’s office” and then going onto say they may have medical staff, they may have me fill out medical paperwork, and its helpful to bring an ID. They’re not a doctor’s office, but I might have to fill out medical paperwork and ID information for medical professionals working there? She repeatedly noted the confidentiality of the center, but by her own words they’re also not a medical facility that would have to be required by law to safeguard patient information.

The conversation abruptly ends because…well…she stopped responding! I waited for ten minutes on information about the kind of resources the center would offer and eventually assumed I wasn’t worth her time. From her perspective, I was experiencing a pregnancy scare. I thought I could get information from the actual chat, but it seemed like she was pushing me to go to this center to get all my questions answered.

As far as the crisis pregnancy center she gave me, it looks insanely medical. Calling itself “a licensed medical clinic”, it apparently offers pregnancy testing, options counseling, proof of pregnancy, limited ultrasounds, facts about abortion and risks, STD information, post abortion counseling, information on natural family planning, and a ton of referrals. But there are little hints that it’s a crisis pregnancy center like emphasis on miscarriage and scheduling an appointment to get abortion information and a total lack of reproductive health care service like pap smears, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and birth control despite claiming to be a medical clinic for women. The center is listed with a few pro-life groups including the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a “faith-based Christian ministry that seeks to glorify God by proclaiming the sanctity of human life, both born and unborn” that also helps equip crisis pregnancy centers with legal counsel. A couple Yelp reviews commented that they were pushy about religion and marriage, one noting that she didn’t find the prying into her personal life and relationship appropriate or desired.

Shiloh. Age 19. Madison. Looking for abortion clinic

OptionLine_convo2nd_edited-1I conducted this chat the next morning to see if it would be any different from the experience I had the previous evening (I did the chat from my phone instead of the laptop). Again, I waited several minutes for a response after I answered the automated question. I was transferred to “Stephanie”, the same support agent who took my previous chat.

Again, she immediately promoted a nearby pregnancy center with “free and confidental” services.

When I read the description of the chat services, it sounded like it was staffed with pregnancy experts that would talk women through their options in addition to connecting me with one of their centers. (In fact, Google “pregnancy experts” and Option Line is the third search result). I assumed there would be at least some exchange of information, even if that information was based on pro-life propaganda. So far, there wasn’t exchange of information other than addresses to these crisis pregnancy centers that would discuss the answers I was seeking.  She did state without any prompting that “We do not perform or refer for abortion”. Yet she was still trying to get me into a crisis pregnancy center to get more information on that option.

This chat reminded me of a NARAL report that references a documentary called “12th and Delaware”, quoting a CPC director training volunteers on how to answer phone calls and get abortion-minded women through the doors:

If you don’t hook her right away, she hangs up on you. When she calls and says, “Do you do abortions?”, I say “Are you calling for yourself or are you calling for your friend?”…and we engage in conversation. Because if she calls and says “Do you do abortions?” and I say “No”…click! [The CPC director pantomimes hanging up the phone] I’m trying to get her in the door. Take control of that conversation. I don’t mind the criticisms of taking control. “That doesn’t sound fair.” Well, too bad!

That scene seems to match perfectly with what happened in this chat. I explained I was looking for an abortion clinic. The support agent could have just stated they don’t help with abortion. Instead, she went, “Well, we don’t perform or refer to abortions. But our pregnancy centers have a lot of good information on abortion that you may find useful and they would be happy to discuss it with you. Oh, look! Here’s one in your town! Did I mention services are free and confidential?”

I felt like sticking it to her by telling her that I would look elsewhere for abortion information. It didn’t seem like she was willing to give me any information beyond contact information for a crisis pregnancy center, anyways.

The crisis pregnancy center she pulled up is one of many Wisconsin-based crisis pregnancy centers I have researched. When I first researched it about a year and a half ago, it went by a different name: Care Net of Dane County. It used to be more open about being a pro-life organization, but it has since removed all the pro-life and Christian references and made its website look and sound like its a legit women’s clinic. It still goes by Care Net of Dane County in its secondary donor website, which includes its real mission statement and all the other Christian pro-life things the organization removed from its client website.

Ellie. Age 19. Eau Claire. Pregnant and scared. OPTIONTWO

Note: Two replies either weren’t screenshot or accidentally cropped off when assembling the conversation together and didn’t realize this until after saving everything.

Finally, a different support agent!

Whereas “Stephanie” seemed to want a quick answer to the woman’s situation and immediately direct her to the nearest “free and confidential” crisis pregnancy center, “Ashley” seemed to want to have a better understanding of the situation and was more empathetic to what the woman was feeling. She gave sensible advice that I would personally give to a woman unsure what to do about an unplanned pregnancy: get information on all your options and carefully explore them before making a decision. If “Ellie” had been a real woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and was scared and uncertain, she probably would have thought she was helpful, understanding, and caring. But eventually, “Ashley” segued the conversation towards going to a crisis pregnancy center to re-confirm the pregnancy, discuss my options, and possibly get scheduled for an ultrasound.

I purposely picked an Eau Claire zip code knowing they would give me Apple Pregnancy Care Center. After our local protesters began handing their business cards in front of the Essential Health Clinic and leaving them at the library, I decided to go there for a pregnancy test to see what it was like.

