CPCs Criminal Activity


Slide1News stories about investigations into Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) misleading women through deceptive advertising, malevolent counseling and egregious misinformation are pretty common. But one CPC wolf in sheep’s clothing is Real Alternatives. It’s a Pennsylvania state-funded program that claims it “exists to provide life-affirming alternatives to abortion” to women who are financially qualified. Real Alternatives (henceforth abbreviated as RA) boasts that their program has been helping women since 1996 while also abiding by stringent accountability to the state. Even though Real Alternatives claims that they do not use deception to attract clients, in actuality, they use what  Heiss, Monge, & Fulk, (2012) call predatory practices that resemble legitimate reproductive health providers (RHPs).  In their attempts to appear as a legitimate RHP, Heiss, Monge & Fulk found that CPCs rely on ambiguity in their values and program offerings to elicit positive responses from potential clients and the public. Applying the concept of predatory practices, I argue that while RA’s textual and visual communication practices uses woman-centered advocacy language like “we’re here for you” and “your alternatives to abortion” and “forced abortion and your right to choose” and more, they promote, instead, distorted interpretations of the scientific literature and prescriptive counseling that can be misleading and even dangerous to a woman’s health if she makes a decision based on false information. To that end, I will turn to RAs home page where there is an array of text, images, and hypertext links to videos and where I will focus my attention on the video The Miracle of Life. But first, I want to tour the home page because it provides evidence that pregnancy and women’s sexuality are framed as problematic territory. The tabs in the uppermost section of the page attest to this problematic with labels such as Pregnant? Being Forced to Abort? Worried about STDs? Caring for Your Baby? In the center of the page, are images of young women in poses, arguably framed as pensive and frightened, with the eye-catching, continuous loop of flashing yellow text that underscores what RA frames as the problematic of women’s sexuality with the words: Pregnant? Scared? Concerned about STDs & Sexual Health? Below the flashing text, the offer of services reads:

Whatever the reason, we can help. Call us at 1-888-LIFE AID for free, caring and completely confidential pregnancy and parenting support services. We can educate you about reproductive health concerns, and we can assist you in finding appropriate medical help. You’ll speak to women who will be on your side every step of the way. We’re here for YOU.

Featured in the lower third of the web page are two videos that, again, use woman-centered language to invite viewers to click and watch. One video, View a Short Film about the Help We Provide, offers personal testimonials from counselors and tearful women who allegedly used RA’s services. As emotionally moving as the testimonials may seem, their authenticity is questionable. Particularly if you read the small print in RA’s terms of use which states “Unless otherwise stated, the persons shown in the photographs posted on this site are models and their photos were chosen based solely for aesthetic reasons. Other than that, the persons shown in these photographs have no connection to Real Alternatives or any of the topics addressed on this site.” In fact, dig a bit deeper to reveal how RA assumes no liability for decisions taken by persons based on information they provide on the site. The juxtaposition between the “we can help” mantra liberally advertised throughout the web site and the “we won’t assume any responsibility” suggests a deeper truth about the organization’s mission to promote an antiabortion agenda through the politicization of a woman’s private reproductive life that symbolically separates the ideal woman who dutifully embraces family and motherhood from the flawed woman who willfully chooses her own needs (and those of her existing children) above the need of a fetus.

The second video and the focus of this article, The Miracle of Life, is introduced with the text, View a Short Film about Your Baby’s Development. It provides an emotionally manipulative and factually deceptive video about fetal development. In the 3.33 minute long video, a Miracle of Life is visually appealing, yet problematic in that it symbolically annihilates the complexities of a woman’s private life while it visually and textually offers one solution. In general, the Caucasian-centric video uses a problem-solution format beginning with a series of questions and answers about a pregnancy and the fetus with the invocation at the end to choose life. Through the use of computer-generated graphics, soulful music and emotionally manipulative juxtapositions of imagery, the producers at Catholic Media House drive home the fact that the fetus is a living human entity. In what is arguably an artifact of Catholic propaganda, The Miracle of Life intentionally blurs the lines between fact and fiction about fetal development in an ethically compromised production. While it purports to be truthful, to hold claim to reality and to the authority of science, the video exists as a tool of the Catholic Church to support their religious power structure and their privileged forms of communication within their church and the state of Pennsylvania. While a deconstruction of the video could extend for pages, I’ll give a few highlights to illustrate how the lines between fact and fiction work.

