Monday, December 21, 2009

Health Bill is Not "Good Enough"

The following is a ChoiceUSA cross-post.

Last night, pro-health care reform Senators obtained a 60-40 majority to pass the overhaul bill. The struggle to find a 60th vote ended, however, with a very troubling "compromise:" the reintroduction of anti-abortion language into the bill.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated the failure of the Nelson Amendment, an amendment that would restrict private insurance companies from providing abortion (and some contraceptive) coverage in the event they become federally-subsidized. Senator Nelson, however, continued to withhold his support for a health bill without his amendment, and the Senate capitulated last night in order to garner his support.

Senator Nelson's conditions are not moderate; he did not wish to "compromise" with his colleagues, but instead hold out until his previous conditions were met. And met they were. Throughout the health debate, it was women, not men, whose health care hung in the balance. We knew this by the staunch support for health care overhaul amongst the American people, the urgency in the language, and the cries of "Oh come on!" from even our own pro-choice comrades. I argued against choruses of, "So abortion coverage is restricted... people need basic health insurance now!" "You're just stuck on abortion; think of all the Americans who could benefit from this bill, whether or not their elective procedures are covered!" "Cancer treatment is more important than abortion care." "Why don't you guys just wait and see. We'll get health care reform now, and focus on abortion later!"

The dichotomous way in which our pro-health reform comrades spoke of abortion is perhaps most troubling. People need health care; women can get abortions later. In other words, women are not people, abortion is not health care. Or, at least, women's health care is not as important as "normal" health care, and abortion is certainly not a "normal" (or even important) aspect of health care.

And in the end, it was those dichotomous thought processes that left us in the dust. The Nelson "compromise," in the end, will harm many aspects of reproductive health care. RH Reality Check editor Jodi Jacobson outlined the implications of the Nelson language in an entry earlier today:

Pro-choice advocates are still examining the implications of the Nelson language. But conversations with several analysts over the past 24 hours suggest that if passed into law in the final health care bill, this language, at a minimum, does the following:

  • Requires every enrollee--female or male--in a health plan that offers abortion coverage to write two separate checks for insurance coverage. One of these checks would go to pay the bulk of their premium, the other would go to pay the share of that premium that would ostensibly cover abortion care. Such a check would have to be written separately whether the share of the premium allocated for abortion care is .25 cents, $1.00, or $3.00 of the total premium on a monthly, semi-annual or annual basis. Employers that deduct employee contributions to health care plans from paychecks will also have to do two separate payments to the same company, again no matter how small the payment.
  • Eliminates the provision in earlier versions of the Senate bill and in the original Capps language in the House bill to ensure that there is at least one insurance plan in each exchange that offers and one that does not offer abortion coverage.
  • Prohibits insurance companies by law from taking into account cost savings when estimating the costs of abortion care and therefore the costs of premiums for abortion care.
  • Includes "conscience clause" language that protects only individuals or entities that refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage for, or refer for abortion, removing earlier language that provided balanced non-discrimination language for those who provide a full range of choices to women in need.

Make no mistakes, it is not just abortion that is being restricted. With the growing number of "Personhood Amendments" being considered in state legislatures, and the fact that 17 states already prohibit insurance companies from providing abortion coverage, many states could additionally see their coverage for contraception and birthing options dwindle. This, with absolutely no restriction on men's reproductive health, and a "conscience clause" that only applies to the opposition, with no comparable protection for women with limited options.

As an American who just recently went from uninsured to under-insured, I do understand the urgency to reform our health care system. I've heard tales of hardship from folks battling serious disease, families that have lost their homes in order to pay for a child's cancer treatment. But I cannot stand idly by while the urgency of some outweigh the urgency of others, especially if it is women and only women who are forced to sacrifice health benefits so that others may receive affordable care. It comes down to this: we can have comprehensive health care, and yet we are allowing the opposition of a handful of anti-choice Senators cut us down. They are the ones forcing us to ration health care, to choose between exclusionary reform or none at all. The bill in its current form is not "good enough," nor does begin to scratch the surface of what is truly needed: comprehensive health care for all.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Letter to my Senators

Dear Senators Bunning and McConnell,

I do not believe we have met. By which I mean, how dare you assume your position as my Senator entitles you to make my health care decisions for me. Earlier this week, you both stood in staunch support for the Nelson-Hatch amendment, an amendment that would keep struggling women like me from making decisions about my health care.

Let me elaborate: my husband, our family's breadwinner, works full time for a company that helps provide my family with decent health insurance. Unlike many Americans, I have few complaints about the insurance I carry. My children have top-notch pediatric care, emergency coverage, and dental. My husband and I both have preventative care, low emergency deductibles, and affordable copays. We paid very little out of pocket for the birth of our children, which is wonderful considering my last birth ended in a complicated c-section. This is not to say the insurance provider is not facing its own financial obstacles, which is why the Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House and its Senate counterpart troubled me. In the event the insurance company decided to become federally subsidized, my personal health benefits, from a private insurer, would be limited. And why? Because I am a woman. Because my health care is not my own business. Because legislators like the two of you believe the government should have the power to regulate the kind of health care I can access for myself. And all this from two Senators who routinely run attack ads condemning government intervention in private lives!!

Senators, I am no lawyer. I am a part-time pre-school teaching assistant with children of my own and a mortgage the size of Texas. I cannot fully grasp the interworkings of our government, much less the novel-sized health care bill now in consideration. My understanding of legal text is limited, but I have friends who work in health legislation and law. These friends have made it abundently clear to me that the Nelson-Hatch amendment, which you both supported, would not only limit abortion coverage in my health plan in the event my insurer became federally-subsidized: the language is such that my ability to make decisions regarding contraception or even pregnancy and birth would be severely limited, all because my insurance company decided, without my family's consent, to receive federal subsidy. Why the massive assault on women's health? Abortion is legal in this country, so why do you continue to strike down efforts to provide women with better access to choice?

Senators, I am not only writing for myself. I am writing for my daughter who will grow up in a world where her body is the basis for political attack, where my son's future family will be forced to make reproductive decisions based not on their personal preference, but on the way financial restriction dictates them to live.