“Ashley” said I could possibly get scheduled for an ultrasound. Except that Apple doesn’t list ultrasounds as one of its services. Ultrasounds were also brought up in the last chat as well. “Shiloh” was seeking an abortion clinic while “Ellie” was undecided yet leaning towards abortion, making both women technically “abortion minded”. Take a look at what “Ashley” said about ultrasounds: “It will also be helpful to do an ultrasound to confirm how far along you are and to determine that you have a viable pregnancy. [emphasis added].”

Many crisis pregnancy centers exaggerate miscarriage rates in order to convince women that they don’t need an abortion. By offering ultrasound services they can “confirm” whether the pregnancy is viable. Some crisis pregnancy centers, like Women’s Support Center, truthfully tell women that an ultrasound is required to receive abortion services and then promote their free ultrasounds services. But crisis pregnancy centers aren’t doing this to be helpful to women seeking abortion. They are fully aware that a woman will go to her scheduled abortion and find out that the ultrasound image she was given at the crisis pregnancy center is worthless, delaying her abortion (hopefully past the point she can get one) because she doesn’t meet the requirements. In Wisconsin, according to an actual abortion clinic, the required ultrasound must be performed at the abortion provider and their website warns of a nearby crisis pregnancy center that provides free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds.

Having been to Apple PCC for a pregnancy test, I found the comments on pregnancy testing to be quite interesting. “Ashley” explained the pregnancy tests at the center could be more accurate than the cheap, Walmart one I bought, mainly because they’re done at the center and someone can verify the results and make sure the test is working properly. “Someone” being a volunteer and not a medical professional, by the way.

Apple PCC’s super accurate pregnancy tests are nearly identical to this over the counter pregnancy test that you can buy at Walmart for a mere 88 cents:

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As “Ellie”, I said I bought the cheapest pregnancy test from Wal-Mart. This is the test I was referring to and is the same type of test Apple PCC uses.

Normally, when you go to a doctor’s office for a pregnancy test, you pee in a sturdy plastic cup with a nice screw-on top that you’ll never see again and the nurse gives you results in five minutes. At Apple PCC, I was asked a bunch of medical and moral questions for about twenty minutes before the volunteer even let me take a piss in a LITERAL DIXIE CUP. Then I was taken to a room with the Dixie cup-o-urine where I was instructed to use the dropper to dispense my own urine onto this cheap pregnancy test and the volunteer and I both confirmed there was only one solid line. It was the same as an at home pregnancy test, but with a pro-life volunteer asking questions about my sex life and religion.

Like the crisis pregnancy centers, the Option Line chat is designed to appear helpful to women experiencing unplanned pregnancies and offer guidance on a decision. However, crisis pregnancy centers are not about helping women navigate all their pregnancy options because “all-options” would include abortion and they’re not supportive of abortion. The Option Line chat is an extension of the pro-life movement, which is about restricting choice. Option Line’s goal is to get women through the doors of crisis pregnancy centers. Maybe the support agents are willing to admit that their centers don’t offer or refer for abortion, but they didn’t state that their centers are actually pro-life ministries. The centers that were recommended don’t state they’re pro-life ministries on their client website, but First Care Clinic and Apple PCC both have donor websites that do state a pro-life mission and Christian beliefs (in Apple PCC’s case, admitting they don’t refer or offer abortion or birth control). I feel like these agents try to get women into these centers, providing as little information as possible while asserting that these centers are to be trusted. The agent from the first conversation was singing the praises of crisis pregnancy centers, but wouldn’t offer an answer to my question about their resources. I imagine if I had gotten an answer she would have told me to call the center to schedule an appointment so they could discuss that information with me and remind me that their services are free and confidential.

In any case, Option Line’s chat service, regardless of how knowledgeable a woman using it is on crisis pregnancy centers, is more like the website’s “Find A Center By Zip Code” feature with an added sales pitch rather than a online chat with pregnancy experts that will answer all the questions racing through the mind of a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

 

 

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.

God and the Pro-Life Movement

One of the local pro-life protesters—nicknamed the Dicktator—has a public Facebook page that he only uses to preach gospel and speak out against abortion, usually the two being one and the same. He almost always posts on when they’ll be demonstrating down at the local women’s clinic, which they always do every other Wednesday when the clinic is open. “Today, we will be at the women’s clinic pleading for women to not murder their own child and to share the Gospel with those who do not know God.” (Despite the fact the clinic doesn’t offer abortion services or referrals.)

Sometimes he posts about his experience involving the anti-abortion demonstration. These posts pique my interest on days when I had been across the street at the library as, at times, he claimed to have positive reactions all day while I had observed frustrated female patients, unhappy faces, and the occasional shouting match or driver giving a one-fingered salute.

What interests me even more is how he starts almost every one of these posts: “God was again glorified today!”

Well, it’s certainly not unusual for Christian pro-lifers to believe that their God is being glorified through their efforts to “save lives”. After all, the Bible instructs Christians to “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” (Proverbs 24:11) and pro-life advocates believe embryos are people.

Still, I wonder if their God is truly being glorified by the actions of the pro-life movement. This curiosity was stemmed by a statement listed on the protesters’ anti-abortion cards: “The Bible says that murderers will not inherit the Kingdom of God. It also says that liars, thieves, drunkards, sexually immoral, and those who take God’s name in vain won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.” When you consider the protesters’ involvement in the pro-life movement, it’s easy to see that they themselves actually fit into one of these categories.

