A Different Anti-Choice Strategy

The New York Times has an article today on the quieter side of the anti-choice movement — Crisis Pregnancy Centers. The article makes the centers sound a whole lot peachier than they actually are, but can’t avoid the fact that the very purpose of these centers is to lie, mislead, and coerce women. It starts out focusing on “post-abortion recovery” groups which, honestly, I don’t have quite as much a problem with. The fact is that some women do feel depressed after abortion, and we have to acknowledge that. If these women seek out religious healing, then that’s their business. More pro-choice groups are recognizing that some women who have abortions, just like some women who give birth, do experience depression or other psychological side effects. There’s at least one group in New York called Exhale which focuses on non-judgmental services for women and those close to them after abortion. It recognizes that some women may be struggling, and that while the majority of women report feeling relieved after abortion and experience no negative psychological consequences, we shouldn’t ignore those who may need to talk to someone but who don’t need to hear that they’re evil baby-killers or sinners who should repent, or at least feel very guilty.

We should also ask, why are some of these women feeling guilty? Perhaps because “pro-life” people have convinced them that abortion is an evil, shameful thing that they’re expected to forever repent for?

Of course, the crisis pregnancy center in the Times article doesn’t offer groups for women suffering from post-partum depression, because having a baby makes every woman happy.

There are between 2,300 and 3,500 crisis pregnancy centers nation-wide, compared to 1800 abortion clinics. They’re funded with millions of dollars. They don’t focus on things like contraception access, which would prevent future unintended pregnancies. Instead, they lay down black-and-white judgments, treat women like children who need coercive direction into “doing the right thing,” and mislead them about basic medical facts (not that we should be surprised, given the anti-choice penchant for lying to women).

Nicole Embry, 21, said her boyfriend wanted her to have an abortion, but she was already having nightmares about it. A counselor, Theresa Skeeters, recorded her information on a clipboard. “The decision you make is going to affect your entire life,” Mrs. Skeeters told Ms. Embry. “I know from experience from someone dear to my heart who made a choice for abortion, I know the pain she’s going through, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I can testify, it doesn’t go away.”

Danielle, 18, said her boyfriend and her mother wanted her to have an abortion, but she did not want to. She said that if her boyfriend insisted, she might give in, although abortion was against her values. Danielle and several other women interviewed did not want their last names to be used for privacy reasons.

“How would you feel toward him if you did abort?” asked Hollie Colwick, a registered diagnostic medical sonographer, showing Danielle an ultrasound image of her uterus on a television screen, and playing the fetal heartbeat on an audio speaker. “Would you feel you killed your baby because of him?”

Christ. Now, I deeply believe that if a woman wants to give birth and doesn’t want to have an abortion, it’s coercive and wrong for her family or boyfriend or whoever to pressure her. These two women seem fairly certain of what they want to do, and they should be supported in their choice. But telling them that abortion is universally painful and the psychological effects don’t ever go away, or that she’s contemplating killing her baby, is highly inappropriate. It would be equally inappropriate for a counselor to try and convince her to have an abortion when she clearly doesn’t want it, and I’m sure these “pro-lifers” would agree — yet they don’t see the hypocrisy in their own actions.

A Woman’s Choice links the church to a national network of crisis pregnancy centers and postabortion groups that share marketing strategies, legal advice and literature emphasizing what they say are the harmful effects of abortion – including increased risk of breast cancer and a psychological condition called postabortion syndrome, which are considered scientifically unsupported by the National Cancer Institute and the American Psychological Association.

In other words, they lie. There is no such thing as “post abortion syndrome” recognized by the American Psychological association. The abortion-breast cancer link has been thoroughly debunked.

Over a two-day period at the center, the message to women was consistent: abortion was psychologically and physically damaging, and God would help provide for their children, however difficult the women’s straits, and in the short term, the center would supply some necessities.

In other words, they really lie. And they conveniently omit the fact that pregnancy isn’t exactly a walk in the part (and is statistically much more dangerous than abortion, and for many women has significant psychological effects). “You might be depressed after giving birth” isn’t a great argument against childbirth as a practice — and it’s certainly not a very good one against abortion, either. It’s even worse when these groups argue that you will be depressed after abortion — can you imagine a post-partum depression awareness group telling pregnant women that, if they do go through with their pregnancy, they will absolutely be depressed to the point of suicide and will likely have severe physical complications that might kill them? There would be outrage, because it’s not acceptable to lie to people about the basic facts of certain medical procedures. And yet somehow, these folks justify it.