Shepherdsville, KY

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Statements from women's and repro-rights groups on Nelson-Hatch failure

I cannot yet find statements from SisterSong, ChoiceUSA, YWCA, or Fem Majority. But here are some of the statements released from women's and repro- rights groups regarding the failure of the Nelson-Hatch amendment last night. CPC Watch's quick and dirty statement can be found here.

From NARAL Pro-Choice America:

Senate Rejects Divisive Attack on Abortion Rights
NARAL Pro-Choice America credits activists, mobilization efforts for defeating abortion-coverage ban in Senate bill

Washington, D.C. – Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, commended the Senate for standing up to anti-choice pressure groups and rejecting an amendment aimed at derailing the health-reform process.

Keenan also called the Senate's action a victory for pro-choice activists. Hundreds of thousands of Americans flooded Senate offices with calls, email messages, and petition signatures calling on senators to reject efforts to add an amendment similar to the House-passed Stupak-Pitts amendment.

The Senate voted by a 54-45 margin to table the amendment offered by anti-choice Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), essentially defeating the amendment.

"My heartfelt appreciation goes to all the pro-choice Americans who joined us in calling on the Senate to reject anti-choice attacks in health reform," Keenan said. "We salute our pro-choice allies who worked so hard to stop this attack that could have caused women to lose coverage in the new health-care system. The bill already includes a ban on federal funding for abortion and a requirement that only women's personal funds may be used for abortion care. That's deeply disappointing to us, but the Nelson-Hatch proposal, like the Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House, would have gone much further, making it virtually impossible for private insurance plans that participate in the new system to offer abortion coverage to women.

"We had an important win today, but the fight is far from over. We will mobilize our activists and work with our allies in Congress to stop additional attacks in the Senate and work to ensure that the final health bill does not include the dangerous and divisive Stupak-Pitts language that's currently in the House bill."

Last week, NARAL Pro-Choice America unveiled a TV ad that's running in key markets in four states. The ad followed a December 2 event on Capitol Hill where the organization and many of its state affiliates participated in a grassroots lobby day that called on the Senate to say "no" to the Stupak language. Prior to that, on November 23, the organization delivered a petition with 97,128 signatures to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, calling on the Senate to keep the Stupak-Pitts language out of its bill. More than 229,000 NARAL Pro-Choice America and state affiliate activists called, wrote to, and visited their lawmakers during the summer months, and the media have reported on NARAL Pro-Choice America's other mobilization efforts, including automated calls and volunteer-led phone banks in 20 states.

Like the House-passed Stupak-Pitts amendment, the Nelson-Hatch amendment would make it virtually impossible for private insurance companies that participate in the new system to offer abortion coverage. This would have the effect of denying women the right to use their own personal funds to purchase an insurance plan with abortion coverage in the new health system—a radical departure from the status quo. Presently, more than 85 percent of private-insurance plans cover abortion services.

The amendment also includes other egregious provisions that undermine a women's right to choose:

  • Like the Stupak-Pitts amendment, the Nelson-Hatch proposal also forbids any plan offering abortion coverage in the new system from accepting even one subsidized customer. Since more than 75 percent of the participants in the exchange will be subsidized, it seems certain that all health plans will seek and accept these individuals. In other words, the Nelson-Hatch amendment would force plans in the exchange to make a difficult choice: either offer their product to 75 percent of consumers in the marketplace or offer abortion services in their benefits package. It seems clear which choice they would make.
  • Stupak-Pitts and Nelson-Hatch supporters claim that women who require subsidies to help pay for their insurance plan would have abortion access through the option of purchasing a "rider," but this is a false promise. According to the respected National Women's Law Center, in the five states that require a separate rider for abortion coverage, there is no evidence that plans offer these riders. In fact, in North Dakota, which has this policy, the private plan that holds the state's overwhelming share of the health-insurance market (91 percent) does not offer such a rider. Furthermore, the state insurance department has no record of abortion riders from any of the five leading individual insurance plans from at least the past decade. Nothing in this amendment would ensure that rider policies are available or affordable to the more than 75 percent of individuals who will receive federal subsidies in order to help purchase coverage in the new exchange.

From the National Organization for Women:

NOW Applauds Senate Defeat of Abortion Ban Amendment,
Urges Removal of Stupak-Pitts in Conference

Statement of Terry O'Neill, NOW President

December 8, 2009

The National Organization for Women applauds the Senate for voting to table and effectively defeat the Nelson-Hatch Amendment to the health care reform bill. This victory is just one small step, however, toward enacting health care reform that recognizes health care as a human right, abortion as health care and women as deserving of coverage that meets all of their medical needs.

The Nelson-Hatch Amendment would have instituted a ban on abortion care coverage in the proposed health insurance exchanges, which are expected to serve tens of millions of people. It would have far extended the Hyde Amendment's already shameful restrictions on abortion funding. It would have betrayed the promise that no one would lose health care coverage they currently have due to reform. And, in all likelihood, this prohibition on abortion coverage would have spread industry-wide in little time.

That's why NOW is thanking all of our activists for the many messages they sent and calls they made to their senators. Our early and strong call to reject any health care legislation containing Stupak-Pitts language made its mark. Our virtual and physical presence on Capitol Hill helped send the message that health care reform should not be negotiated on the backs of women. We thank the 54 senators who listened to our concerns and considered women's health and well-being as they voted.

The bad news is that the similar Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which the House did pass last month, is still in place. When the two versions of the bill are reconciled and merged into one, abortion opponents will no doubt demand that the Stupak language be maintained in order to win their votes on the bill. We cannot let this happen.

Make no mistake, the efforts of the radical right are to outlaw all abortion. They will use whatever method is convenient, and right now that happens to be health care reform. They want women's rights supporters to compromise, but they won't budge an inch. Well, in case they haven't noticed, we're done compromising. NOW urges legislators to oppose the entire bill unless the Stupak-Pitts provisions are removed in conference. Women's lives are at risk, and our rights are not for sale.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Mai Shiozaki, 202-628-8669, ext. 116; cell 202-641-1906

From the National Abortion Federation:

Dear supporter,

Thank you for taking action during the past several weeks by writing letters to the editor and urging your Senators to vote against the Nelson-Hatch Amendment. We defeated this restrictive amendment in the Senate today.