The reason we have protesters outside my women’s clinic, despite not performing abortions, is due to the wide spread belief among local pro-lifers that the hospital the clinic is affiliated with performs elective abortions under the radar. Supposedly, an employee at Gundersen found a policy that stated they do elective abortions and decided to go forward with it. However, this employee did not show a physical copy of this “abortion policy”. In fact, none of the protesters have seen the policy this employee spoke of. Yet they spread around the belief that the hospital performs elective abortions in secret as if it were factual. This has caused both the protesters and their supporters to spread lies about the clinic: that they do abortion referrals, that they send women wanting abortions to Gundersen, they have to include abortion information in their all-options pregnancy counseling because the clinic makes money when Gundersen performs an abortion, they’re funded by Planned Parenthood, etc. Meanwhile, the only indication of an “abortion policy” is found in their online handbook, which states, “Abortions when necessary to protect the health or life of the patient or when the pregnancy was the result of sexual assault or incest.” I’ve attempted to correct the group leader on this and they’re still spreading the lie that women can simply waltz into Gundersen as she pleases to get an abortion. They seriously believe doctors give out medically necessary abortion on demand without a real medical reason and they can be performed right up to the day you’re supposed to give birth!

Like many pro-life protesters, this group has anti-abortion reading materials that they try to hand out to as many women as possible. Their cards contain false information and misleading resources. One of the resources was so deceptive that I initially believed it was a pro-choice website that was connected with pro-choice or neutral health care centers like my women’s clinic. Later, I found it was purposely set up this way to lead women to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), the ultimate weapon of the pro-life movement. Not surprisingly, the protesters have cards for a nearby crisis pregnancy center that they hand out and leave at the library across the street.

The protester leading this group is the chairperson for the Jackson County chapter for the Wisconsin Right to Life. In October 2016, he invited me to a Christian seminar they had for teenagers to teach them about sex. Not only did it not contain any comprehensive sex education, the speaker and the pamphlets provided had stated some falsehoods about abortion and birth control.

If you ask me, there is an awful amount of lying, spreading of falsehoods, and supporting of those that deceive just within this tiny group of Christian protesters. Remember what their cards said about liars? Liars are one of the groups of people that won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. This is in reference to the Bible’s Book of Revelations, which states the groups of people mentioned on the card are doomed to the fiery lake of burning sulfur in Hell. The irony in all this being that the cards themselves contain outright lies and deceptive resources. Even more ironic is that they’re being handed out by Christians that believe they are saved because they’re standing up for the unborn, but don’t realize that their salvation is probably in jeopardy for spreading lies and supporting pro-life groups and crisis pregnancy centers that are deceitful. Christian teachings explain that God has a great hatred for liars and deceivers.

Proverbs, the same book that tells Christians to stop those being led to death, contains several verses concerning lying and deception: “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful” (12:22), “The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked bring shame and disgrace” (13:5), and “A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies” (14:5). It also explains one of the six things the Lord hates is “a lying tongue”. Other verses about lying include “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. (Leviticus 19:11)”, “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:16)”, and “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness. (Exodus 23:1).

The New Testament tells the story of Ananias and how he and his wife met their demise because they chose to lie to the apostles. Ananias sold a plot of land with the intention of giving all the proceeds to the apostles, but he secretly kept a portion of it for himself with his wife’s full knowledge. When he presented the remainder of the money to the apostles, Peter saw through his deception on how much the land had really sold for. Ananias died on the spot after Peter declared he had not lied to the apostles, but to God. The same fate met his wife hours later when Peter questioned her about how much the land sold for and she lied.

There are a couple examples of lying that could be taken as exceptions to the rules. The Hebrew midwives lied to the Pharaoh of why they weren’t killing the male babies as ordered and Rahab lied about harboring Israelite spies. God approved of the midwives saving the children and Rahab welcoming the Israelite spies, but it’s not explicitly stated that God actually approved of them lying about it. The act of lying committed by the midwives and Rahab were also one-time thing done in an extreme situation unlike the protesters that continue to lie on an average Wednesday even when corrected on their “facts”. To me, lying to truly wicked men is a lot different than lying to potentially vulnerable female patients seeking help at a place that doesn’t even offer the abortions they’re fighting against. Regardless, these two instances are stacked against an overwhelming amount of Biblical evidence that God despises lying and deceivers while valuing honesty and integrity.

Honestly, I think the zealots outside my clinic are going straight to Hell. Yet these actions aren’t isolated to a tiny group of ignorant protesters demonstrating a small town family planning clinic. They’re actively participating in a movement that is built upon lies, deception, and denying the truth in order to further their goals. Not to say that my own side of the fight hasn’t spread its own falsehoods, but pro-life claims to be “pro-truth”—and even that is a lie.

The ultimate weapons of the pro-life movement are the crisis pregnancy centers, pro-life ministries designed to counsel women out of getting an abortion. How they accomplish this is dishonest.  At first glance, they appear to be women’s clinics or even abortion providers as their advertisements and official websites have been stripped of any religious affiliation and replaced with pro-choice rhetoric. Many are set up near abortion providers or family planning centers and use similar names or outer décor in hopes that women wander into the wrong place by accident. CPC’s have been largely criticized for not only being deceptive, but also providing inaccurate or unreliable information and greatly exaggerating the effects of abortion. By using dishonest tactics to exploit vulnerable women facing an unplanned pregnancy, the people involved with crisis pregnancy centers seem to have become the kind of person their God despises.