And telling women that “we’ll help you for a while and then God will provide” is ridiculous. Sorry, but God doesn’t always provide. Shit happens, and things fall apart. Giving pregnant women some maternity clothes and a pack of diapers doesn’t solve their problems. Of course, in most cases, neither does abortion — but pro-choice groups never claim that abortion is a cure-all the way that anti-choice groups push childbirth and parenting as if it was an easy and magical adventure for everyone who goes through it.

Like many crisis pregnancy centers, A Woman’s Choice is designed to look and feel like a medical center, not a religion-based organization with an agenda. Becky Edmondson, the executive director, said the center chose the look and name to reach women who were bombarded with pressures to abort and might think they had no other choice.

If callers ask how much the center charges to perform an abortion, Lisa Arnold, a counselor and leader of the postabortion group, said: “I say, ‘It changes, but why don’t you come in for an ultrasound and we’ll talk about it.’ You don’t want to deceive them, but you want a chance to talk to them.” Once women come to the center, staff members – who oppose abortion even in cases involving rape and incest – encourage them to make further appointments, and refer them to doctors who share the center’s views on abortion.

In other words, they really really lie. The price of an abortion at their clinic doesn’t change — they don’t offer abortions, and if they had an ethical bone in their bodies they would tell women that up front. And the line about not wanting to deceive them is crap — they purposely deceive women. The quote from her shows exactly how she deceives them. That’s their business practice.

I would give them a lot more credit if they actually respected women, were honest, and believed in the personal autonomy of others. I would love to see more centers providing services for low-income pregnant women, for single parents and low-income families, and for adoption and foster care. But tricking women into coming to the center by claiming to offer all options, purposely putting off their appointment so that their pregnancy progesses as far as possible, claiming that they will always have the necessary financial resources to survive with children, and telling them unequivocally that they will suffer extreme emotional and physical consequences if they have an abortion (and if they don’t, there’s something wrong with them) is simply inexcusable. It’s not any more “pro-woman” than the rest of the anti-choice movement. It sees women as vessels through which to create more babies, which the mainstream “pro-life” right-wing political movement has no interest in feeding, educating, housing, or otherwise taking care of. Because they’re so life-affirming.

While my ideal would involve an organization that catered to women who make all different choices, I can respect the anti-choice need to create centers like these. But the lies and the coercion are abhorent, and they should be ashamed.

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21 comments for “A Different Anti-Choice Strategy

  1. Sarah S
    January 16, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    How is this legal? I would think that deliberately lying to people would get you investigated by some kinds of state or federal agencies.

  2. helenesch
    January 16, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    I read this piece earlier today, and one of the “crisis pregnancy centers” highlighted in the article deliberately misleads women into believing that they are an actual abortion provider. When asked how much they charge to perform abortions, they say “it depends.” Like Sarah (in the comment above), this struck me as entirely illegal!

  3. January 16, 2006 at 6:57 pm

    What I find most frustrating about these places (I live literally across the street from one) is that they’re not even especially supportive of pregnant women who do want to carry to term. They are pushing more of an anti-sex (I would argue anti-woman) stance than a pro-life one. They hand out pamphlets about how having sex makes you a crazy person and how contraception doesn’t work, etc. When people need help, people need help. They don’t need to hear that they’re a slut or that they shouldn’t have gotten knocked up in the first place. They can decide those things on their own, but either way, they will need food and baby clothes.

  4. January 16, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    It’s a wonder people don’t try to sue them for malpractice, or given that they are not health care providers, some sort of malfeasance. I wonder if they get reported to the Better Business Bureau?

  5. Rebecca E
    January 17, 2006 at 8:57 am

    It seems like you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Get an abortion, you’re a horrible sinner and baby-killer; but once we’ve ensured that you’re going to go through with the pregnancy and give birth, you’re on your own, slut, and a drain on society. How noble.

  6. January 17, 2006 at 9:18 am

    And then comes the day when we shuffle women into jail cells for seeking an abortion.

  7. January 17, 2006 at 9:22 am

    God would help provide for their children, however difficult the women’s straits, and in the short term, the center would supply some necessities.

    I’d better start believing again now that God will bring in a paycheck for Ethan and I. Fuck getting a job, I’ll stay home and blog since God’s going to do all the heavy lifting for me.

    Today I’m going to take a trip down to the local CPC and see if they can’t hook E up with some new shoes, since they care so much about six-year-olds. Maybe they’ll take up my property taxes while they’re at it.