Last week, NAF brought a group of patients to Capitol Hill to share their abortion experiences with legislators. Each of these women had a different experience with insurance coverage for their abortion care, and they represent the women who could be affected by restrictions like the Stupak-Pitts and Nelson-Hatch amendments.

Today, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) cited some of our patient's stories during debate on the Senate floor. NAF member and author, Professor Carole Joffe joined us last week in DC and spoke with some of the patients we brought forward. This week, she blogged about her experience:

"The day was full of fiery speeches by legislators and advocates...however, the most moving and significant part of the day was my conversation with three women who had later abortions. They were introduced to me by staff from the National Abortion Federation. All three women--Dana, Christie, and Mary--had experienced much wanted pregnancies that took nightmarish turns. Read more

Even though we were victorious in the Senate today, the fight is not over; we must continue to work to stop additional attacks in the Senate and ensure that the final health reform bill does not include the Stupak-Pitts language that’s currently in the House bill. Support NAF's work to bring the voices of patients forward to ensure health care reform does not further restrict women's access to abortion care.

From the Planned Parenthood Action Fund:

Great news — minutes ago, the Senate voted on the anti-choice Nelson/Hatch amendment to health care reform, and we won! Unlike the Stupak amendment that passed the House of Representatives, this amendment did not pass the Senate!

This is a huge victory — and your e-mails and phone calls helped make it happen. Thank you. While we still have a long way toward health care reform that ensures quality, affordable health care — including reproductive health care — for all, defeating the Nelson/Hatch amendment today was a big step forward.

As you likely know, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch were behind the anti-choice amendment, and the language was virtually identical to the Stupak amendment. As we saw during the vote in the House of Representatives, anti-choice groups were lobbying hard to pass it. But, the Senate agreed with us this time: eliminating choice for millions of women with private health insurance is a price we can't afford to pay for passing health reform.

We still have a long way to go. I'm certain that there will be significant hurdles ahead, and I'm glad to know, as always, that we can count on your help. Just for today, though, please know that we did something great together. Thank you.

Cecile Richards, President
Planned Parenthood Action Fund

From the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:

Breaking News!
An Important Victory

The Senate voted on Dec. 8 to table - and therefore defeat - the onerous Nelson-Hatch Amendment to the health care reform bill. This amendment, which mirrored the Stupak-Pitts language approved by the House of Representatives, would have expanded abortion restrictions and trampled on the rights of those who believe that abortion is a moral option.

The work of religious advocates was key to this success. We will keep working with our congressional allies and sister organizations to ensure that health care reform is finally approved and that it protects against further assaults on women's reproductive rights.


Feel free to link to other statements below. I'm feeling unified and fired up!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Quick statement on the failure of the Nelson-Hatch amendment

The Senate voted today to reject the anti-choice Nelson-Hatch amendment, a clear attempt to limit access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

The Nelson-Hatch amendment was the Senate's version of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, passed in the House of Representitives earlier this month.

CPC Watch applauds the work of the groups and individuals who came out last week to lobby, really, demonstrate, and otherwise work to protect women's health. Also, a heartfelt thanks to those Senators who voted to table the amendment.

We've protected the little ground we already had, now let's reclaim what we've lost! They're our organs, after all.

-The Organizers

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stupak Explained

Some folks have contacted us wondering exactly what Stupak-Pitts means, since without the amendment Hyde wouldn't have been violated. The National Organization for Women outlined the amendment on this form to contact your Senators:

The Stupak-Pitts amendment explained:

  • The ban on abortion coverage in insurance would apply to both the proposed public option and to private health insurance plans sold in the new regional health insurance exchanges. It is estimated that some 36 million uninsured persons would be purchasing insurance policies through new exchanges and would be eligible for federal affordability subsidies.
  • Health insurers may not sell plans that cover abortion to customers who are paying without a subsidy, if even just one person who is receiving the federal affordability credits (the subsidy) were to purchase a plan. In other words, even if you are paying 100 percent of your insurance costs, abortion coverage would not be available in your plan if anyone with affordability credits joins the same plan.
  • Women may purchase a separate abortion "rider" for coverage, though many doubt that these riders would be offered by the insurance companies.
  • Small companies (fewer than 100 employees) would also likely purchase health insurance through the exchange, but if any of their employees received affordability credits no abortion coverage could be included.
  • Eighty-seven percent of employer-based insurance plans now cover abortion services, but if employers withdraw coverage and send their employees to the health insurance exchanges, those employees would likely lose abortion coverage under these new prohibitions.

There may be a modified version of this harmful amendment that is included in the Senate health care reform bill that will be debated next week. We want to make sure that Stupak-Pitts language is not used and that no variation of this harmful amendment is passed. Please send a message to your senators that you oppose any restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion.

How to respond to pro-Stupak arguments

The following is a cross-post with ChoiceUSA.

"Why should the health care plan cover abortion if the procedure is elective?"

This is a question all choice advocates need to be prepared to address, and one I myself have gotten many times since the passage of the Stupak Amendment last weekend. Unfortunately, like many choice-related debates, there isn't a quick and simple answer readily available.

To even begin to address the issue we must first acknowledge that abortion is a part of reproductive health care. Like an IUD insertion or an annual PAP test, pregnancy termination must be included in any health care plan in order for women to be able to exercise control over their reproductive organs as they choose. If we deny the fact that abortion care is health care, we've already lost the battle.

From there we need to be ready to address the issue of an "elective" procedure as opposed to a "medically-indicated" procedure. It is in this discrepancy that antichoice factions have been allowed to gain headway with those who would normally be sympathetic to our concerns. Likening abortion to a sort of cosmetic surgery, refrains of "Why Should We Have To Pay for Something You Don't Really 'Need'" fall on reasonable ears. However, if we look to other facets of reproductive health care, or health care in general, we see that there are numerous cases where so-called "elective" procedures remain covered under any proposed health plan:
  • A woman has a small, benign ovarian cyst. There is no "medically-indicated" reason to get the cyst removed, but monthly ovulation is uncomfortable and she wants to undergo surgery to prevent further discomfort. Very few would argue that this woman's surgery should not be covered even though it would technically be an "elective" procedure, and to be sure, labor contractions are far more uncomfortable than the pain of ovulating with an ovarian cyst.