The beginning of the video opens with a black screen and piano music that dissolves to an image of a gestationally-advanced abdomen of a pregnant woman with text floating on and off the screen What should I do? “Is this a fetus or a baby? “When does life really begin? Then the question to the audience “Do you know about the miracle of life?” with the word miracle in enlarged red text that flashes and expands, as if “breathing” in and out on the screen then transitions to an image of a zygote with text that reads “at the moment of conception, a unique human being’s DNA is created, then a flash of the DNA helix and the text “human DNA that never existed before and will never be repeated again.” Thus, the fetal-centric tone of the video is established.

As the video continues, gestational milestones are offered as scientific facts. For example, the video, using the female pronomial reference, claims that at six weeks, “she has fingers and toes” while sources such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) claim that at eight weeks the arms and legs have grown longer and that while the foot and hand areas may be distinguished, the digits are still webbed.

In an emotional framing, the video erroneously claims that at 11 weeks, she can smile and frown, wiggle her fingers and toes and even suck her thumb. And while it’s a charming thought to consider such animation and agency of the fetus, the science provides a more sober response. Piontelli (2010) found that an immature suck-swallow pattern is observed at 32-34 weeks while other sources (Mayo, NIH) note non-directed sucking motions at 26 weeks. It’s a far cry from the Hallmark card version of hegemonic parenting and the preferred reading of pregnancy and infancy.

At 16 weeks, the Miracle of Life video claims that she can open and close her eyes and that she has her own fingerprints while the NIH states that around 11-14 weeks the eyelids close and will not reopen until around 28 weeks. It further states that finger and foot prints do not begin to form until around week 30.

WolfSheep

While I’ve provided only a few examples of how the producers blurred the lines between fact and fiction, the overall pattern of enthusiastic support for the fetus in exuberant applications of artistry over reality can easily be discerned.  The concern I want to point out is how potentially  problematic the video can be for a distraught woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Regardless of circumstances, all women deserve honest and accurate information when faced with a pregnancy. Real Alternatives, is, instead, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Posed to appear as a legitimate reproductive health care facility, RA, instead, disseminates misleading and false information. Like the thousands of CPCs across the United States, I find that RA’s predatory textual and visual communication practices, as illustrated in this very short video, clearly violate ethical guidelines about truthfulness and the admonition to do no harm. It’s a miracle that their work is considered legal.

References

Heiss, B. M., Monge, P. and Fulk, J. , 2012-05-24 “Predatory Mimicry in the Crisis Pregnancy Center Movement: Ambiguous Form Communication as an Evolutionary Strategy” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, Phoenix, AZ Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2013-08-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p552613_index.html

Piontelli, A. (2010). Development of Normal Fetal Movements: The First 25 Weeks of Gestation. Milan, Italy:Springer Verlag.

Butyric Acid Attacks by Pro Life Terrorists

Butyric Acid Attacks by Pro Life Terrorists

Sitting in my office one day at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I took a call from the administrator of the Cincinnati Women’s Services clinic.  She was very upset and through the sobbing I could hear her say things like “pungent smell…the clinic will be closed for days…they made us take our clothes off to scrub us down…”

It was the first time I had heard about butyric acid and it was the beginning of yet another tactic in the campaign of terrorism against abortion clinics.  When the administrator regained her composure, she told me how when she approached the clinic that morning she could smell something from the parking lot that smelled “like one of those high school chemistry experiments.”  The smell got worse as she got closer and when she opened the door, it was like a “wave” hit her.  Other staff followed her in and, despite the horrific smell, they started calling the police and their patients.  Unfortunately, the local police had no idea what to do but when officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived, they immediately diagnosed the problem.  They ordered everyone out of the building, set up make-shift outdoor showers and ordered all the staff to take off their clothes to get scrubbed down.  They then started the multi-day clean up of the building, which ultimately cost the owners a lot of money because they had no insurance for such an incident.

