Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCS)


Fetal parts are for sale. Yep, the terrible Planned Parenthood abortionists found and tapped into a profitable market for fetal parts, especially intact forms.

This is the basic narrative inserted into the talking points of anti-abortion politicians these days after edited videos between Planned Parenthood representatives and imposter biomedical tissue brokers surfaced. Ignored was the benefit fetal tissue provides to medical research. Disregarded was the selectivity used to decide what was fit for public consumption. Much has been made of interactions that might be suspicious to outsiders of medical and scientific research environments or appeal to the emotions of the uninformed.AR headline

Planned Parenthood can sufficiently respond to the “undercover sting videos” of its medical staff discussing fetal tissue donation. The rest of us need to respond to this attempt by anti-abortion dogmatists to impose their view of the world into public policy.  The states that have initiated investigations based on the videos found Planned Parenthood in compliance with regulations. Even if one state, or several states, unsuccessfully takes action for political value or reject continued contracts with Planned Parenthood for health services, it would be a measurement of success for this false narrative. Planned Parenthood will remain open to provide important health services, but there are other issues of which we should all have concern.

Deception and Ethics

The videos were created by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which claims to be “…citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.”  Their website appears to be focused only on promoting anti-abortion viewpoints, no other medical ethics issues. End-of-life treatment, organ donation processes, and equality in accessing medical care are among the top ethical issues one would expect to see mentioned.ethics

Why the deception when it would have been perfectly acceptable for CMP to identify itself as abortion opponents with specific, legitimate ethical questions pertaining to abortion and fetal tissue?

Honesty and integrity are critical to discussions about ethical issues.  Would abortion clinic representatives talk openly with abortion opponents? I and many others certainly have on many occasions in our roles as reproductive healthcare professionals. Did the CMP even attempt to arrange a discussion? If the intent of the “undercover” effort was to learn about the involvement of some Planned Parenthood affiliates with fetal tissue procurement, it was not necessary for CMP to engage people by misrepresenting themselves as biomedical professionals. Why just Planned Parenthood and no other providers of elective, therapeutic, and emergency abortions? Hospitals and other medical facilities play a significant role in tissue procurement, which can seem quite unsavory to outsiders.

abortion safeApparently deception and fabrication are a preferred method of operation within anti-abortion activism. Deception and fabrication are the hallmarks of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, also known as fake abortion clinics because of the their strategy to appear as if they are abortion clinics and use misinformation to dissuade women from abortion once they arrive for their “abortion appointment.”  Anti-abortion literature distributed to Congress, the media, and the public also contains incorrect, distorted, and often manufactured information. This is how the public at times believes that most abortions are late term. Or have murky ideas about parental consent for abortion in which it is compared to unrelated issues that are often guided by business policies, not laws.

It is no surprise that deceptive tactics were used to generate the storyline about fetal tissue procurement. It is nonetheless striking that there is not outrage about the deception, especially when ethics is the alleged target. Clearly, acquiring and providing information about fetal tissue procurement would not generate outrage if done without the theatrics of imposter biomedical professionals and video editing skills. Do we really want topics of importance to be introduced to public discourse in this manner? Of course not. The media would serve the public well to fully investigate the “investigators” and bring political balance to that part of the story. The notion that an organization like CMP, with a Postal Annex rented address no record of prior work as a nonprofit in the medical ethics arena, and leadership comprised of people connected to anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue, can have traction in promoting political ideology as if it was credible news or journalism is frightening. The media failed by not scrutinizing the source before doing the reporting, especially since another group, Life Dynamics, attempted to do the same in the late nineties.

For the record, pro-choice people resorted to deception to “out” the Crisis Pregnancy Center’s fake abortion clinic charades. Why? Because CPCs claimed that they informed women that they did not perform abortions, provided factual information, and other practices did not square with what women had shared with actual medical professionals.  A hidden camera sent in by the media with a young woman proved that the experiences of other women were accurately presented.

Using the Mistruths as Truths to Further the Mistruths

Talk radio stars Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh all regularly speak of the CMP as if it is a credible nonprofit out there doing good work.  Politicians, including U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and those running for president, refer to the videos time and again as if they were part of a documentary. Absolutely nothing revealed in the videos is evidence of anything sinister. At worst, the videos illustrate the seeming insensitivities that can develop when people work in medical settings. wd

Right wing websites are having a great time exaggerating the video content and piling on more false or misleading information. Red State claims that Planned Parenthood was “…caught…appearing to haggle over the sale of aborted baby parts.” Haggling? Not hardly. The videos revealed explanations, in clinical and business tones, about how tissues and parts are procured. Bear in mind that CMP presented themselves as biomedical professionals interested in obtaining fetal tissue. Would it have somehow been acceptable for responses to exclude information about quality of parts and associated costs?

Comments made by elected officials can be perceived as the truth. Thus, when Senate newcomer Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) states, “Planned Parenthood is harvesting the body parts of unborn babies,” to explain her sponsorship of a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, perceptions are broadly formed and shared throughout every possible medium. The tone of Ernst’s statement can conjure so many images that only perpetuate incorrect information. When Breitbart News quotes a Ted Cruz comment that the videos show Planned Parenthood representatives “confessing to multiple felonies,” it misleads, misinforms, and further polarizes people on the basis of ideology as opposed to facts. Shame on all who have made, and are continuing to make, comments implying that the videos exposed evidence of crime. Shame on all who are giving the CMP credibility, so much credibility that there are threats to shut down the government if Planned Parenthood is not defunded.

Fetal Tissue Research is Ethical and Beneficial

There has always been a market for anatomical and biological goods, including human fetal tissue and parts.  Specific companies respond to the demand for human and animal parts. College psychology departments buy brains to teach students. Medical and scientific researchers need specimens in order to learn more about genetics or real and prospective treatment options for a range of diseases, for example. Fetal tissue/parts obtained from miscarriages and abortions have been used for decades and have led to a number of medical breakthroughs, including rubella and polio vaccines. Kimberly Leonard wrote an excellent article in the August 4, 2015 online issue of US News about the contributions of fetal tissue research. Many of us are grateful for those contributions. In the August 12, 2015 New England Journal of Medicine, lawyer R. Alta Charo stated, “A closer look at the ethics of fetal tissue research…reveals a duty to use this precious resource in the hope of finding new preventive and therapeutic interventions for devastating diseases. Virtually every person in the [United States} has benefited from research using fetal tissue.”  Quite simply, it would be unethical for medical researchers to suddenly discontinue use of fetal tissue due to politically extreme ideology.

research petri dishFetal parts are not allowed to be sold – they can only be donated with consent from pregnant women after they are removed.  If profit for fetal parts is the actual concern of CMP, their time would be better spent honestly working with regulatory agencies to determine with certainty if any inappropriate financial transactions between abortion providers and biomedical tissue businesses exist. It is certain that people of all political views on the issue would abhor such a practice.

As the dribble of videos continues, no evidence of illegal activities will be presented. Instead, ideology will be promoted with the intent to cause some to rethink their views about abortion and try to stop an organization that serves the healthcare needs of so many low-income women. The effort will fail, but in the meantime, we will all have to witness the nonsense and speak up about reality when we can.

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.

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