“So by your own admission, you’ve lied, stolen, and lusted. You’re a sinner, but we’re all sinners and the only way to reach forgiveness and go to Heaven is through Jesus.”
That exchange was neither at a church function nor from some stranger on the street. This conversation happened inside a crisis pregnancy center (otherwise known as a CPC), where my “counselor” was discussing my options when I came in claiming a late period and a fear I was pregnant. The conversation quickly moved from discussing my chance of being pregnant to my sins here on Earth. However, I knew for a fact I wasn’t pregnant (thank you, Mirena IUD!) and that this whole visit to the center had been planned about a month prior. A few months before the actual visit, my friends and I had recently been informed by one of our professors that that a crisis pregnancy had opened its doors across the street from our college campus.
A crisis pregnancy center presents itself as a comprehensive clinic for women’s reproductive health. Their advertisements oftentimes heavily use the word “choice” and emphasize that you can get a free pregnancy test, “counseling” and services for abortion support. The names of these centers imitate the names of clinics for women’s health, using words in their names like “choice” and “support”. These advertisements are used to reel in scared young people who don’t know if they have any other options, or the poor who cannot afford to buy a $20 pregnancy test from the grocery store. Often, they spread false information about STI’s, birth control and pregnancy, and tend to use religious rhetoric and scare tactics to pressure their clients into deciding to continue with their pregnancy. Their tactics include delaying women from obtaining birth control and abortion services until it is too late and they are forced to carry through with their pregnancy. These centers are notorious for advertising around college campuses, luring young women in with the promise of a free pregnancy test and ultrasound.
Flyer campaigns are too expensive and bad for the environment; a protest of the clinic would be ineffective at best. Why not have someone go in and experience firsthand the type of counseling a young college woman would receive at one of these places when she feared she was pregnant and came in seeking help? I wanted to find out for myself if these practices were true, so there I was with one of the counselors. I called and made an appointment, gave a fake name and phone number and calculated the last date of my imaginary period so I would appear to be 6-8 weeks along in my scare. I decided to keep my phone in my purse so it could record the conversation.
My appointment day came, and I woke up with some trepidation and nerves. I tried to dress as casually as possible, didn’t wear any makeup, and had my hair back in a simple ponytail. I walked into the waiting room and gave them my (fake) name, where they told me to take a seat. Looking around the waiting room, it was warm and inviting, quiet save for a television that played a DVD discussing each “stage of life” within the womb.
After a few minutes, I was given my paperwork. The first sheet of paper was your standard contact information and medical history. The second sheet proved to be more interesting. It asked the usual questions, much like the ones asked at Planned Parenthood, like when your last period was and if you were using any birth control. Then things got dicey. I was asked questions like “What is the potential father’s name?”, “Will he want a part in your child’s life?” and “Are you considering getting an abortion?”. The third sheet was the most disturbing, letting me know that since this place did not handle insurance or medical claims, they were not bound by HIPPA and therefore, I had no expectation of confidentiality and they could give out my information at their discretion.
After filling out the paperwork, I waited in the waiting room and a young, friendly looking woman introduced herself to me as my counselor and invited me back into her office. It was a small room with some cushioned chairs, a television, DVD player and a counter full of pamphlets. I set my open purse next to me, pressed “record” on the voice memo application under the guise of texting my boyfriend and my appointment started. My counselor asked me what my symptoms were, when my last period was and the rest of the medical questions. She then asked me if I went to school, if I worked, if my parents were supportive of me and how much money I made.
She then asked me what my boyfriend’s name was, where he worked and if I could see myself marrying him. When I stuttered out a “maybe”, she asked me why I was choosing to have premarital sex, and when I told her I just wanted to, she asked me my religion and my boyfriend’s religion. When I told her we were both Christians, not of any denomination (in actuality, we’re both atheists), she then asked me who I thought God was. When I gave some response about God loving and caring for everyone, she asked me if I thought I was a good person. I answered “yes” and she proceeded to ask me if I had ever lied (I tried really hard to not laugh at that one, considering this whole visit had been based upon a lie), if I had stolen and if I had ever committed lust. When I answered “yes”, she told me that those were just three of the Ten Commandments I had violated, that I was a sinner, but it’s okay, because she was a sinner too until she accepted Jesus into her heart. She then recommended a few Bible verses to me so I could “get back on track with the Lord”.