Anti Abortion Terrorists

Anti Abortion Terrorists

Butyric acid is a clear, colorless liquid with an unpleasant, rancid, vomit-like odor. Anti-abortion extremists began using it as a weapon against abortion facilities in early 1992. The goal, of course, was to disrupt services, close the clinic, and harass patients and staff.  Depending on the amount used, the butyric acid could cause thousands of dollars of damage, requiring clinics to replace carpeting, furniture, and conduct extensive cleanup of the facility.   Even after the cleanup, the smell remained months after the incident.

Over the years, there were about 100 butyric acid attacks throughout the United States and Canada, causing in excess of $1 million in damages.  From May to July 1998, nineteen abortion clinics in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas were hit with butyric acid, which the perpetrator simply injected through the keyhole of the clinic’s front door with a syringe.  Clinic staff and patients were sent to hospitals with respiratory problems and nausea.

Abortion

Abortion

The problem in those days was that the federal government had no jurisdiction to prosecute those who were involved in these attacks, so they had to rely on state and local officials whose inquiries were limited because the investigators could not cross state lines to pursue links among the crimes.  And, candidly, many local officials just didn’t give a darn if the local abortion clinic had some problems.

Finally, however, after passage of the FACE Act, federal grand juries in Oregon and Eastern California returned indictments in 30 cases against Rachelle “Shelly” Shannon, who is now sitting in a jail in Kansas on state charges for the attempted murder of Wichita physician George Tiller in 1993.   In 1995, she was sentenced to 20 more years by Federal District Court Judge James Redden who, when sentencing her, called her a “terrorist.” The sentence was set to begin only after Shannon’s 10-year incarceration for shooting Tiller is completed.

History often repeats itself, so I believe it’s important to remind (or, in many cases, inform) those who are reading this blog of the days when the violence was rampant, when clinics and their workers were under regular attack by domestic terrorists.  So, on a regular basis I will continue to share and document the stories of those horrible days.

We cannot forget the past.  And we must remain vigilant.

Abortion

Abortion

I normally do not read “Time” magazine, but I was recently sitting in a physician’s office waiting to talk to him about a silly bump on my leg when I noticed that he actually had THIS WEEK’S “Time” so I couldn’t resist.  Thumbing through it, I saw a big, bold typed “35” and the caption underneath said:  “Age, in weeks after conception, at which premature infants first distinguished pain from general sensations of touch.”  For some reason, there was no reference to where they got that number.

Hmmmmm, I thought to myself, as I kept rubbing the bump on my leg.  Could this be fodder for another award-winning blog?

As loyal readers know, in the past we’ve had innumerable heated discussions about when the fetus is formed, when it has a heartbeat, when it can tell the difference between Yo Yo Ma and The Ramones and, yes, when it feels pain.  All of these arguments are designed to determine when/if the fetus becomes/is a “human being.”  Around and around we go, with no end in sight.  Hell, there are 50 years olds who still don’t know the difference between Yo Yo Ma and The Ramones, but that’s beside the point.

So, what does this statement in “Time” mean?  Here’s my thought:

The way I interpret this is that the (and for purposes of consistency I will use the pro-choice word) fetus is floating around in there, not really knowing what is going on.  Nuclear war could have erupted outside for all it knows and it is just chilling.  Absent any action from the outside, it will keep growing and growing.

But let’s say the fetus is now 8 weeks old and, unbeknownst to him/her/it, its host has decided that she does not want that  fetus to grow anymore, she has decided she cannot give birth.  The woman makes an appointment with the local abortion clinic a few days hence.  She goes to the clinic, the fetus not realizing what’s going on or what’s going to happen (and, please pro-lifers, if you really believe the fetus can actually suspect something, prove it).  The woman goes through the preliminary steps, makes it to the surgical table and the doctor begins the process.