  • A 35 year old woman has some history of breast cancer in her family and chooses to begin having yearly mammograms even though medical research doesn't indicate the need for this procedure until age 40. This woman's screening procedure would be fully "elective," and yet no one is proposing amendments to restrict early preventative care to detect abnormal growths in her breasts.

  • Even procedures generally labeled as "cosmetic" are covered under many health plans and have not been attacked by legislative restrictions. Many private insurance companies offer coverage for reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy (which basically amounts to breast implants), a truly elective, non-medically indicated, very cosmetic surgery. No one is kicking up dust about breast cancer survivors obtaining new breasts on a federally-subsidized plan, nor should they.
Additionally, anyone who thinks abortion is a 100% elective, non-necessary procedure has never needed one themselves or never spoken to someone who has. Women who choose abortion do not feel as though the procedure is something they've "elected" to do; these are women who have found themselves pregnant unintentionally, and most cases feel as though abortion is their only option. This feeling arises from a number of factors: financial restrictions, relationship issues, life stage considerations, and medical concerns, to name a few. Because we simply cannot list every reason a woman might choose to terminate a pregnancy, this option must be left open, unconditional and unrestricted, for women to be able to access a complete range of health care options.

Another argument against our fight for comprehensive reproductive health care comes from folks who are generally sympathetic but believe we're kicking up too much dust over a relatively inexpensive procedure when there are people who need thousands of dollars in health coverage now. I do not wish to navigate into the murky waters of "he started it," but it was not "our side" that initially kicked up all that dust. The initial health bill proposal allowed for private insurance companies that would be receiving federal subsidy to continue covering abortion as their policies indicate; it was not until Rep. Stupak embarked on a mission to "compromise with" (read: capitulate to) antichoice congress members that we had any reason to complain whatsoever. In the initial health bill, shot down by Congress last Summer, representatives chose to delay providing much-needed health coverage to thousands, in part because of the abortion coverage private insurers would be able to continue providing.

Besides, if Congress was really out to save money and not impose an antichoice agenda over our health care options, things like abortion and contraception would be a priority. The average cost of "elective" abortion in this country remains in the $450 range, though due to financial assistance and low-cost clinic care the average amount paid tends to be in the $300s. Women can access hormonal contraception starting at $15 a month, and implantation methods average around several hundred dollars for 12 years of pregnancy prevention. Due to restrictions on public funds going towards any of these procedures and the lack of private insurance coverage of most, many women are forced to pay out of pocket for pregnancy prevention and termination. However, women in the United States can receive hospital-based maternity care from Medicaid: hospital births average around $7000 for uncomplicated vaginal delivery and between $12,000 and $16,000 for cesarean births. The government pays millions a year for pregnancy and birth costs, not to mention the subsequent costs from WIC programs and pediatric care, yet provides no funding for women who wish to avoid pregnancy or terminate an existing pregnancy. It is in these statistics that the true agenda of antichoice government agencies shines through: they would rather pay thousands for a woman to carry to term than address the moral quandary that is abortion care.

The real restrictions on abortion and contraception coverage remain inextricably attached to moral, not reasonable, qualms about what should be covered when. There are many conditions that are technically "elective" that remain covered by private insurance and government programs alike, and yet antichoice legislation continues to buck cost-saving reproductive health care to bend to an overlying agenda of control over women's bodies. The health care debate cannot continue without comprehensive health care being taken into account, no option left behind.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stupak, pregnancy, and insurance coverage

We were sent this today:

Will the Stupak Amendment Affect Insurance Coverage for Miscarriages? I Think So

No surprises here, right? For sure it is another example of how anti-choice amendments such as the "personhood amendment" can impact all pregnant women, even those who are not seeking an abortion.

When I was in labor with my son, I was given limited options. My doctor required me to be lying flat on my back for delivery, and I was basically confined to the bed during labor. I was eventually taken to the OR for a cesarean which I agreed to after being told I "needed" one.

Fast forward a month or so. I'm a new mom, single, young, broke, and getting by with nothing more than the committed care of my mother. I had fantastic health insurance, however, and was able to have what I came to call "mac daddy pre-natal care." That didn't stop my insurance company from denying coverage for the cesarean I "needed" to have.

What happened was, after laboring for about 6 hours, my obstetrician told me I needed to deliver soon. I was scared for my son's life, exhausted, and fuzzyheaded from the epidural. So I said okay. Turns out the c-section had been noted as "elective" in my charts. When I called the doctor she told me it had to be noted that way since there was no medical emergency or even medically-indicated reason to cut me open! Shocked, exhausted, and still recovering from the c-section that I'd endured over a month prior, I ended up paying for half the surgery out-of-pocket.

People assume reproductive rights activists are all about abortion access. While we do work for abortion rights and abortion access, we do it under an umbrella of protecting reproductive health care in all its facets. Just as we connect pregnancy and birth rights with abortion rights, attacks on abortion rights and abortion access will almost always affect those who want to be pregnant and have a say in the way they choose to birth.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Statement Regarding Last Night's Vote

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act (or HCA), a bill designed to make health care more affordable and accessible by placing stricter codes on insurance companies. The bill, passed in a narrow 220-215 vote, disallows insurance providers from denying coverage due to "preexisting conditions" or charging higher premiums based on gender.

The bill did, however, pass with the Stupak Amendment in tact. This amendment bars private insurance companies receiving federal subsidy from covering abortion procedures (even if the insurer previously covered it). Patrons of the insurance companies have no say in whether or not their insurer becomes federally subsidized, but it is the patrons who will be left to front the bill from a federally-mandated lack of coverage. Women covered by these insurance providers have the option to purchase an "abortion plan" in addition to their basic health coverage. Touted by some to be a "compromise" with antichoice factions of the legislature, the passage of the Stupak amendment has already garnered a wealth of criticism from women's groups and medical organizations alike.

As a reproductive justice advocacy resource, CPC Watch as an entity applauds any effort to make health care more affordable. While we generally lean to the "left" of social debates, we are non-partisan and strive to keep partisan sectarianism far from our ranks. However, we simply cannot hail last night's vote as a victory in women's health. Any effort to increase the affordability of basic health care cannot, in our opinion, leave certain facets of health care in the dust. We believe that abortion, a procedure that 1 in 3 women will require in her reproductive life, is no less a vital medical service than any other reproductive health procedure. The idea that a woman will actually plan on needing an abortion and go ahead and purchase additional coverage is laughable at best; our work advocating for women's health has told time and time again that women never plan on needing an abortion, and it is ridiculous to expect them to.