As I researched several pro-life groups, I found similar narratives across their mission statements. They believe human life is sacred and valuable and that it’s their duty to save, protect, and defend life. You would think with so much of the pro-life movement being steeped in Christian beliefs that pro-life activists would be emulating the charitable behavior of Jesus in order to help those in need. Being a prophet and the Son of God, he did a lot of educating about the word of the Lord, but an equally large portion of his work was his acts of charity. He didn’t come across the needy and think that their troubles could be solved by preaching gospel. He fixed issues head on by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc. He commanded followers of Christ to do the same. Surprisingly, you don’t see this in the grand scheme of the pro-life movement.

Instead, most of their work goes into educating (which is laced with untruths), just as Jesus educated the people about the Lord. None of their major efforts includes ensuring that the children they save from being aborted are taken care of and have a stable future. They’re quick to disagree with abortion and tell others that adoption is the better choice, but rarely do you see them rallying for assistance to give needy parents the means to provide for their children. There aren’t missions to provide food, clothes, shelter, healthcare, or education to the babies they save or to anyone in need of those things. The extent of such charitable works can be found within the lying, deceptive crisis pregnancy centers as many do offer a minimal amount of baby items to mothers, but women more than likely have to run the gauntlet through an “Earn While You Learn” program in order to obtain “Mommy money” to “buy” items stocked at the CPC. I will admit that maybe it’s just me, but I don’t seem to recall instances where Jesus instructed people to help others only if they met certain requirements.

If you need proof that pro-life groups only educate while doing nothing to serve the needs of the people they want to help, take a look at the Wisconsin Right to Life. They list all of their pro-life accomplishments on their website. They give exact numbers on things like how many educational/fundraising events they held, how many grants were awarded so college students could start or continue pro-life groups on campus, how many teenagers and college students were trained at pro-life summer leadership camps, how many media interviews and press conferences were conducted, how many emails and action alerts were sent out, how many unique visitors visited their website, how many right-to-life laws they had involvement with getting passed, etc. But how many emergency grants did they provide to pregnant women in need of immediate financial assistance the previous year? “Several”. (By definition, several means more than two, but not very many.) I’m far more interested in practical help like this emergency grant than their anti-abortion propaganda, but there’s only a vague indication on how many they’ve given out (“dozens” over the years and “several” last year) and there’s only a sentence worth of information on it buried within a mountain of anti-abortion education with falsehoods and specific accomplishments.

This seems odd to me. We’re talking about a movement dedicated to “saving lives” under the belief that fertilized eggs are people. Yet they practically have zero efforts in those who are already born. It’s not as if they lack the means to do these things. While I was unable to determine how much pro-life groups and the crisis pregnancy centers rake in through donations as a whole, we can recognize the fruits of their labors through billboards, advertising, professionally printed protest signs, anti-abortion propaganda reading materials, lobby for anti-abortion laws and lobbying against “anti-life” laws, etc. According to Pro-Life Across America, their anti-abortion billboards average monthly costs are $500-$3000 (not including artwork and production costs). In 2010 and 2011, they had 6,500 billboards. By their monthly estimates, it would have cost at least 39 MILLION DOLLARS to keep the billboards up for a full year. The CPC supported by the local protesters, APPLE Pregnancy Care Center, raised $20,380 last year with its annual Walk for Life event. With the average costs of a baby in the first year averaging nearly $10,000, that sort of money could have “sponsored” two babies for an entire year and still have a little bit left over.

With many pro-life groups stating that much of their donations go into their work instead of administration costs, there’s really no excuse as to why these pro-life groups cannot put at least some of the donations they receive towards helping people obtain basic necessities to live, especially with goals to “save lives”. Jesus and his disciples were able to feed a group with 5,000 men (not including women and children), a task initially seen as impossible as they only had five loaves of bread and two fish yet managed to pull it off despite what little they had (Matthew 14:13-21). Imagine what these pro-life groups could do if they stopped investing so much in scare tactics and abortion lies and started working towards helping people in need.

These groups and activists are so focused on attempting to “save” the unborn from “slaughter” through sinful deception and lies that they are ignoring an even greater number of people in need of help. According to their interpretation of what a person is, how many lives are lost to abortion yearly? 3,000 lives a day so this would roughly figure to at least 1,095,000 lives lost to abortion every year. Guttmacher estimates that about 926,000 abortions were performed in 2014.

What about other at-risk children?

How many children live in poverty? 14.5 million.

How many children live in food insecure households? 13.1 million.

How many children are homeless? 2.5 million (in 2014). 

As you can see, these numbers are much greater than any abortion statistic regardless of who put them. The pro-life movement considers the unborn at every stage as much of a person as these children who need help. Issues like poverty, hunger, and homelessness are also some reasons why women get abortions. A woman that feels she needs to get an abortion because she’s not in the best situation might be less likely to terminate her pregnancy if there was help to be able to take care of herself and her child after birth. So why isn’t the pro-life movement, which claims to want to save lives, not doing anything to help these people (which are supposedly equal to the unborn)? It’s hard to ignore the needy that are hungry as hunger statistics are routinely plastered in newspapers, television ads, and even packages of food. “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered (Proverbs 21:23)”. “If anyone has materials possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3: 17)”.

