Today is the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. In commemoration of the Supreme Court decision that granted women the right to choose legal and safe abortions, Media Mouse is participating in the 2008 “Blog for Choice” event aimed at raising the profile of abortion and reproductive rights as issues in the “blogosphere” and the media.
The official topic for the event is “why you are pro-choice,” but rather than focus exclusively on that topic, it seemed appropriate to look at how Roe vs. Wade is continually under attack (as it the larger right to choose abortion) and why it must be aggressively defended. In West Michigan, which has a long history of pro-life activism emanating from the religious right, there are numerous entities actively working to deny women access to abortion. Whether it is through wealthy families supporting pro-life organizations via their foundations or the day-to-day workings of anti-abortion groups, the West Michigan area has a host of activity on the issue.
Many people are familiar with the stereotypical images of anti-abortion activism–people praying outside of clinics that perform abortions, attempting to give dolls to women entering clinics, or perhaps even trying to block access to clinics. Similarly, the corporate media has occasionally portrayed anti-abortion activists as violence-prone extremists–which while true in some cases–has a tendency to overshadow the less dramatic ways in which the anti-abortion movement acts on a day-to-day basis.
One of the ways in which the anti-abortion movement has sought to both reduce the number of abortions and limit women’s access to abortion–and even access to accurate information about abortion–is through “crisis pregnancy centers” or “pregnancy resource centers.” These centers, often masquerading as neutral places for women to get information about abortion, actively aim to counsel women against abortion and in some cases even provide inaccurate information about pregnancy and abortion. They are rarely clinics and are frequently unable to provide medial advice.
The tactics used by these centers have been documented extensively and range from providing inaccurate information to being deliberately misleading. Several pro-choice organizations from NARAL to the National Abortion Federation have document how pregnancy resource centers and crisis pregnancy centers frequently mislead women in order to lower the number of abortions. A study by Representative Henry Waxman on pregnancy resource centers–which have received $30 million federal funding–found that many centers:
“The centers provided false and misleading information about a link between abortion and breast cancer. There is a medical consensus that induced abortion does not cause an increased risk of breast cancer. Despite this consensus, eight centers told the caller that having an abortion would in fact increase her risk. One center said that “all abortion causes an increased risk of breast cancer in later years,” while another told the caller that an abortion would “affect the milk developing in her breasts” and that the risk of breast cancer increased by as much as 80% following an abortion.
The centers provided false and misleading information about the effect of abortion on future fertility. Abortions in the first trimester, using the most common abortion procedure, do not pose an increased risk of infertility. However, seven centers told the caller that having an abortion could hurt her chances of having children in the future. One center said that damage from abortion could lead to “many miscarriages” or to “permanent damage” so “you wouldn’t be able to carry,” telling the caller that this is “common” and happens “a lot.”
The centers provided false and misleading information about the mental health effects of abortion. Research shows that significant psychological stress after an abortion is no more common than after birth. However, thirteen centers told the caller that the psychological effects of abortion are severe, long-lasting, and common. One center said that the suicide rate in the year after an abortion “goes up by seven times.” Another center said that post-abortion stress suffered by women having abortions is “much like” that seen in soldiers returning from Vietnam and “is something that anyone who’s had an abortion is sure to suffer from.”
Beyond the studies, women who have visited these clinics to see what goes on inside them, report that the clinics attempt to cast visitors as “mothers” and exaggerations about the health effects of abortion.
Moreover, it is not a coincidence that many centers are located next to Planned Parenthood offices or clinics that perform abortions. In the 1980s, a guide published by the anti-abortion Pearson Foundation titled “How to Start and Operate Your Own ProLife Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center” was published that:
“…outlines, in detail, how CPCs should use misleading names that make them sound like abortion clinics, ways to present the appearance of providing abortions, and how to do what they can to hide their pro-life/antichoice positions. For example, the manual suggests answering the question, when a woman calls in, “Are you a pro-life center?” with “We are a pregnancy testing center. What is pro-life?” It is, quite literally, a manual on how to purposefully mislead women and how to be a fraud. (source)”
While these centers have received attention at the national level by the pro-choice movement, local centers have received little attention. The Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC)–with a non-descript logo and no reference to its religious and anti-abortion origins–is located immediately next door to the Planned Parenthood clinic on Cherry Street (a second Pregnancy Resource Center is located in Wyoming).