Imagine your insurance provider was restricted from covering open heart surgery for some vague reason regarding public morality. You could obtain coverage that was affordable and encouraged you to receive regular preventative care and cardiovascular exams, but in the even you needed bypass surgery you would not be covered. For those concerned with paying for heart surgery out of pocket, the provider offered a "heart surgery plan" for an additional cost. Being a generally healthy human being, maybe young and active with a decent enough diet, my guess is you wouldn't bat an eye at this extra expense; open heart surgery is something very few people expect to need, and yet many require such a procedure, even if they have taken necessary precautions to avoid it. Obviously there is no "moral dilemma" surrounding open heart surgery, so this scenario seems ridiculous. But for those of us who believe abortion qualifies as basic health care as much as heart surgery, the passage of the Stupak amendment is insulting.

Given the percentage of women who will have an abortion before age 45, we have to ask if Representative Stupak's expectation for women to pay more for "abortion coverage" is even legal given the bill's restriction against higher premiums based on sex and gender. After all, an additional "abortion plan" is hardly something a man would or could buy for himself, and while comprehensive men's health is 100% covered by the HCA, a portion of coverage for basic women's health care requires additional payments.

The question that remains is, should we laud the passage of what is indeed a step in the right direction for the majority of the country's health care needs, or should we reject this bill outright due to its sweeping cut of basic women's health coverage? Do we hope for better in the Senate, or are we supposed to get used to these capitulations disguised as bi-partisan compromises?

Whatever happens, we can assure our supporters that we will continue to spread the truth about women's reproductive health and pregnancy options, and will continue to fight for our overlying mission to ensure full, unbridled reproductive justice for each and every woman and girl.

In Solidarity Always,

Lauren Guy-McAlpin
Crisis Pregnancy Center Watch
Project Coordinator

Additional Commentary

In Pelosi's House, 64 Democrats Sell Women Out -- Huffington Post
The Answer to Stupak? Overturn Hyde Now. -- RH Reality Check
Whose health care victory? -- Feministing

Take Action Against Stupak-Pitts

via Planned Parenthood Action Fund
via NARAL Pro-Choice America

Monday, November 2, 2009

Baltimore City's CPC Bill

A Baltimore City Council panel is scheduled to vote today on a bill that would require crisis pregnancy centers to disclose their contraception/abortion services (or lack thereof) on a sign in front of the center.

The bill comes after a series of actions led by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, whose volunteers investigated Baltimore CPCs and found the same disturbing trends found in most CPCs around the country: inaccurate information about abortion side-effects (breast cancer, depression, infertility), a lack of information or referrals for effective contraception, and overall manipulative tactics used to dissuade women from choosing abortion.

While CPC directors claim they are being unfairly targeted, those of us on the Choice side all seem to have taken a similar stance: if your center already doesn't deceive women about its services, what's the problem? If you're not claiming to be a medical clinic and never have even attempted to trick women into thinking you'd provide legitimate information on abortion, what's the big deal about displaying a sign stating such a fact?

If anything, Baltimore CPCs that tout their commitment to "help[ing] you face one of the greatest personal experiences of your life" and believe "it is important to be well-educated" should welcome such a bill with open arms, right? I mean, as has been repeated over and over by Choice advocates, "it's just a sign." A sign stating the facts... isn't that what CPCs claim to do, state the facts?

Obviously Baltimore area CPCs have more than a little to be concerned about; first the sign tells clients you don't provide contraception or abortion, then what? Soon people will start to realize that the information you give out is anything but unbiased. Pregnancy Center West, for example:
  • claims that "women who undergo one or more induced abortions carry a significantly increased risk of delivering prematurely in the future. Premature delivery is associated with higher rates of cerebral palsy, as well as other complications of prematurity (brain, respiratory, bowel, and eye problems)." The source of this "fact" is, a CPC referral site that cites outdated and methodologically-unsound research to hype the supposed risks of abortion. Comprehensive studies suggest there is no direct connection between abortion and breast cancer, infertility, or psychological trauma.
  • will not diagnose a pregnancy via ultrasound until 8 weeks LMP, a clear attempt at delaying a woman's decisions and limiting the kind of abortion procedure she could choose. Pregnancy is detectable by ultrasound around 4-5 weeks LMP.
  • claims that emergency contraception (the "morning after pill") can "abort" a baby. This dangerous claim can only harm women, since women who are opposed to abortion will be hesitant to access EC as a last-resort measure to prevent pregnancy. In truth, EC does not cause an abortion because it prevents pregnancy from beginning in the first place; it has no effect on an established pregnancy.
  • highlights the dangers of many STDs while providing absolutely no comprehensive information on preventing them other than abstaining from sexual activity all together.
If CPCs like Pregnancy Center West are pushing such biased and incomplete information about sexual health and pregnancy options, the public needs to know. Investigations by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland reveal even more disturbing trends from inside the doors of Baltimore area CPCs.

If you are a Baltimore City resident, it may be too late to contact your councilmembers at this time, but I would recommend staying up to date with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland as they continue to expose the tactics and biases of nearby crisis pregnancy centers. For now, let's hope the panel votes in favor of the Limited-Service Pregnancy Centers Disclaimers Bill.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I just finished reading a very compelling post from Words of Choice about the anti choice movement's mission and what they really want to accomplish. As a former CPC "counselor" the post delivered nothing to me that I did not know already. But I am very happy to see it being exposed, and want to help the process.

After my first post here at CPC Watch, my heart was warmed beyond capacity by the thanks and well wishes left in the comments section. I've received private messages from women sharing their very similar accounts with me. I've connected with a clinic escort that I may very well have encountered while protesting in Louisville. Here we are, together. We're all in this. Together.

I thought my heart was going to leap from my chest the first time I heard the phrase "anti-choice" uttered by a reproductive rights advocate. "Anti choice" is, to me, the perfect label for the broad range of anti-abortion activists, from the clinic protesters to the CPC volunteers to the pastors who use their pulpit to invoke intolerance and misunderstanding of others' lives. You see, anti-abortion activists are not just against abortion; they are against just about everything regarding the woman's body.