At that point, she looked at my file and saw that I wrote down I was open to getting an abortion or possibly adoption. In regards to adoption, she told me that my fears about putting a child into a broken foster care system are false, because it’s not that bad and if I chose a private adoption, I could choose the name of the child and see the child whenever I wanted (and doing my own research, I know that’s not always the case). She then told me that if I considered keeping my baby (we hadn’t even done the pregnancy test at this point!), she told me that the clinic I was at would help me out financially as much as I needed.
She asked me how much I knew about pregnancy, telling me that life began at conception because all DNA that gets imprinted by the moment of conception. She then asked me to watch a DVD about abortion she claimed to the “truth” about abortion and the abortion industry. When I told her I was uneasy with gore, she told me it wasn’t gory but I could hold the remote control and fast forward. The counselor stayed in the room and studied my every move. The video was about 20 minutes long, with an older doctor describing what an “abortionist” does to the “baby”, showing graphic images with lots of blood and gore. The part that bothered me the most, however, was when this doctor talked about late term abortions, acting like they were done for the same reasons why people get abortions in the first trimester.
After the video was over, she told me that I’d regret getting an abortion, that I would give this unborn child a name and would remember its birthday every year. She asked me my thoughts, and I had to try so hard to quell my anger. When I asked her about the third trimester abortion, she told me that “these women get these abortions for the same exact reasons why women get them in their first trimester”.
I was then led into the back room, and given my pregnancy test by the nurse. Lo and behold, five minutes later, I was officially not pregnant! I was led back into my counselor’s office, in which she told me I have resources available towards me and handed me a stack of pamphlets. Some of the titles were “The Morning After Pill: Facts and Lies”, “Unpregnant Isn’t A Word”, “Why Christianity? Solving Life’s Most Important Question”, “Your Sexual Exposure” and “Living Together: The Truth About Cohabitation.” (That one is my favorite, when my boyfriend and I move in together, I plan on framing it). All of these pamphlets were published by Focus on the Family, an incredibly conservative non-profit organization. The counselor asked me to call and tell them when I got my period, and to feel free to come by at any time. I thanked her and walked out, relieved it was over and angry.
I was angry because I don’t appreciate being judged and told that I’m a “sinner” because I like to have sex. I was angry at the misinformation that had been presented to me and even angrier knowing that there were women coming in here seeking help, real medical help, and probably didn’t know that they were being deceived. For all they know, this is just a woman’s clinic. I was mad because although I have the means to seek other help in case I ever was pregnant, that’s a privilege that many other women don’t have. These clinics prey upon poor people who cannot afford medical care and use guilt and lies to make them keep a child, making false promises that never get fulfilled.
As someone who is pro-choice, I believe every person has a right to choose what happens to their own bodies. I don’t fault people who carry their unplanned pregnancies to term — in fact, I think it’s incredibly brave – but I believe that everyone deserves medically accurate information. Preying upon people’s low socio-economic status in order to prove a political point is horrifying. The clinic I went to is still unfortunately open, as are approximately 4,000 other centers in this country, as opposed to the 2,000 clinics that provide abortion services. These clinics prey upon the vulnerable and try to use their misfortune to further their political gain.
A week later, I called back, telling them that my period had arrived, thanking them for their help. This center really did help me, just not in the way they would have wanted. It solidified my beliefs in the pro-choice movement and encouraged me to get out there and be more active. I don’t want to just sit in a classroom and discuss, I want to lead an active life fighting for the rights that I am granted. Visiting the clinic jumpstarted that.