When facing an unplanned pregnancy, women should have access to accurate information to help make the informed choice that is best for them. You may have recently encountered flyers around campus that claim to provide such information. Prevalent in freshman dorms and women’s bathrooms, these flyers read: ‘Worried you might be pregnant? Wondering where to turn? Call any of these local pregnancy care providers for help.”

What these flyers fail to mention is that the numbers listed are those of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). CPCs are not medical facilities at all. Most are staffed by pro-life volunteers with no medical training whose goal is to dissuade women from considering abortion as an option. Many CPCs are federally funded with funding that has increased dramatically since 2001. CPCs are usually religiously affiliated and push their anti-abortion agenda on women facing one of the toughest decisions of their lives: what to do about an unplanned pregnancy.

Outraged that an unidentified group has been advertising CPCs on campus, Women’s Caucus organized a week of action to expose fake clinics in Rochester. To find out what really happens at these ‘clinics,” Women’s Caucus members posed as pregnant women and went undercover, visiting three local CPCs.

What these women found was astonishing and frightening. Among other misinformation, the women were told: ‘Abortion is very risky to a woman’s health,” ‘Your risk of breast cancer greatly increases if you have an abortion” and ‘Your cervix is stretched out during an abortion and, in the future when you want children, it is possible that the baby will slip out.”

The women were told that having an abortion would cause ‘eating disorders, relationship problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, sexual dysfunction, alcohol and drug abuse.” Even though the women made it clear that they wanted to discuss all options with a CPC staff member, none of the staff at any of the clinics spoke about abortion as an option. Instead, the CPC staff vehemently tried to discourage the women from considering abortion; as one CPC worker so eloquently said in response to a question about the possibility of abortion: ‘Well, I’m not saying you’ll burn in hell, but…” The CPC worker continued by asking the woman about her religious beliefs and if she was ‘saved.” This turn in conversation was not an anomaly at each clinic, the conversation turned to questions about religious beliefs, making the women feel uncomfortable and denying them the opportunity to discuss what they came for in the first place: ‘options counseling” about their pregnancy.

Despite all of their misinformation, we acknowledge that the CPCs did provide helpful information about adoption services. Still, these CPCs did not provide holistic information about the options available to women, nor did they offer a safe space to discuss these options. Thus, we believe that any positive services offered by the clinics were negated by the prevalence of bias and scare tactics at all three CPCs.

There are options other than CPCs for women dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. We contacted University Health Service about their policy on pregnancy referrals and learned that UHS does not directly refer students to CPCs, but instead provides students the opportunity to meet with a UHS doctor or nurse practitioner to discuss options. If the student does not want to visit UHS, she is referred to Planned Parenthood or Freedom of Choice OB/GYN Services. When Women’s Caucus members called UHS posing as pregnant students seeking abortion services, they were referred to Strong Hospital-affiliated OB/GYNs, not CPCs. Still, we were disappointed that the women were not referred to Planned Parenthood. We were further disappointed to see that UHS does list Birthright (a CPC) as the first resource on their ‘Pregnancy/ Parenting” resource Web site page.

We are furious that CPCs are supported by our federal government, that CPCs are advertised on our campus and that, on the UHS Web site, these clinics are listed as resources. When faced with an unplanned pregnancy, women need medically accurate information from a legitimate health facility. CPCs do not offer this. And, while UHS is a source of information (caveat: their Web site), for most women, complete anonymity is essential.

Thus, Planned Parenthood or Freedom of Choice are options better suited to the needs of women who want to understand all of their options in an intimidation-free atmosphere. These medical clinics which are true pregnancy care providers do not edit a woman’s options, will not judge a woman if she chooses abortion and will provide a woman with the medically accurate information necessary to make the choice that is best for her.
Gilligan is a Take Five scholar.

Kuehn is a member of the class of 2011.

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