The overall narrative of the pro-life movement argues that every life is valuable and deserves to be protected and defended, but despite this many still pick and choose what lives are valuable and deserving of such protection. I’m not convinced that the pro-life movement is truly about valuing life and protecting the vulnerable when a lot of those same people that are part of and support the movement are quick to discriminate, judge, mock, and exclude certain groups of people and justify it with Christianity. When certain groups consistently face discrimination, bullying, and exclusion doesn’t that make them vulnerable and in need of protection? Where are the pamphlets saying it’s wrong to look down on someone just because they don’t follow your religion or their skin is not white? Where are the protests in support of gays and women being treated equally and fairly? How about billboards with statistics on suicide rates among trans-gender people, the number of children in the foster system and the number of children who age out of the system having no life skills to make it in the world, or how many women die at the hands of their abusers and that these people are in need of our help?

They even place value on the women and children they claim they want to help. Any woman instantly becomes worthless if she goes through with an abortion and she’s branded as a murderer as she exits her appointment. She’s only considered of value again if she ends up being a part of the 5% of women that regrets her abortion because pro-life advocates need examples of remorseful women to sell the myth that abortion traumatizes the majority of women. If her abortion was medically necessary to protect her own health or life, she’s judged for not seeking second opinions until she got a more “pro-life” answer. If a conservative pro-life protester convinces a woman not to abort she becomes more valuable because she “chose life” and the child is a “blessing”, but if her child grows up to be gay, transgender, Muslim, atheist, a pro-choice activist, or anything that your average pro-life Christian disagrees with then that same protester might say the parents failed this child that is now immoral and worthless.

When I pointed this lack of help towards other vulnerable groups, the responses were quick to defend the unborn while ignoring needs of others who clearly are in need of help. One letter suggested if such things are so important to me then why don’t I put up billboards while downplaying the statistics I listed about those in need by claiming the government inflates numbers. How ironic that a pro-life person, who deeply cares about the unborn, would attempt to push the responsibility of caring for others onto someone else. Another letter tried to convince that there will always be issues like hunger and homelessness and that there’s nothing anybody can do to fix it. Remember the story of Jesus and his apostles feeding 5,000? That was deemed as impossible and yet they still accomplished it. Jesus teaches to help the needy and I believe this story teaches to do just that even when the odds are stacked against you. Pro-life Christians do just that when they stand outside abortion providers and women’s health clinics. I think picketing pro-lifers realize that most women won’t listen to them, but they still go out anyways because even if they only convince one woman not to abort its considered a life saved. They’ll put in the effort and tout the word of the Lord when it comes to the unborn, but suddenly forget the teachings of Jesus when confronted with the idea that they’re not doing enough to help those in need and make excuses for why they can’t or don’t help. Are people that have already been born somehow less of a person than their embryonic counterparts or are Christians silently admitting that they don’t want to serve the poor and needy like their Christ instructs them to? How can anyone be passionate about saving unborn lives, but be indifferent towards the suffering of post-born lives?

Over all, the movement gives the impression that not every life is as inherently valuable as they claim and some restrictions may apply when it comes to the right to life. A bit hypocritical, don’t you think?

Matthew 23 talks about hypocrisy in leaders. From what I understand, it refers to a group of highly regarded preachers that were known as the Pharisees. While they appeared righteous, Jesus pointed out that they were hypocritical, indifferent, and had too much pride and thus did not know the Lord. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like white washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to the people as righteous, but on the inside are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

On the surface, the pro-life movement appears to be righteous and good through its claims of valuing all lives and putting efforts to saving lives, but its inner workings is full of lies and deception and the only people they’re trying to save are the unborn. They speak of their cause being honorable and moral, but what they actually do to achieve their goals is despicable.

Jesus also warned his disciples about bogus ministers who would present themselves as Christians that would exploit people for their own purposes. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) Of course, Jesus was likely speaking about religious leaders within the faith and not leaders of the pro-life movement. However, there are church leaders that actively participate in the pro-life movement. In fact, the person leading the demonstration outside the women’s clinic in town is a pastor himself. He should be examining what the pro-life groups he’s associated with does to determine if it truly aligns with the Christian faith and, ultimately, convince others not to contribute to a cause that continues to be incredibly dishonest. I’m not saying he should change his view on abortion, but rather consider the actions these pro-life groups are doing in response to abortion. As a Christian leader, he should know better as he’s studied the scripture probably more than your average Christian. He knows he shouldn’t lie or deceive. He knows he shouldn’t follow the crowd in wrong doing (Exodus 23:2). He knows anyone that says “I know God” yet doesn’t keep his commands is a liar and does not know God (1 John 2:4). He knows that every Christian, including himself, should examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Instead, he participates in the sinful dishonesty while doing nothing that would actually benefit the women he claims to want to help and encourages others to join him while claiming this is God’s will. He’s not any better than the pious Pharisees: righteous on the surface, but corrupt within.

