Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Crisis Pregnancy Centers are the Answer?!

Then what's the question?

Who received more than $60 million last year from our federal government and is receiving thousands more from Minnesota's state government to scare women and provide false and misleading information to women thinking about abortion?

Crisis Pregnancy Centers, that's who.

And now this:Finding Common Ground On The Abortion Divide

Does Minnesota want to prevent abortions, really? Because this is NOT the way to do it, I assure you. I am all for prioritizing low-income women in our federal and state public policies. I support giving mothers and mothers-to-be the assistance they need to provide for the children they have and the children they are expecting. However, I can tell you that there are other ways to do it. Giving Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) thousands of dollars under the guise of "preventing abortions" is a crisis itself.

CPCs don't "prevent abortion." CPCs use scare tactics and false information to force women to choose parenting or adoption. Forcing a woman to choose any option is wrong. The goal here is to provide women with information and resources so they can choose the best option for themselves and their families. So, I don't see how, as the title of this article suggests, we are finding "common ground on the abortion divide."

In recent weeks, I have been working with local pro-choice advocates including NARAL, fellow women's health centers and a nonprofit legal organization to tackle some extremely disturbing issues for women in our area seeking out free pregnancy testing and ending up at CPCs.

Reports from women in our area who have mistakenly or not wound up at a Crisis Pregnancy Center range from not being able to retain a record of their pregnancy test results, therefore unable to apply for medical coupons through the state to pay for an abortion (or simply for medical care), to being given an ultrasound with a mass circled on it of something outside her uterus and told that this was her baby. Stories from women also include being hounded via telephone by CPC staff wanting to make sure that they were not going to get an abortion; one woman talked of her experience of mistaking a Crisis Pregnancy Center that opened up shop in a mall, for the Planned Parenthood right next door.

Reportedly, this is a common practice for Crisis Pregnancy Centers, some of which are using this as a strategy for luring women away from abortion clinics.

I fully support a woman's right to access a range of information and services. But when these centers resort to trickery and deception under the guise of "helping women", it becomes unethical and even worse - harmful to the very women they say they are attemting to help.

To be clear, this is not simply a clash of pro-choice vs. pro-life perspectives. Crisis pregnancy centers provide information on adoption and parenting, as do abortion clinics. That can be crucial information for a woman who is weighing her options to receive. It is not even, to go one step further, that CPCs are blatantly anti-abortion. As long as they are open about that fact, they have every right to exist and offer assistance.

It is that crisis pregnancy centers are more often than not run by extremely religious outfits. We are talking about federally and state-funded religious organizations offering non-regulated medical care to women and providing these women with inaccurate and limited information so that they will not - and many times cannot - access abortion.

A man named Robert Pearson opened the first pregnancy center designed to be explicitly (what I call) pre-life. Pearson started a foundation and soon after created a manual called HOW TO START AND OPERATE YOUR OWN PROLIFE OUTREACH CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTER. According to an article in an Indiana newspaper earlier this year, "Until the mid-’90s, many CPCs were run according to the principles laid out in Pearson’s 1984 manual, which asserted that “A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her kill her baby.” How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center advocated activities ranging from the use of misleading clinic names — “If the girl who would be going to the abortion chamber sees your office with a similar name, she will probably come into your center” — to withholding the results of a client’s pregnancy test (available in two to five minutes) and keeping the woman at the CPC for up to an hour in order to show her graphic anti-abortion videos.

“The mission of the CPC,” according to the current Central Indiana Crisis Pregnancy Center Web site, “is to affirm the value of life by providing a network of care to those experiencing pregnancy-related crisis and by compassionately presenting biblical truth resulting in changed lives to the glory of God.”

Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti

So, now we know CPCs are religious missions run by those who have little regard for the woman as a human being and with even less regard for her well-being. But a quick glance at one of the largest organizations running CPCs currently, Heartbeat International, tells an even deeper tale.

Heartbeat International would like to set up CPCs in every city in every state in this country. And they have a Pearson-like set of instructions for opening an "affiliate." The list of resources for potential affiliates includes a brochure on "Resting in God's Presence", how to discuss abortion and most telling: packets on what they deem "Sexual Integrity" which includes books with titles like "Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti", "Does Birth Control Cause Abortion?" and "Contraception, Why Not?" Their message includes clear instructions on remaining abstinent until marriage.

Ultimately, I would have little problem with Crisis Pregnancy Centers if they a) did not receive immense federal subsidies, b) use deceptive and misleading methods to "reach out" to and/or provide services for women and c) harass and intimidate women once in their care.

What to do about it? Carolyn Maloney, a Democratic Representative from New York, introduced a bill last year called Stop Deceptive Advertising in Women's Services Act. The bill is designed to legislate how Crisis Pregnancy Centers can advertise their services, specifically regulating the way they advertise their "abortion services." Although Maloney has said that she doubts the bill will go anywhere in a Congress saturated with Republicans inextricably tied to the religious conservatives, it is a start. Go to Rep. Maloney's web site for more information.

For more information on Crisis Pregnancy Centers, the National Abortion Federation has some excellent resources.

Feminist Peace Network