Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pregnant? Need Fear?

There are two grammatically incorrect questions that you have most likely encountered at one time or another. Maybe they stared down at you from a billboard during your morning commute. Maybe they were plastered across the ads section of your college newspaper. For many women, the answer to these two questions is positive: Pregnant? Yes. Need Help? Absolutely.

But what happens when a young woman goes to one of these centers that claim to offer help? Will they receive fair and unbiased counseling? Will they be treated by medical professionals? Will they receive information on the range of options they have for their unintended pregnancy? Not quite. These centers with their blaring “NEED HELP?” smeared across billboards and newspapers might need to edit their questions to “Pregnant? Need Fear?”

Crisis Pregnancy Centers are staffed by volunteers who, while not remotely certified or trained in reproductive health, are well versed in anti-choice rhetoric. They may not be trained on how to give counseling or sonograms. Don’t worry though, that doesn’t matter to them, so why should it matter to the women they claim to serve? The staff at your local crisis pregnancy center is willing to offer your average extremely vulnerable, young, lower-income woman all sorts of help. But their version of help ranges from troubling to dangerous.

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, a grass-roots activist group, recently published a report on their undercover investigation of CPCs in Maryland. 100% of the CPCs investigators visited provided misleading or false information. At one center, an investigator received a brochure, which claimed “if you have a family history of breast cancer and have an early abortion at a young age, your chances of getting breast cancer before the age 45 are increased by 800%!” When CPCS aren’t offering women medical facts gleaned from the University of Hyperbolic Anti-Choice Lies, they’re using delay tactics and harassment to pressure them into not exploring their options. When one investigator tried to cancel an ultrasound appointment, she received this response:

“...when the investigator called to cancel an ultrasound appointment, the phone operator became very aggressive when the caller stated that she was still undecided about the pregnancy. The operator yelled at her for making a “terrible decision” for herself and her baby by opting to follow her parents’ advice and see her own doctor instead of returning to the CPC.” (“The Truth Revealed: Maryland Crisis Pregnancy Center Investigations”)

Many CPCs purposefully schedule sonogram appointments two to three weeks after the initial appointment for pregnancy testing. In some cases this can reduce a woman’s choice in regard to an unplanned pregnancy. A CPC counselor told one investigator not to worry about making any decisions because abortion is legal through all nine months in Maryland, which is completely untrue. Another counselor informed an investigator that she should not rush in for another appointment because it was likely she would miscarry anyway.

While Crisis Pregnancy Centers do everything in their power to prevent women from having abortions, they also refuse to offer birth control and offer limited to no information on adoption and parenting. When one investigator requested information on birth control, a volunteer informed her that birth control was “next to aborting your baby.” The two centers that offered information on birth control claimed that it caused cancer and infertility. For women who visit CPCs and choose to parent, the advice they receive is equally flawed. The centers provided little guidance in regard to parenting past infancy and did not have any information on realistic parenting concerns such as childcare, housing and education. One counselor told an investigator “Even so, having a baby isn’t that hard. I’m sure you can handle it” when she was questioned about childcare options for a young mother who wanted to continue her education.

Young, lower-income women facing unplanned pregnancies deserve comprehensive reproductive health care from compassionate and medically trained professionals. Their vulnerability makes them easy prey for anti-choice centers that promise to offer them help. There are pregnant women who pass that billboard, who open that newspaper, who read those two questions and want that help that Crisis Pregnancy Centers pretend to offer. And for those women to respond to that offer of help and receive nothing but lies and harassment is cruel. It is time for CPCs to stop extending an offer of assistance that is nothing more than an invitation into an intricate web of anti-choice coercion. It is time for these centers to be held accountable for their actions.


Black Eyed Susan said...

You couldn't be more right on! Thanks to all the many NARAL volunteers and staff members who worked to investigate these places. In the coming year, we really need to build public support to address this problem- and posts like this will help!

R.T. Riveter said...

I've been hearing about the scare tactics used by crisis pregnancy centers for years! Unfortunately, I'm constantly being surprised by my pro-choice friends who are completely unaware of this issue. The pro-choice community needs to invest some energy into educating people about what is really happening in these centers. I'm so glad to see that efforts are being made to hold crisis pregnancy centers responsible for their deceptive behavior.

A. Paul said...

Hey, did anyone hear about the bill in the MD General Assembly that would require CPCs to tell potential clients that they aren't a medical facility and aren't required to provide medically accurate information? It didn't pass in the last session, but we should all keep the pressure on to make sure it comes up again next year!