The more I study the scripture, the more I believe the pro-life movement is not glorifying God. If the scripture has taught me anything it’s that Christians cannot glorify their God through sin because whoever commits sin is of the devil. While there is no such thing as a sinless Christian, the good ones don’t make a habit of sinning and are remorseful when they do. However, the pro-life movement either believes their lies and deception is for a greater good or they truly believe the lies they spread. One way or another, they don’t believe they are doing any wrong doing and, therefore, won’t ask for forgiveness for the sins they are committing. Remember that Revelations stated all liars will have their place in the fiery pit. Not just those with ill intent or makes exceptions for those that habitually lie for a good cause. Just through their lies alone, they’re not obeying the Lord. They disobey even further by remembering Christ’s teachings of helping others when its convenient for them and make excuses as to why they cannot help when faced with issues of human suffering they don’t want to tackle.

Pro-life advocates might be in for a surprise when they find themselves in Hell with the women they screamed at outside abortion providers (assuming that God finds abortion to be equal to murdering a person outside the womb). It seems the pro-life movement is not only anti-abortion and anti-woman, but also anti-Christ.

Activist Story Time: The Ultimate Dishonest Weapon of the Pro-Life Movement

Back in late June of 2016, I took an anti-abortion card from one of the young boys the pro-birthers force to demonstrate with them from time to time. It had been a couple of weeks since the Dicktator, the asshole of the protesters outside my clinic, had insulted my literacy after I politely refused to accept one these cards. I suppose researching every aspect of that card was my way of dealing with the bitterness I still felt about what happened and my way saying, “Fuck you, asshole, and your assumption that I can’t read.”

The card titled “Six Facts on Abortion” is about as factual as a conservative fake news website meant to stir up the feelings of Republicans that don’t fact check. Half of the facts have been proven false by real facts, studies, and research while most of the other half is debatable. The back of the card is plastered with Biblical scare tactics in order to convince the reader not to terminate her pregnancy. There were three websites on the back of the card. Not surprisingly, one is for an anti-abortion website that gives false information like abortion causes breast cancer while the other is for a Christian adoption agency.

The third website, OptionLine.org, was a bit intriguing and completely out of line with the rest of the card. Rather than trying to scare women out of abortion with lies and Christianity, it seemed to have accurate information on ALL options. It seemed supportive of a woman’s right to choose abortion. It even included a checklist on what to look for when choosing an abortion provider should a woman decide she wants to terminate her pregnancy.

Option Line has a network of centers and further research indicated that 2/3 of the clinics in my state were exactly like the clinic the protesters were demonstrating outside of in terms of pregnancy options counseling and supporting a woman’s right to choose.

Or so I thought.

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Printed pages of the centers’ websites. The two piles on the left, highlighted in pink, were the pro-choice centers. The pile on the right, highlighted in blue, were the pro-life ones.

I had written my second letter to the editor about the hypocrisy of the protesters handing out cards directing women to places similar to the one they were demonstrating in front of. Two weeks after it was published, the Pastor showed me how they had crossed off the website off all their cards as a result of my letter. As he put it back into his shirt pocket, I noticed he was carrying around a second card and inquired about it. He handed me one. It was for a place called Apple Pregnancy Care Center in Eau Claire, WI. I realized this was a place listed on the Options Line website and he was pleased to find they had included because, according to him, they are pro-life.

The alarming thing was this was one of the places that seemed to be pro-choice.

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They really did cross OptionLine.org off of every single card

Months later, I noticed larger versions of the Apple Pregnancy Care Center cards began showing up at the library, no doubt left by the men who protest at the clinic across the street. By this time, I had forgotten about the red flag the Pastor raised, but the cards showing up prompted me to dig a little deeper into the centers affiliated with Option Line. Finding the truth about these centers left me embarrassed and disgusted with myself for having written that letter to the editor stating these places were similar to my health clinic. I cried and nearly vomited—that’s how disgusted I was. It was like finding out a perfect boyfriend is in fact a lying scumbag.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I had gone to see Otep about a month beforehand. I had stuck around afterwards so I could meet her again in order to give her copies of my two letters and nervously explain how her music and activism inspires me to stand up to these fucking idiots outside my health clinic. (“You’re right: they ARE fucking idiots!” she said in that deep, LA accent of hers.)  So not only did everyone in town who picked up a newspaper that week read the letter…so did one of my idols. Cue the face palm.

 

What had happened was I had unknowingly fallen for the biggest trap of the pro-life movement: the Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

Typically run by pro-life Christian groups, CPC’s are non-profit places designed with the purpose to counsel women out of getting an abortion. Unfortunately, like the protesters outside my clinic, they’ve been known to resort to giving inaccurate or misleading information. My second round of research discovered deception is also one of their tactics to try and get women through the door.

APPLE’s official website, like the other seemingly pro-choice centers, had presented itself as a sort of family planning center promising women accurate information on all options, pregnancy testing, resources, etc. When I re-researched the centers, I ended up finding a second website for APPLE further down the search called Friends of APPLE. This website revealed what they truly were: a pro-life ministry staffed with volunteers. It went into further detail that they don’t refer to abortion or birth control and that their “educational services” shouldn’t be a substitute for professional medical advice. These were things that their official site and their cards had failed to mention. They are also listed as a Care Net member, which I hadn’t known in my initial research has one of the largest networks of CPC’s in the nation. APPLE is listed on websites pro-life groups. The big pro-choice group, NARAL, has a list of known Crisis Pregnancy centers and APPLE is one of them. In addition, there were scathing internet reviews pointing out their misleading advertising and wrong information and a couple articles that explained what they really were.