Don't believe me? I was one of them. At the CPC I worked at, we gave out "statistics" about the high failure rates of certain kinds of contraceptive devices such as condoms and the diaphragm. We told women that the Pill and other hormonal methods caused "early abortions" that would "kill" a tiny, tiny baby. We also told them these methods were very unsafe and caused a number of undesirable side-effects such as weight gain, nausea, and of course, infertility. Not even giving information on natural family planning (delaying sex until women are no longer fertile) was encouraged. At my very mainstream CPC, as in so many others, it goes like this:
1) Sex is for reproduction.
2) Pregnancy is God's punishment for premarital sex (and pregnancy during marriage is, conversely, God's reward)
3) Abortion, and many contraceptive methods, kill innocent life.

Us CPC workers didn't even abide by the strict standards we imposed on so many women, and our beliefs were rarely as extreme as the beliefs we actually succeeded in guilt-tripping some women into. The idea was, of course, that no one is perfect and we all need to better ourselves in order to submit ourselves to do God's work. It wasn't until I got into the same "trouble" as many of our clients that the veil was lifted from my eyes (though to be fair, my "trouble" as a married, thirty-something mother of two with a decent household income differs slightly from the average CPC client).

But what's behind the anti-choice mission is not merely abortion. As my initial e-conversation with CPC Watch volunteers confirmed, the anti-choicers are opposed to basically any number of lifestyle choices that do not fit a fundamentalist Christian model: they are opposed to contraception, pre-marital sex, sex for the sake of love making and sensuality, sex for the sake of pleasure, single motherhood, gay and lesbian rights, and many others. "The issue, in our eyes, is not about abortion, it's about controlling women's bodies," Lauren wrote to me, so beautifully stating the things I myself had been striving to verbalize since what I've been calling my "reproductive rights identity crisis." And I think the article at Words of Choice verbalizes it further.

It's wonderful to be involved in such an inclusive and diverse movement! Thank you all for welcoming me and helping me find my voice.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The following is a cross-post with Choice USA.

I’ve found daily e-alerts regarding attacks on reproductive rights can be a better wake-up than my morning coffee. However, this particular one made me want to crawl back in bed, cover my head with a pillow, and never leave that spot again.

And Now A Word From Judy, The Talking Embryo

My first thought was that this had to be a parody. It’s just too… outlandish! Too offensive, too strange, and way too misogynistic!

If you listen to the actual voice-over from “Judy,” it seems like a weird joke. And you want to laugh, but the fact that it’s real makes it rightfully difficult to do so. After demonizing the woman’s body as a place where bad things happen (“All I want is to get out of here alive!”), a machete approaches the amniotic sac as Judy cries out for help. Yikes.

But creepy embryo voice-over aside, a quick deconstructing of Judy the Talking Embryo’s home site,, reveals more of the same BS consistently employed by the anti-choice camp, and then some. The radical factions that produced such a site so shamelessly utilized every last anti-woman cliché that it almost seems like a parody. Almost.

Let’s have a look at a couple’s highlights, shall we?

First of all, the logo kills me worse than Choice apparently kills Judy. It’s not just the fact that the image used to dot the “i” is clearly a microscopic embryo that, according to site creators, has consciousness, thought process, even a voice. The machete used to depict surgical implements to perform abortions reveals a horrific amount of ignorance about pregnancy termination procedures. If you’re going to argue against abortion, at least know what you’re talking about. Do we see any object that resembles a knife in the assortment of medical implements below?


I didn’t think so. That’s because abortion is a scalpel-free surgery. Aside from the needles used for intravenous fluids or to administer local anesthetic, there’s nothing really sharp about it.

Next up: obligatory testimonials from non-specific interviewees.

The three testimonials present run-of-the-mill regret stories that generally indicate the woman was being irresponsible and having unprotected sex with full intention of using abortion as birth control. (Why pick up free condoms from your local Planned Parenthood when you can miss school or work to pay $400 for outpatient surgery?) The coup de grace is the asterisked comment below: “Typical comments from typical young women but not necessarily these models.” What, they couldn’t even get real women to tell their stories?! (Who wrote these accounts, someone who’s never had an abortion before? Oh right.) But the real kicker is the way they choose to explain why more people aren’t so adamantly against abortion.

What grates at me here is the fact that I’ve been saying the exact same thing about the lack of comprehensive, inclusive dialogue about abortion in our society. Reproductive justice is such a complex idea with so many separate nooks and crannies that I never feel as though the pro-choicers can make enough of a compelling argument when so much of public opinion is shaped by headlines and sound-bytes. In fact, it seems as though every in-depth argument for choice can be so easily refuted by a generic anti-choice sound-byte that progress is simply not possible. Choice is complex; restricting abortion point blank is not. Besides, anyone else see the irony of decrying sound-bytes when Judy’s little voice provides only that?

I’m obviously being a bit comedic and satirical about this, but make no mistakes: not everyone will see this new attack on choice in such a light. To an impressionable ear, the sound-bytes used to frame abortion as a procedure that silences an adorable (?) little voice can indeed make an impact, be it an impact based on non-medical hyperbole. More people are being compelled to take sides on what other people do with their lives, and far too often the search for information takes them to one of these radical though well-funded anti-choice projects where opinions are shaped with propaganda. We need to be ready to stand up to that; we cannot simply dismiss that strange little voice crying for help as “the weirdest thing I’ve seen all day.”


The previous entry includes screen shots from CPC Watch makes no claims to ownership of those images.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Introducing Rosa

Ed. note: Rosa is our newest blogger. She lives in a small town outside of Louisville, KY and worked in a crisis pregnancy center until unforeseen events threw a wrench in the gears, changing her outlook on reproductive choices all together. We're pleased to have her on our side!

My name is Rosa. For my personal confidentiality I'd like to leave it at that, and I hope that is okay. I'm still very much involved in PTA, church groups, and social clubs with people from the following story, so I'd like to remain as covert as possible. But I will say that I live in a small town in Kentucky with my husband and two children. I have a college education, I work part time, and I'd say I have a wonderful life.

