Monday, August 31, 2009

CPC name change ensures further deception

This is a cross-post with Choice Words, the blog of ChoiceUSA.

According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, a local news source in Fairbanks, Alaska, Care Net Pregnancy Center of the Tanana Valley will soon be changing its name.

It's not all that uncommon for CPCs to change their names and even locations, especially once they start getting a bad rap for, well, what CPCs generally get bad raps for: false advertising, deceptive tactics, and biased information. But this particular name change has me even more concerned than usual: the CPC's new name will be "Fyndout Free Clinic."

Clinic? Clinics are places that staff doctors, nurses, and most importantly, carry a license to operate a medical facility. From what we can tell from the article, not to mention our general understanding of CareNet's centers, this place offers nothing more than pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. Did I mention one does not have to be a doctor to operate an ultrasound machine? If any medical personnel are on staff at "Fyndout" at all, the article fails to mention them; the CEO is simply referred to as "Nancy Bienvenue," a woman who claims that a 7-8 week gestation fetus "can be seen turning with arms waving and legs kicking" via ultrasound.

"I suppose," says CPC Watch fundraising and outreach coordinator Becca James, who recalls her first (8 week) ultrasound vividly. "Some movement for sure, but arms and legs? I knew they were there. The doctor told me they were, but she also said they were almost impossible to see so early. I mean what is it at that point? 2 inches or less? I wouldn't say you can see the movement."

But whether or not the microscopic limbs can be seen moving is hardly the point. The point is, this is a place that is claiming to be a medical facility, and yet the CEO (not identified as a medical professional) pre-frames women's conceptions of what they see in their ultrasound by using terminology generally reserved for live humans: a woman who contacted me about her experience at this particular CPC says the staffer told her the fetus was "waving at her" and trying to say she didn't want her "mommy" to "kill her/him."

A quick look at the center's website reveals much of the usual misinformation found in the majority of crisis pregnancy centers. On the subject of an abortion-breast cancer link, this particular CPC published a statement from the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services. Who needs to make their own lies when a government statement is in and of itself inconsistent with the most current research, even going so far as to skew the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' statement. While ACOG has stated (rather confidently) that there is no evidence to support a link between abortion and breast cancer, the alleged HHS statement published at Fyndout's website adds that element of uncertainty:
[ACOG's] findings indicate that early studies of the relationship between prior abortion and breast cancer risk have been inconsistent and are difficult to interpret because of technical considerations. They find that recent studies argue against a causal relationship between abortion and a subsequent increase in breast cancer risk. There are other opinions more supportive of the suggested relationship between breast cancer and abortion. The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) supports that point of view.
Unfortunately for Fyndout, I found no such statement on the Alaska HHS Department's website, even in the public notice cited in Fyndout's page on abortion risks, though this statement could have been one of the things changed after the public comment period in the days after the "informed consent" notice went live. What I did find regarding the purported link between abortion and breast cancer unanimously declared "no casual link between induced abortion and breast cancer," with the single exception of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (big surprise). Also important to mention here is the fact that these statements issued by the Alaska HHS are the result of SB 30, a politically-driven bill passed in 2005 that, according to pro-choice groups, places undue obstacles to abortion access in the state.

Regardless of whether or not the Fyndout Free "Clinic" is giving out accurate information regarding breast cancer risks, one thing is for sure: they are using the same tactics in manipulating women's decisions and skewing their outlook on reproductive options that we see time and time again at crisis pregnancy centers. Follow-up comments below the Daily News-Miner article reveal women speaking out against this CPC and its tactics:

I went to the "Pregnancy Crisis Center", they told me I wasn't pregnant, when I was. While waiting for the test to come back they had me watch a horror movie "This is abortion" or something like that, showing full term babies all cut up in the trash ..., wouldn't let my boyfriend come in to watch with me. Then they had him join me to lecture us on how important it was to be married over anything else. If I hadn't already been throwing up daily, that would have done it for me.

Another woman reported she received the same delay tactic from that center. The woman who contacted me regarding her experience at Fyndout (then CareNet Pregnancy Center) gave a similar account, except she was told point blank that having an abortion would increase her risk of developing breast cancer "tenfold." She was also told that the dilators used in an abortion procedure "ruptured membranes in the cervix making it unlikely [she] would be able to carry to term later on." Neither of these statements are founded in any medical research to date.