APPLE wasn’t an isolated incident either: every single center that was seemingly about choice turned out to be a pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Center, but hadn’t been quite honest about being one on their official website. Half of the centers turned up on NARAL’s list of CPCs.

My mistake in my initial research had been to trust the official websites of these places. What better way to know about anything than to go to their official site? Quite a few of them looked professional and all appeared straight forward by listing what services they provide, who they were, etc. When I looked at them again, I saw a number of keywords being repeated: “choice”, “options”, “help”, “care”, “non-judgmental”, etc. I never thought to question that. And it occurred to me that maybe the way they misrepresent themselves is the point.

Would a woman question a place if they were honest about their pro-life, Christian view and their goal of “saving lives” and convincing women of making “life affirming choices”? Maybe. I would assume some would wonder if their information is biased or accurate or if she would be put through a religious guilt trip.
Would a woman question a place if they were offering help and understanding in a non-judgmental environment for her crisis situation while stating that she has choices? I think not.

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An assortment of APPLE pregnancy cards promising facts on pregnancy options and help and understanding when facing a difficult decision regarding an unplanned pregnancy. As you can see, these cards look professional and don’t reveal APPLE is really a pro-life ministry.

Heartbeat International, the largest CPC network in the world, recommends that CPC’s use two websites: one fundraising website stating its anti-abortion mission to secure donors and one that claims it provides medically accurate information to attract women seeking counseling, contraceptives, or abortion. This would explain why several of the places I had researched, including APPLE, ended up having a second website while their official site at the top of a Google search made them appear neutral or even pro-choice.

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Websites for Women’s Care Center in Milwaukee. The top image is from their official site, womenscarecenter.org, where they tell women of the services they offer while appearing they want to help women in making a choice that’s right for them. The bottom image is from their second site, womenscarecenterfoundation.org, where they try to secure donors to help fund the center so they can continue the pro-life agenda they fail to mention on their official website.

Many CPCs have set up shop near or right next to abortion and family planning clinics with the intention that women will wander in by mistake. Some have even gone as far to use similar sounding names as the abortion clinics nearby or names that sound like they are about choice. In fact, several of the clinics in my research had names with “Options”, “Choice” to make themselves appear pro-choice when the reality is they’re only in favor of the choices/options where you give birth. The deception continues on in the center with things like doctor office décor, volunteers with clipboards acting like medical professionals, and/or misinformation about options presented as medical facts.

It isn’t a gross oversight, but a calculated move. In the VICE News documentary “Misconception”, which is about Crisis Pregnancy Centers, there’s an audio clip of pro-life activist Abby Johnson leading a CPC training session. She explains,“Women that are seeking abortions, women that are pregnant, that are vulnerable: they are going into Google and they are typing ‘pregnancy symptoms’. There’s a way in Google where you can basically set that search to your website. Your website would be the first one that would come up. We want to look professional. We want to look business-like. And, yeah, we do kind of want to look medical. The best client you ever get is one that thinks they’re walking into an abortion clinic, the ones that think you provide abortions.”

If the research for the letter I wrote is an indication of anything its that their dishonest tactics are working. But they’re not targeting reproductive rights activists wanting to write an opinion piece for the local newspaper: their target is vulnerable women who need help navigating unplanned pregnancies.

I went to APPLE Pregnancy Care center as a woman facing a pregnancy scare to experience what women go through when they go to one of these Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

When I walked into their office, there was a front desk with computer terminals near the entrance much like my clinic. Two white, middle aged ladies politely greeted me as I flashed one of their cards I had swiped from the library that advertised to scared, possibly pregnant women and nervously asked about their free pregnancy tests.Truthfully, I was terrified as I heard countless horror stories of these sorts of places and wondered what would await me if my pregnancy test happened to come up positive.

I was asked if I wanted something to drink before being given a clipboard with a paper for some basic information about myself and was shown a seat in their little waiting area. I wrote my maiden name instead of my actual name because I was unsure how they’d use my information once I left.

So far everything had been exactly like going into a real doctor’s office with the overly pleasant staff and the clipboard of paperwork. As I glanced around, the décor looked like a doctor’s office: professional yet warm and inviting at the same time. If I hadn’t known any better I would have thought it was an actual medical provider.

But I began to notice little things that were “off”. There was an end table next to my chair that had a Bible placed on it instead of the usual random assortment of magazines. The wall ahead of me had cubby holes for pamphlets like any health provider might have and were labeled things like “pregnancy” and “adoption”, but I noticed one was labeled “marriage”. Why would a clinic need marriage pamphlets? I almost missed the extremely fine print on the paper I was writing on that stated ““This center does not offer or refer for pregnancy terminations or birth control. Information is provided as an educational service and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional and/or medical advice.”  This was the exact writing that was listed on their donor website, but not their official one.