I am not an activist. Well I am no longer an activist. Not too long ago, I was involved in a women's group at my church. My church was pretty divided on the abortion issue, but when one woman, we'll call her Kathy, joined the congregation nearly a decade ago that began to change. Suddenly, abortion was the discussion. Kathy brought pamphlets with pictures of aborted fetuses (all late term I think) from her church in the town she'd just moved from. Our women's group got up in arms about it, hearing only the side Kathy's pamphlets told. Abortion, each read, is one of the most horrendous acts against God a person can commit. It harms women, and most importantly, destroys families. It kills a living baby and has a high rate of very serious complications.

Now Kathy's materials didn't come without opposition. But she was well-prepared and we were no match for her. After all, all our thoughts and feelings regarding abortion came from what Kathy called the "secular press" which didn't value life. We began reading the newsletters from groups like Focus on the Family and became even more horrified. The tales went on: women use abortion as birth control. Abortion causes drug use and depression. Abortion causes breast cancer and infertility. And the most common: women choose abortion because they don't think they have any other option.

So with our best intentions gathered up, we began to do what was called "sidewalk counseling" at the abortion clinic in Louisville. These scenes still take place weekly, or so I've read. We'd block women from entering the clinic and tell them of the crisis pregnancy center across the road that would offer an alternative to "killing the baby." I can tell you I did sidewalk counseling every week for over a year and never once saw a woman change her mind and cross the road to the CPC. I hear stories of that happening, but seeing how most women and their supports reacted to our methods I'd say it's far fetched.

Anyway. One thing led to another and I began to work in a Louisville CPC part time. By "work," I mean volunteer, but I gave up my job for it, commuted over 30 miles to get there, and worked four days a week. My family was having trouble making ends meet with just the two kids, but I spoke with my husband and told him that I'd been given a mission from God. I really felt that way!

Then God threw a wrench in the gears. Somehow, I became pregnant. It wasn't supposed to happen, as a complicated c-section with my second child made another pregnancy pretty impossible, or so they said. So there I was. Pregnant, nauseous all the time, with two children and a single income household. But the CPC wasn't all bad. They started paying me a very modest hourly wage to keep me on, as I'd had some experience with peer mentoring and was becoming quite valuable to the agency's more difficult clients.

But getting back to the CPC. Long before I began to think differently about abortion I was questioning the way the place operated. Not because I thought they were flat out lying to women, but because of the way they offered assistance. Our task in greeting new clients was to determine, on a scale from 1-10, how "abortion vulnerable" the woman is. That is, is she considering abortion, or did she come here because she's already chosen life and wants help with the new baby? If a woman was deemed not abortion vulnerable at all, they were often given nothing more than an opportunity to volunteer at the CPC itself, on top of whatever real job they actually had. They were paid in diapers, wet wipes, formula, some second-hand clothing. Nothing substantial. Certainly no prenatal care or anything like that. The abortion vulnerable women, however, they were offered the lot. High chairs, cribs, brand new clothing, even financial assistance for prenatal and pediatric care in rare cases! Doesn't that seem backwards? There are women who wanted to just have the abortion and be done with it, pay their $400 or whatever it is, and leave it behind. But they were getting what women who were struggling to make their choices should have had. I had many conversations with God about this, and with each one I became more convinced that what I was doing was not God's work at all.

So back to the pregnancy. I wasn't about to ask for assistance at the CPC, even though used our questionnaire to determine that I was, in fact, very "abortion vulnerable." Of course I couldn't tell my colleagues that. After all, the picture the CPC paints of the women who seek abortions is, I now know, very inaccurate: young, unmarried high school women who don't know Jesus and are generally irresponsible. If only I'd taken the time to speak with the many women I "counselled" in that clinic parking lot! I'd have learned that I, a Christian 30-something mother of two, was the face of abortion as well.

I really don't want to tell the story of what happened. All I will say is that I had to end the pregnancy. All I will say is that I could not go to a clinic because I was sure my fellow pro-life activists would see me. All I will say is that I ended up in the emergency room with a lacerated cervix and uterine hemorrhage.

It took months to get over what I'd done to myself. Everything I'd been telling women about abortion came spilling out with that one determined thrust. Fortunately, the hospital plugged me in with a support group of women who were having emotional difficulty after abortion. I wish I'd seen this group sooner. I learned, first of all, that my picture of who has abortions was horribly skewed. Here I was sitting with religious women and atheist women. These women were married, single, engaged, dating, divorced. They were 18, 29, 40. White, Black, Asian. Many of their accounts highlighted the parking lot protesters as a key thing they remember from their abortion. They charted their journey from entering the clinic in fear to leaving in shame. I couldn't help but think, "Did I help make them feel this way?" Conversations with God soothed my self-blame, but did implant in my soul the idea that I simply could not do the work I had spent so much time doing.

I learned so much about abortion by simply putting down the propaganda and letting the stories speak for themselves. Especially mine: it wasn't that I didn't "think" I had any other option. I truly felt, I KNEW, I had no other option. I cannot explain it, and I think very few women who have elected abortions can. Which I suppose is why it's so hard to put together a coherent argument for what we fight for. But I'm trying, and I hope you will too.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Healthcare "reform" leaves us in the dust

This piece appeared in The Nation yesterday. It's one of the best summaries I've seen so far of how women's health has been the first thing to be dropped in the face of right wing opposition.

Healthcare Reform-- at the Price of Women's Health?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Family Planning in Hard Times

A new Guttmacher survey suggests 64% of women feel that, economically speaking, now is not a good time to have children. The report, A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Women’s Family Planning and Pregnancy Decisions, found that nearly half of women surveyed have decided to delay childbearing. It also found that 29% of women surveyed are trying to be more careful about using contraception each time they have sex.

However, women also report more difficulty paying for contraception. 8% of women surveyed said th
ey were inconsistent with contraceptive use to save money. 18% of women using the Pill said they were skipping pills or taking them inconsistently. An article from the US News and World Report offered some suggestions to help women and their partners save money on contraception without risking unintended pregnancy:

1. Ask your doctor about generic contraception. Switching from a name-brand pill to a generic brand can cut your monthly costs from $50 to less than $10, a value offered in some drugstores. Your doctor will have to specify on your prescription that you'd prefer a generic version.