  8. another lynne
    January 17, 2006 at 9:41 am

    I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons places like this can flourish is because it is so hard for women to talk about abortion on a personal level.

    For all that abortion is legal, our culture still treats women who’ve even *considered* abortion shamefully. And that includes women who are “pro-choice”. How often do we hear someone say “Why didn’t she use protection?”

    We seldom talk about any of the emotions that women who have had an abortion experience. Perhaps it’s because we’re trying to be respectful, or non-judgemental. And when we do, we pretty much only talk about depression. You almost never hear anyone talking about the ambivalence or relief or sad certainty that many women who have had an abortion feel.

    I think the truth here may just be that the anti-choice crowd took the emotional hook and ran with it, and we have let them.

  9. January 17, 2006 at 10:22 am

    I think the truth here may just be that the anti-choice crowd took the emotional hook and ran with it, and we have let them.

    I just read something, can’t remember where, about chinks in the liberal armor. They run with these ideas because they’ve identified a weak spot in our ideology. We can’t let them gain ground on us if we are serious about our beliefs. First things first, gain credibility. We’ve lost it, partly of leftist rhetorical weakness, partly of conservative rhetorical solidarity.

  10. January 17, 2006 at 10:25 am

    a weak spot in our ideology

    Correction: a weak spot in our rhetoric.

  11. Bkwyrm
    January 17, 2006 at 11:31 am

    I had an abortion in November, after tests told us that the fetus had severe chromosome abnormalities, and since then, I’ve had a terrible time getting any distance from the “abortion debate.” I just can’t imagine how anyone, anywhere could say that they knew better than I did, that they should be able to make this decision for me, even though I would be the one to eithe rmiscarry in my last trimester or give birth to a child that would live a short, pain-filled life. It’s affected me greatly, yet all the places I’ve found to talk about how an abortion affects a woman are places that insist I feel huge amounts of guilt. I was even asked to leave a forum because I obviously didn’t need support, since I didn’t feel guilty for having an abortion. Those crisis pregnancy centers are a hell of a racket, as is the whole “post abortion syndrome” runaround.

  12. January 17, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    we have let them take the emotional hook. it’s particularly unfortuante because, in my experience, woman-positive clinics that provide abortions also offer services to give clients a clear view of their options before as well as support during and after.

    naral has rather extensive research on CPCs. there are instances where legal action has been taken. (report) for example, atty. general spitzer (ny) reached agreements with the clinics that require them to be more clear about who they are and what they do/don’t offer.

  13. January 17, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    I had an abortion, 6 weeks in, at age 20. I don’t regret it, and I was so relieved that God put me in a time/place situation where I didn’t have to carry a child. I’d love to go out and speak to people about it – the fact that many of us aren’t traumatized – but peronally, I’m afraid of being attacked and killed in the process.

  14. January 17, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    Bkwyrm, that must have been a difficult experience to go through, with neither “choice” a happy one. I’m sorry that those “support” forums weren’t able to see past their own agendas to provide the space and support you needed. Consider this a belated expression of my sympathy for your experience.

  15. January 17, 2006 at 6:00 pm

    Bkwyrm, I second Rana. I’m sorry they were unable to set aside any agenda to help you come to terms with your decision, especially considering that’s their purported goal. I feel the same way about the late-term debate, knowing that I have the pregnancy issues that I do I may someday have to do the same thing. The biggest digital hug I can muster from me to you.

  16. January 17, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    Bkwyrm, I third everything Rana and Lauren said. If you’re looking for someone to talk to, I would really recommend Exhale. They do great work, and it’s pro-choice in nature and completely non-judgmental. Their number is 1-866-4Exhale.