That crisis pregnancy centers are able to call themselves "medical clinics" when all they offer is pregnancy tests and ultrasounds is beyond me, and it's not just the Fyndout center that's getting away with it. Options Medical Clinic in Gaffney, SC offers pregnancy tests and what the website calls "limited ultrasounds," as well as a wealth of false and medically inaccurate information. Same with the ACPC Women's Clinic in Pueblo, CO. And yet using the term "clinic" is somehow legal, as is allowing untrained personnel to operate ultrasound machines for non-medical purposes despite repeat warnings from ACOG and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Perhaps Congress should revisit the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women's Services Act?

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Message from the Organizers

Dear CPC Watch volunteers and supporters,

I think it's fair to say we are at a crossroads in the reproductive rights movement. Folks are becoming more polarized every day, and clinics have seen a clear influx in anti-choice protests and harassment since this past winter.

Every time I read something about the abortion debate in the mainstream media, I am reminded of how important it is that reasonable voices continue speaking out for choice. All too often women's experiences are politicized beyond reason, our bodies and lives made into battlegrounds, and it is the women who need reproductive options the most that suffer.

Next month, beginning September 23, anti-choice groups all over the country will begin their annual "40 Days for Life" campaign. Protesters will gather in front of clinics, every day for 40 days, to demonstrate against abortion rights, harass patients entering/leaving the clinics, and make each clinic targeted into a less-than-welcoming place for women and their families. Protesters at 40 Days vigils tend to be peaceful and quiet in some respects, simply holding signs reading things like "Pray to end abortion," but in many areas the demonstrators get more violent.

I've read reports from clinics that say patients were harassed in the parking lot, clinic entrances were blocked (which is a federal crime), graphic and inaccurate photos of "aborted fetuses" were displayed on giant poster boards, protesters were taking pictures of women as they enter, even that the license plates of patients were photographed and published on the internet.

Clinics need better defense. The FACE Act (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) is not enforced nearly as well as it should be, and even when it is, protesters find ways to disrupt the daily operation of clinics in ways that challenge legal boundaries and compromise women's health. That is where we need to come in.

Counter-demonstrations as well as clinic escort coordination are being planned throughout the country. We at CPC Watch want to help publicize these actions and take part in them as well. If you know of any clinic defense action in your area, email us at so we can publish your information on the website and blog.

For those wishing to get involved: keep an eye out for further updates on the website as well as the Facebook fan page (if you're not a "fan" yet, add us here).

In the pro-choice spirit,

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another reason why we do what we do

We received this email yesterday morning. It coincides beautifully with the post we just published about Kourtney Kardiashian's decision not to have an abortion, but more importantly highlights the vital need for women to have access to honest, unbiased information on *all* reproductive options. Christina's story paints a dismal picture of the state of options counseling in the United States. We've reposted it here with her permission.

name: Christina
email: [removed for confidentiality]
comment: I wanted to write a quick email to thank you for what you are doing. I visited a crisis pregnancy center a few years ago when I was 17. I wanted an abortion and knew my parents would not support me if I had an abortion or had a baby. No one could know I was pregnant, that is just the way my family is. I was attracted to the CPC because it said "confidential" and that all services were free. They told me all sorts of terrible things about abortion, about how they insert sharp objects into the uterus and that many women die from bleeding to death. They said I could get breast cancer. At that point though I did not care. My family would support me if I had breast cancer. They would not support me if I had an abortion or a baby. So anyway I left the CPC and had an abortion any way. During the abortion I was so afraid of hemorrhaging. The staff at the clinic was so sweet but it was no consolation because I was so afraid and did not tell them what my fears were or about visiting the CPC. For what seems like forever I was afraid of getting breast cancer and felt like the abortion experience was awful. It's taken me years to get to this point where I realize it wasn't the abortion that was so traumatic, it was what the CPC told me would happen during the abortion. None of the bad things happened, and I realized they didn't really use sharp objects at all. I found out on my own that complications are really rare and that abortion doesn't cause breast cancer. Learning that I was lied to has helped me recover from the abortion. That was really all I needed to know, that I was afraid of things that weren't likely to happen. I know lots of women have traumatic experiences with abortion and I think crisis pregnancy centers help make them. Thanks again for helping women like me heal.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reproductive decisions skewed by anti-choice rhetoric

*This is a cross-post with ChoiceUSA*

I'm usually not one to follow entertainment news. I am, however, known to log onto now and then, just to see if there's anything huge going on. I rarely view the articles from People Magazine linked from CNN's website, but one article in the "popular news" category caught my eye:

Kourtney Kardishian agonized over whether to keep baby

I don't know who Kourtney Kardiashian is or why her unplanned pregnancy warrants a story in People Magazine. I gathered from the article that she is a reality TV star, and I know from previous knowledge that she is only one of the millions of women who will face an unplanned pregnancy this year. The difference between Kardishian and most other women, I gather, is that she is a celebrity. Additionally, she has apparently reunited with her boyfriend and is most likely not terribly strapped for cash. These can be powerful factors in a woman's decision; in fact, 73% of women who have abortions say they could not afford to care for a baby, and 48% cite single status or relationship problems as a reason they chose abortion.

