Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCS)


There are antiabortion activists who stand outside abortion clinics with the genuine belief that their presence helps women, that they are prayerful warriors against abortion, and that their help will solve all of life’s little unwanted pregnancies. But their beliefs and women’s realities are, as the saying goes, a horse of a different color.Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 9.34.05 PM

After watching and listening to antiaborts for nearly a decade, I realize that most claim women choose abortion solely for financial reasons, so they offer free housing, free medical care, free baby showers and financial support. Some even make bogus claims that 1) clinics only want women’s money and that 2) clinics don’t want to help women. Of course, the obvious response to this illogical claim is that they, instead, want to help, want to tell women that God loves them and want to show women that all that is wrong in their lives (and in this world) can be solved with their financial support and with carrying the pregnancy to term.

But, let’s set aside abortion and finances momentarily to look at what the government’s latest statistics reveal about annual child-rearing expenses. For the average middle-income, two-parent family the expenses range from $11,650 to $13,530, depending on the age of the child. Imagine, a single parent of one child, pregnant with a second child, who is considering her options for raising a second child on a salary of $18,700. The annual expenses for the first child, according to the government’s calculator, are $7,410; the second is $7,188.  So, where does that leave the mother? What are her options for education, being promoted beyond her entry-level position, helping her children become first generation college students?  The antiaborts’ claim that their money and help, tied with strings of obligations and guilt, will solve a woman’s unintended pregnancy. But such “help” fails to acknowledge women’s intellectual and moral capabilities for decision making, fails to respect her bodily and emotional autonomy and fails to value her own value and belief systems. The antiaborts’  failures illustrate how little they care about the details of women’s lives. Women choose abortion for many reasons–reasons that are not directly or soley related to finances. For example, the Guttmacher Institute finds 74% of women chose abortion because having a child would interfere with their education, work or ability to care for dependents. So, let’s look at a few details about why women choose abortion.

Educational goals, like continuing with coursework your senior year in high school or completing your master’s degree unencumbered by pregnancy and motherhood, are legitimately and morally sound reasons to terminate an unwanted or ill-timed pregnancy. The sad fact that women earn less than men for doing the same work translates to an even stronger rationale for women to attain higher levels of education. Pregnancy interferes with attainment of these goals. Motherhood surely messes things up big time.

As for work or career related reasons for abortion, the realities are evident in all walks of life. Working as a volleyball coach in a private college, an Air Force sergeant responsible for delivering meals to the airmen in Iraq, a hair colorist in a competitive salon in Manhattan or a change management consultant in a prestigious consulting firm all require devotion to the career and not to a fetus. It’s harsh but it’s reality. A fetus gets in the way. And don’t think for a moment that the simpleton who offers to help you keep your baby will be there to help you with nighttime feedings, with a presentation to a new client, with an out-of-town business trip or with a parent-teacher conference. Not gonna happen.

And for women with children, only they know whether they can commit to another child in the family. Paying for maternity care and delivery does not account for the physical and psychological costs to a woman and to her family. As I’ve written elsewhere, pregnancy carries a lot of risks that are silenced by all the mythology around the rapturous joys of motherhood including those illustrious Hallmark moments of Mother’s Day and Baby’s First Birthday (smash cake and all). In fact, the United States’ dismal maternal mortality and morbidity statistics rank 50th in the world. Women deserve to know the inherent dangers of carrying a pregnancy to term without the lure of money and misinformation from some oddball who hangs out on a sidewalk outside an abortion clinic. Women who are unfortunate enough to venture into a crisis pregnancy center deserve the truth about the risks of pregnancy, for certain, but they also deserve to know that the CPC will not be there for the woman and her baby after the first year of birth.

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 6.53.26 AMA few examples about pregnancy and parenthood that antiaborts ignore, drawn from real life stories, seems in order here. In Louisiana, over 30 years ago, a young pregnant African American teen, fully insured, presented at an Air Force hospital with  eclampsia that killed her fetus and nearly killed her.  While eclampsia is rare because of prenatal monitoring and medical care, it still occurs especially in poor, underserved populations and particularly in young pregnant teens.  All the money and support an antiabort might be willing to offer cannot work against the fact that pregnancy is not without its risks.