I handed in my paperwork and one of the ladies took me into one of their offices. The set up and décor of the office reminded me of my chiropractor’s office with its matching furniture and bookshelf of professional looking books, which I recall some of them were religious. Only after I had sat down did she finally inform me that she was a volunteer counselor and not a doctor. By then I figured out they wouldn’t personally reveal such information until they had a woman through the door and in one of their offices. Yet for only being a volunteer counselor with no medical background she asked me a lot of questions regarding my health and sexual activity that were similar to what my RN at my clinic would ask me at my checkups. I passed myself as an unmarried, sexually active, condom using woman with a long term boyfriend.

In the middle of this questioning, she politely tells me, “Okay, we’re going to change this up a bit.” Not one fiber in my being had a good feeling about this.

“Are you religious in any way?”

This was not a question I’ve ever been asked at a doctor’s appointment. Religion has never come up at the women’s clinic as a topic of conversation until it was in reference to the protesting zealots outside the building. I had no problem telling off the asshole protester that I am an atheist/Satanist yet I was caught off guard when this woman, who hadn’t given me any indication this would turn religious, asked me about my faith. All I could get out was a “Um…not really?” I wondered why such information was needed, why would she want to know, or what purposes does it serve in the context of receiving a free pregnancy test?

She continued on with questions like if I knew who the father was if I were pregnant, if he knew I may be pregnant, if I had anyone to confide in other than my boyfriend, if I knew what option I wanted to go with if I were pregnant, and how my feelings were on abortion. The whole thing felt invasive and uncomfortable. It was probably about 20 minutes of questions before she sent me into the bathroom to pee in a Dixie cup. And I mean a literal Dixie cup and not one of those urine sample cups with the screw on cap like at a normal health facility.

When we went back into the office with a pregnancy test and my urine, she instructed me—and I can’t make this up—-to take the dropper to drop my own urine onto the pregnancy test. I suppose this was to avoid some sort of liability involved with administering a cheap pregnancy test while not being an actual medically licensed facility. Still, making me do my own pregnancy test was extremely bizarre. A medical facility would have you pee in a cup, you give medical person said cup filled with urine, and you wait for your result without having anymore involvement with your urine sample.

Good news: not pregnant. But I had to deal with 20 minutes of questions to get a test that takes a couple minutes to get results from.

I thought my experience was over until the lady said they offer a packet to women with negative tests, though I was free to decline. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to see what sort of information they offer to women, I gladly took one and proceeded to look through its contents once I had left the office.

The contents of this package included:

*A pamphlet on STD’s which had “SAVE SEX FOR MARRIAGE” at the end of it.

*A pamphlet which stated “Condoms are not the answers for STDS” and “We can show you how you can be proud of your lifestyle and give you the tools to help you choose a man who will be a good father to your children.” (The second bit made me realize the reason there was a cubby hole for marriage pamphlets).

*A pamphlet that said “Many guys just want sex. That’s how they are made” and that I can commit to “renewed virginity”.

At least from the counselor’s prospective, I had just gotten through a pregnancy scare. Then she offers me this packet for women with negative tests that might as well say, “Congratulations, you irresponsible hussy. You dodged a bullet. We suggest you keep your legs closed until you find Jesus and a good husband.” No matter how many times I read and re-read the information that was given to me, I felt like it was slut shaming through leaflets. There was no information on birth control except that I shouldn’t engage in sex until marriage. The information on condoms was condemning simply because they’re not fool proof. The whole thing seemed like it was designed for the unmarried, sexually active woman with the intention of shaming her for having sex outside a traditional, Christian marriage. It also made me feel like there was no room for my own personal beliefs and what I really wanted. The overall view of the information was, “God is great! You should submit to him! Abstain from sex until you find a husband to have kids with!”

Compare that with my reproductive health clinic where they have unbiased, medically accurate information and have NEVER forced their personal beliefs on me or made me feel ashamed for being sexually active before I was married or when I don’t want children. When I went to them for a pregnancy scare and my test was negative, they asked if I was interested in birth control pills instead of telling me I should stop having sex because the Lord says so.

After my experience, I wondered how the Crisis Pregnancy Centers are allowed to operate being that undercover investigations have shown that these places have lied to women and given them medically inaccurate information. I discovered a few cities had passed legislature that either would have curbed the misleading advertising or have forced these places to provide accurate information, which shouldn’t have been a problem if these places truly weren’t dishonest. The CPC’s fought back saying that such legislature violated their free speech. Because they’re non-profits that offer women their services for free, they are able to get around false advertising regulations as they are not commerce that can be regulated. Loopholes allow them to continue to lie to the women they claim they want to help.

Perhaps they feel they’re somehow justified in lying to women in order to “save lives” or maybe they truly don’t believe their tactics are dishonest. It doesn’t change the fact they’re targeting and exploiting women who are at their most vulnerable. It doesn’t change the fact that their tactics are completely deceitful. They’re still liars whether or not they believe their own lies. Claiming to be “pro-life” or morally right because of a faith in God doesn’t make anyone less of a vulture preying on women who are scared and uncertain.

So whenever I spot those damned APPLE cards the protesters leave in the pamphlet cubby holes inside the library’s entrance area, I swipe them so that maybe some woman won’t end up going there. I believe women should have access to unbiased, accurate information and resources when facing an unplanned pregnancy, which women are not getting at these Crisis Pregnancy Centers. It’s not a pro-choice or pro-life issue. It’s simply a matter of human decency and women don’t deserve to be lied to.