Let me first say this: I'm happy that Kardashian, whoever she is, seems to have made peace with her decision, and that she feels well-supported enough to rise to the challenge of motherhood. What truly bothers me is the constant misrepresentation of unintended pregnancies by the mainstream media. We read articles about Jaimie Lynn Spears, Bristol Palin, and other young yet well-supported, financially-secure women who, in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances, choose motherhood. And we all say, "Awe, isn't that great!" We read updates about their bumps, their baby showers, whether it's a boy or a girl, the name, etc with dough eyes and pleasant smiles. From what we see in the media, you'd think the U.S. was full of a bunch of happy, sexually-autonomous moms-to-be. But as is usually the case, what isn't being said is far more telling than what we find on the newsstands.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and about 40% of these (around 22% of all pregnancies) will end in abortion. Additionally, an estimated one in three American women will have an abortion by age 45. I can't say the unplanned pregnancy tales of woe we read in People reflect that statistic; in fact, the stories generally break after the woman has decided to carry to term. She recounts her confusion, her inner-battles, her weighing of pros and cons for each option, and comes out looking like a saint.

Now to be fair, Kardashian did openly say she actively considered abortion. She even went so far as to throw us choice folks a bone: "I do think every woman should have the right to do what they want [with an unplanned pregnancy]." But the article is explicit in outlining what very well could have swayed her opinion:

Confused and concerned Kardashian says, "I called my best friend crying, and I was like, 'I don't know what to do.' She said, 'Call your doctor, and at least find out the risks and stuff.' " So Kardashian discussed abortion with her physician, and then headed to the Internet to do further research.

"I looked online, and I was sitting on bed hysterically crying, reading these stories of people who felt so guilty from having an abortion," she recalls. "I was reading these things of how many people are traumatized by it afterwards."

Oh internet research, how unnerving your effects can be! I know from experience what happens when you type "abortion" into a Google search field. Okay, the first thing you see is an informational page from Planned Parenthood, but what's next?, one of the most dangerous, ill-informed resources on abortion you can find. Not only does cite bunk science in "proving" that there is a connection between abortion and breast cancer or infertility (there's not), it also claims that abortion causes a condition known as "post abortion syndrome" or "post abortion stress syndrome," a claim that has been refuted over, and over, and over, and over again by legitimate medical research and psychological evaluation. The pages of (as well as many of the other "abortion stories" you find out there) are tales of horror from women who were perhaps uninformed about their options, felt pressured into having an abortion, were perhaps treated badly by a clinician, or lacked decent support networks following an abortion. A friend of mine submitted her (very positive) abortion story to a "share your abortion story" website, but it never appeared on their pages.

Now, I do believe positive support networks for women having some grief following an abortion are important (and they exist). But I also believe the amount of grief or guilt a woman may feel following abortion is at least partially the result of the anti-choice movement's repeated message that abortion is something you should be ashamed of, and the "post-abortion counseling" anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers offer only serves to legitimize that.

This being said, it's no surprise to me that Kourtney Kardashian was, it seems, literally scared away from abortion when she made her final decision. This is not to say she would definitely have had an abortion had she been given access to unbiased information about the procedure, but like many women, her mindset was skewed from the start by anti-choice rhetoric. (Important to mention here is that many desperate women still pursue abortion even after being convinced of its "evils," which of course can create huge moral crises and an even greater need for post-abortion healing.) There is simply no way to claim a woman is fully autonomous in her reproductive decisions when there is so much false information out there.

I know abortion is a private decision for most, and I understand, especially given the stigma that's become attached to the procedure, why an actress wouldn't necessarily issue a press release following an abortion. But what if she did? I'm sure her career would take a hit. Who knows, she may even lose jobs the way Olympic athletes lose sponsorships following a positive drug test. I don't necessarily think we need more TV stars going public about their plight with unintended pregnancy; after all, their economic bracket is statistically far less likely to choose abortion anyway. Still, statistically speaking, we shouldn't only be hearing about positive outcomes with parenting and negative ones with abortion. Perhaps if more women were open, honest, and candid about the experiences we don't always hear about, this discrepancy would disappear, and we could reframe the abortion debate using information from the most unbiased sources out there: the women who have had them.