  17. Julie
    January 17, 2006 at 7:30 pm

    Stuff like this so extremely frustrating to me!! When I was a freshman in college I found myself thinking I could be pregnant (I was in fact, but didn’t know it at the time). I was also very anti-abortion, and so took myself to the nearest crisis pregnancy center to have a pregnancy test, because I was thoroughly convinced that planned parenthood wouldn’t let me leave until I’d had an abortion or some other nonsense. The woman was awful, patronizing, etc… I got this huge ass lecture about how I shouldn’t have had sex (ok, fine, but how does that help me now???) and shown a video about fetal development, despite my assurances that she was preaching to the choir and I was well aware, and was then escorted to the bathroom where I was given a pregnancy test that I had to do myself and watch the results. When it came back negative, she proceeded to tell the friend who came with me the results (Hello? Can we say privacy?) and acted like I was an idiot for even thinking I was pregnant (which was confirmed the next week by an actual doctor. I was so incredibly unimpressed, it’s hard to even describe.
    Now that being said, I think there is an important place for organizations that can do this honestly and without judgement. First, it’s good to have specialization. Planned parenthood can’t do everything and since their focus is on the family planning/prevention and termination services as well as prenatal care, it’s good to have organizations that will focus on adoption end as well as helping with the material things such as maternity clothes, baby clothes, formula, diapers, etc… It would be great if some of them could provide prenatal care too, so that there were more choices for women who needed low cost care. Plus, while it’s ideal for a place to offer all services, there are a lot of anti-abortiion women and even some pro-choice ones who feel uncomfortable receiving prenatal care from an abortion provider and would rather go someplace that specialized in bringing pregnancies to term.
    Bkwrym, I’m very sorry that you had to go through that. About 6 months ago, we found out that the child I was carrying wouldn’t survive long after birth, we were given an estimate of 10-15 minutes at the most. The doctor suggested a D&E, but I was fairly far along at the time and I was pretty uncomfotable with the idea, so I instead elected for an early induction. He had renal agensis (no kidneys) in addition to a host of other multiple problems, but because he had no kidneys he wasn’t producing amniotic fluid so everytime he moved he would bang against my uterus and become brusied. I couldn’t see allowing him to suffer and the pregnancy was considered very high risk to me as well. The accusations that were hurled against people in my situation were horrifying. In fact, I met another woman who had made a similar choice a couple months prior to me and the things said to her were cruel beyond belief. I carried him for 5 weeks knowing he would die after he was born and it’s nothing I would ever force another woman to do. Ever. I don’t regret the choice to deliver my son early and a lot of people act like I should, but in the end, I did what was right for me AND the child I was carrying and I am comfortable with that. I know what a painful time/decision it can be though, so if you ever need someone to talk to I am here. I am so very sorry you had to go through that, no one should ever be faced with those decisions.

  18. another lynne
    January 18, 2006 at 10:02 am

    philosophizer – I hear you. So many of us feel this way. But I honestly believe that we need to break out of this culture of fear.

    I believe that by staying silent, by staying afraid, we do the work of the anti-choicers for them. We reinforce the message that women who have had an abortion should feel shame.

    While I’m not suggesting that we put our names and addresses out there in the world, maybe we should be putting our stories out there. Not as justifications, but as a counter to the anti-choice rhetoric. Let’s start talking about how we felt at the time, and how we feel now. And I don’t mean just those stories where abortion is the outcome, but also the stories where abortion was considered and, for whatever reason, not chosen.

    If we (those who have been through this) don’t speak up for ourselves, how can we expect others to do it for us? How can we expect young girls to know and believe that it is their right to control their own sexuality, sexual expression and reproduction if we don’t tell them our stories?

  19. Teri
    January 21, 2006 at 8:43 am

    Just wondering how everyone can see the “lies” of the crisis pregnancy centers and not those of the abortion clinic. A clump of tissue? Not a baby?

    I had an abortion and I saw my baby..it was a boy. No one told me the development or what was going to happen during the abortion. Women deserve the truth from both sides.That is
    the only way they can make a true choice.

    I also cannot believe the denial of the impact aboriton has on som ewomen..they blame on their faith, their relationships, everything but the fact that they have terminated a pregnancy.

    If you want to talk about choice look at both sides….

  20. elisabeth
    January 21, 2006 at 9:54 pm

    Reading this article in the NYT really, really enraged me. A few scattered thoughts, poorly verbalized:

    I had an abortion a little over two years ago. I was in graduate school, not ready or willing to have a child, and as soon as I knew I was pregnant I knew what I was going to do.

    But that doesn’t mean the choice I made was easy- and that’s what pro-lifers would want to believe about women who have had abortions. It was really fucking hard on me, and it still is. I don’t regret it, but I don’t feel good about it.

    One thing about my experience: I got incredibly depressed after my abortion. For days afterwards, I cried more than I have ever cried before or since. I was utterly heartbroken, completely devastated- it was very surreal, considering how sure I was that I didn’t want to have a baby.

    In other words, there IS a hormonal crash after abortion, and the pro-life movement KNOWS that and capitalizes on that, and it disgusts me. And maybe we need to acknowledge that- acknowledge that abortion is hard and heartbreaking.

    ANY unplanned pregnancy is an extremely difficult ordeal, regardless of the circumstances or outcome. No woman would ever choose to get pregnant so that she could abort the pregnancy. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pro-life person say that. Why do you think that is?

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