The Pregnancy Resource Center maintains two websites, one at PRCGR.ORG and the other at PRCFORLIFE.ORG. The first contains no reference to the organization’s religious orientation and says nothing about its anti-abortion agenda. However, on the PRCFORLIFE.ORG website, the PRC makes its beliefs clear. Its “core principles” summarize the religious and anti-abortion orientation of the organization:
The Pregnancy Resource Center exists to elevate the sanctity of human life to the point that abortion is neither needed nor wanted in the greater Grand Rapids community.
As a Christ-centered ministry, our staff and volunteers work to glorify God and demonstrate His character to the greater Grand Rapids community. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s leading as we:
* Challenge people to embrace a Biblical view of sexuality.
* Defend pre-born children
* Meet the needs of those unprepared for pregnancy and
* Help heal lives traumatized by abortion”
Additionally, the organization lists its four “Driving Convictions”–“Drawing Closer to God,” “Sanctity of Human Life,” and “Biblical Sexuality,” and “Offering am Invitation.” Under these four areas, the Pregnancy Resource Center refers to scripture to support its call for prayer, opposition to abortion in all cases including rape and incest, belief that sexual relationships outside of marriage lead to “crisis pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and broken lives,” and belief that abortion offers a critical area for missionary work.
In evaluating its effectiveness since its origins in 1983 picketing outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic, the Pregnancy Resource Centers says that “More than 2,000 lives have been physically saved, area teens have been hearing God’s truth regarding sex and marriage and, most importantly, thousands have come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.”
According to its PRCFORLIFE.ORG website–which is up-front about its religious orientation–the Pregnancy Resource Center says that its services–offered for free “…to share the lifechanging [sic] mission of Jesus Christ”–include abstinence-only education classes for area teens; information on pregnancy, abortion procedures, adoption, and sexually transmitted diseases; free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds; referrals to other organizations and agencies for medical care, social services, and adoption; and “abortion recovery assistance.” With regard to the last item, it is worth noting that according to the list of donations sought by the Pregnancy Resource Center, it uses study guides that promote the idea of “Post-Abortion Syndrome“–something that no medical association recognizes. “Post-Abortion Syndrome” is used by many pro-life organizations to promote the idea that abortion causes a host of physical, psychological, and emotional effects.
Much of the information about pregnancy and abortion featured on the Pregnancy Resource Center’s website–from fact sheets to videos–comes from an organization called “Frontlines Publishing” based in Grand Rapids that publishes a wealth of material used by the anti-abortion movement. This material includes information on “Abortion Risks.” The “risks” are divided into three areas–“Physical,” “Emotional,” and “Spiritual”–and are explained using resources from Frontlines Publishing. The “risks” listed include an increased risk of breast cancer, although there is no scientific basis for the claim. Similarly, concerns about potential health complications are overstated. The site also describes the frequency of the so-called “Post-Abortion Syndrome,” although no medical associations recognize the syndrome and numerous studies have challenged its existence.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the Pregnancy Resource Center’s website says nothing about contraception and does not mention abortion as a viable option. Rather than giving information about those options, they are excluded. Ultimately, this exclusion contradicts the tag line touted on the Pregnancy Resource Center’s website–“The Right to Choose Includes the Right to Know.” While the Pregnancy Resource Center and similar entities certainly have a legal right to exist, it is important both that people who might be using their services understand where the organization is coming from and for those supporting reproductive rights to understand the role that such centers play in the anti-abortion movement.