2. See if you qualify for subsidized birth control. Your county health department or a family planning clinic like Planned Parenthood may offer reduced-rate birth control for financially pressed women. About 20 states have implemented free family planning services for low-income folks, typically defined as an income of $37,000 for a family of three or $21,000 for a single woman.

3. Ask your partner to pick up some of the financial responsibility. This may not be relevant for married folks with combined finances, but nearly half the women surveyed were single. There's no reason a male partner shouldn't foot half the bill for your birth control since he'll be on the hook for child-rearing costs if you become pregnant and have the baby.

4. Check your insurance plan for savings. Some plans cover the cost of an IUD insertion or surgical sterilization but not the monthly cost of birth control pills. If you and your gynecologist decide those are appropriate options for you, "even if you have to absorb some of the costs," says Lindberg, "the one-time payment may end up costing you less in the long run than the monthly fee for oral contraceptives."

5. Take a long-term perspective. Sure, you might save a few dollars by forgoing contraception now, but it will cost a lot more down the road—in dollars and stress— if you have an unintended pregnancy.

One thing I'd like to add is, don't discount latex condoms as a reliable method of pregnancy prevention if you must quit taking hormonal contraception, or cannot take it at all due to a health condition (stroke risk, former cancer, etc). When used properly, condoms have been shown to reduce pregnancy and STD infection risk by 98% (follow these guidelines for correct usage information). Condoms are inexpensive (if bought in bulk, they amount to less than $1 per condom), and are offered for free at many community health centers, Planned Parenthood clinics, college health clinics, and some high schools.

If you do become pregnant unintentionally, our resource page has a variety of information regarding pregnancy options. Financial assistance may be available for you if you choose abortion, and there are many programs nationwide that help women and their partners pay for prenatal, childbirth, and pediatric care should you choose to parent.

One final thought, since we're fast entering cold and flu season: if you are prescribed antibiotics for any sort of infection, know that many of these can reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraception. A comprehensive list of medications that may reduce effectiveness can be found here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dr. Tiller and Jim Pouillon: The Real Difference

The following is a cross-post with ChoiceUSA.

It is with great sadness that I address the murders of anti-abortion activist Jim Pouillon of Owosso and business owner Mike Fuoss of Shiawasseem, Michigan. The two men were gunned down on Friday within hours of one another, allegedly by 33 year old Harlan Drake, a truck driver and resident of Owosso. My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the two men.

According to the Associated Press, Drake had planned a third murder: real estate agent James Howe. Drake apparently "had a grudge against Fuoss and Howe and didn't like Pouillon's graphic antiabortion signs." According to police, Pouillon was the only victim that had any connection to anti-abortion groups. He was commonly seen across the street from a high school with a giant graphic poster depicting a later-term aborted fetus, which he was holding in his usual spot when the shooting occurred.

Anti-choice activists were quick to jump on this tragic event as further proof that they are a marginalized minority. In vigils, they have and will continue to step up on their soapboxes, forget the many instances of violence or threats against abortion providers committed within their own ranks, and use Drake's actions to "prove" just how hateful us pro-choicers really are. Randall Terry's Operation Rescue sent out a press release calling Pouillon a "martyr," a stark contrast to the "mass murderer" label bestowed upon Dr. Tiller immediately following his death last May. Anti-choicers are even chastising the pro-choice community in editorials for not issuing statements condemning Drake's actions, and yet they all seem to miss one important detail: Pouillon's murder was not really about abortion at all.

Harlan Drake is a nutjob, pure and simple. But he's not the type of nutjob as Dr. Tiller's alleged assassin Scott Roeder; while Roeder acted upon religious and political convictions in his decision to kill Tiller (and his previous history of clinic vandalism), Drake seemed to be acting on, well, anger at the way in which Pouillon protested. He "didn't like" the poster, and he especially didn't like that the poster was being displayed in front of a high school. He begrudged Pouillon, as he did gravel pit owner Mike Fuoss and apparently James Howe as well. It had less to do with Drake's personal convictions about abortion (he's completely unknown to the choice community) and more to do with how Pouillon was choosing to express himself.

Scott Roeder, on the other hand, has an impressive resume in antiabortion activity. He is well known to anti-choice groups, even those who eventually would denounce his actions, and was hooked in with extremist groups like Operation Rescue prior to shooting Dr. Tiller in May. He has a long standing history of violent and threatening actions against abortion providers and clinics. Prior to his death Dr. Tiller had become a high profile target of the anti-choice movement because of his willingness to perform later-term abortions and his outspoken support for reproductive rights. It is clear Roeder's fatal shooting of Dr. Tiller was about (and only about) his career as an abortion provider. He assassinated the Kansas doctor because Tiller had by then become a symbolic figure in the abortion rights movement. The murder was a murder intended not only to stop Tiller's medical practice, but also to send a message to all abortion providers: "You could be next."

Pouillon's murder, while tragic, sends something of a different message, if any at all. Randall Terry said it himself: Pouillon is "the first martyr" of the "pro-life" movement. And he will most likely be the last. You could even argue that he wasn't killed because he was an anti-choicer; Pouillon was killed because a psychopath didn't like his sign. If an abortion rights activist was to fatally attack an anti-choicer (which has, to my knowledge, never happened), a 63 year old roadside demonstrator would probably be pretty low on the list of candidates. He was, after all, known only locally throughout Owosso as "the sign guy." No danger, just a guy with an oxygen tank and a big, ugly fetus poster. This is well evidenced by the fact that Drake's other victim and the man who was apparently next on his list had nothing to do with the antiabortion movement whatsoever... it appears they were just on bad terms with the wrong kind of person. What possible message does this send? How about, "Stay away from sociopaths that might begrudge you."

See the difference?

So if you're looking for condemnation of Pouillon's murder, I will offer it one hundred percent, but no more than I will condemn the subsequent murder of Mike Fousse or the intended killing of James Howe. I do not see this tragedy as a politically motivated attack, as Dr. Tiller's assassination most certainly was. Drake acted out of what seems to be pure insanity. Of course we condemn that sort of action. If you are looking for an apology from the abortion rights movement at large, however, you will not, nor should you expect to, find it here.

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.