The vacuum apparatus is inserted into the woman and the fetus is still floating around, unaware of what is coming next.  Now, let’s make the incredibly ridiculous assumption that the fetus at that point can “feel” something, that it is aware that something is touching it.  So, here comes this plastic tubing, the open end facing the fetus.  Then the machine is turned on.

According to “Time” magazine, the fetus hasn’t the foggiest idea of what is going on, whether this foreign item is a “friend” or “foe.”   Indeed, if the fetus was 22 or more and the forceps or a needle made contact with it, the fetus still does not know that whatever is touching it is a good thing or a bad thing.

I am firmly pro-choice but have always said that procuring an abortion can be a sad event.  One reason is that I’m sure many women do wonder what, if anything, the fetus feels during an abortion.  If they read this little blurb in “Time,” I wonder if they would feel somewhat comforted?

Crisis Pregnancy Center Deception

Crisis Pregnancy Center Deception, Lies, and Misinformation

For the last few days, we’ve been talking a lot about Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC).

If you are pro-life, these CPCs are establishments that seek to offer pregnant women (or non pregnant women, for that matter) information about their options.  The staff people at these centers sit back and wait for the women to come in, they then sit them down in, in a non-judgmental environment, tell them all about adoption, childbirth and abortion.  Yes, their bottom line is that they are against abortion but they really just want to make sure that woman is educated and knows what resources are available to her should she decide to give birth.

If you are pro-choice, these centers lure women into their facility under false pretenses, pretend that they are a medical office by offering ultrasounds and fill the women’s heads with lies about how the perils, both emotional and physical, of this very easy procedure.

Coincidentally, in the wake of our discussions, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Senate called “Stop Deceptive Advertising in Women’s Service’s Act.”  In their press release, the authors of the bills brought attention to the bill’s clever acronym:   SDAWS.

Just kinda rolls off the tip of your tongue, doesn’t it?

If the bill became law, the Federal Trade Commission would be required to issues rules declaring that it is an “unfair or deceptive act” for a CPC to advertise that they are “a provider of abortion services.”  The pro-choice groups are understandably elated and energized.  One leader applauded the initiative and said “we should all agree that a woman should not be misled or manipulated when she’s facing an unintended pregnancy.”   The troops are gearing up to storm the Congress to get this important legislation passed.

Crisis Pregnancy Center Deception, Lies, and Misinformation

Crisis Pregnancy Center Deception, Lies, and Misinformation

My initial reaction is that this is an incredible waste of time.

Now, I admit that I have not done a full-fledged review of every CPC in the country, but I would bet that house that hardly any of them actually advertise that they “provide abortion services.”   I mean, c’mon, even the sleaziest CPC staff person would never, with a straight face, say that.  And if anyone can show me differently, I totally welcome the evidence and will offer a mea culpa.

Sure, many of them, if not most, say that they provide “abortion information,” but, technically, that is true.  They do offer “information” on abortion, albeit in many cases it is the wrong information.  But it is “information” nonetheless.

So, to me, the big question is:  why are these pro-choice Members of Congress and the pro-choice groups spending time and resources on trying to pass a bill that – in the unlikely event that it becomes law – will have practically NO impact?  And, for argument’s sake, let’s say the FTC does find a totally whacky CPC director who says in their Yellow Page ad that they provide abortion services.  The FTC will theoretically bring some kind of action against them and chances are that that CPC will just agree to not say it in the future.  And if they refuse to change their ways, maybe they’ll be shut down.  Well, that leaves only THOUSANDS of more CPCs to go after!   Way to go folks!

I certainly appreciate the energy of the authors of these bills and I am sure they will now get a nice donation from the pro-choice political action committees because they have shown they are pro-choice “leaders.”  Meanwhile, they’ve issued their press releases and are getting some attention on pro-choice blogs, websites, etc.

But, in the long run, ain’t nothing gonna change.

And around and around we go….

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