In another real life example, a family with a child with Asperberger Syndrome had to sell their home in one school district to move to another district because there was no support in their former school district for their child. No freebies from a well-intended baby shower would suffice for a family with such a complicated life. Where will these “love the mom, love the baby” antiaborts be when the fetus they claim they “saved” needs braces, a counselor for an eating disorder or bail money for their fourth underage DUI? Where will they be when the woman must run for her life, with her children, when the man in her life threatens her life?  Don’t expect antiaborts to help folks with stuff like this. The details are too deep; their offers of help too shallow.

As I said, the antiaborts’ beliefs and women’s realities are often worlds apart. At a surface level, tossing money to women to is easy. Respecting women in all their decisons, ranging from choosing to remain childless to all aspects of pregnancy and motherhood, takes hard work, relentless dedication and compassion. Unlike the pamphlet-pushing, cheap-talking, god-deluded antiaborts who spew superficial sound-bytes, compassionate folks know that decisions about unplanned pregnancies are based on many details. We must respect each and every woman and her decision about her pregnancy because the details of her life matter.

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.

Why don’t we, as a progressive community, introduce legislation that would make it a felony to give healthcare advice to a pregnant woman if the advisor is not a currently licensed healthcare professional? This legislative idea and article was inspired by and with thanks to Todd Stave, Voice of Choice. However, I would add that the legislative bill should read that is would be a felony to give healthcare advice to a pregnant woman if the advisor is not a currently licensed healthcare professional 1) with a recognized OB-GYN specialization and 2) employed within a state-licensed health care facility. The implications for this legislation are such that healthcare advice would mean that clergy, Options Centers volunteers and the protesting general public would be guilty of a felony if they provided any healthcare advice to a pregnant woman. This advice would include any information about the risks of abortion, options, cancer, or emotional distress.  As a bill it would target people who hold signs or offer literature that offer dubious medical claims like “abortion is murder” or “abortion stops a beating heart” or claims that a fetus can feel pain. The reasoning behind this bill would be to protect pregnant women from false medical claims, charlatans who practice medicine without a license and unlicensed individuals posing as counselors who offer unscientific, non medical information whether in the confines of an office or outside on the sidewalk.

Consider, for a moment a particular scenario. Any doctor or nurse who stands on a sidewalk telling you that your obesity is a moral failure and an offense to God, would be immediately discounted as a foolish. It’s no different than unlicensed people “advising” with their quasi-medical counseling at pregnancy centers or on the outskirts of abortion clinics. There are quacks who attempt to counsel pregnant women and have the best intentions. Take for example the protester called Linebacker who wore an apron with a white person’s rendering of what he thought Jesus looked like but who added her own touch. She glued a fetal doll to her apron (see image below, to the right). Persuasive? NO, but it does make the point that what we’re dealing with here are folks who are six peas short of a casserole, a few clowns short a circus, a few bricks short a load. You get the point. So, let’s be honest.
They’re no better than the randy salesmen who try to sell snake oil or Lydia Pinkham’s elixir or who believe that holy water helps or that serpents cure in The Almighty Temple of the Baby Jesus.

It seems only judicious that the authority of doctors to practice medicine and the authority of nurses to practice nursing should remain within their relationships with women patients, within the exam room and not out on the street or in some hole-in-the-wall called pregnancy care. When corporate entities, religious cartels, state or the federal governments or the average anti abortion buffoon attempt to micromanage medical care, they should be in fear of breaking the law. Neither reliable, professional doctors nor nurses would work on the streets outside an abortion clinic or within some fake healthcare facility without risking their license. Only hookers, hoodlums and drunks work the streets. Why should the government or any professional certification organization qualify frauds or potential felons to provide medical information?

There is precedence here. Nurses are not allowed to suggest that a pregnant woman sip some wine to ease her Braxton Hick contractions without violating the parameters of their professional practice. Priests are not supposed to participate in political activities without losing the church’s 5013C status with the IRS. Legislators are not licensed to practice medicine. Dentists aren’t allowed to give immunizations. Pharmacists are not allowed to dispense medications without a prescription.

So in this era of excessive government interference in all things private, it makes perfect sense to expect that those who counsel pregnant women should have the appropriate, state-recognized medical credentials.

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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