When a woman decides to take a trip to a “pregnancy help center” to learn more about her options for an unplanned pregnancy, the last thing she is expected to return with is a horror story. I mean, the word “help” is in the name of the place, right? However, these “help” centers are almost never what they appear to be from their advertising and can often do more harm than good on the psyches of young, pregnant women.
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While a student at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a small liberal arts school located at the southern tip of the state, I heard about a young woman who visited our local Care Net center, where she had hoped to learn about abortion. The large billboard out front reading, “Pregnant? Need help?” with the mournful face of a young girl (we’ve all seen that before, I know) pasted across the background seemed like an invitation for kind and considerate care, and when facing something so monumentally life-changing as an unwanted pregnancy at a young age, who wouldn’t find the idea of “help” comforting? Instead of help, however, the young woman received a lecture about her decision to have sex, which the workers there viewed as immoral. Those that she was hoping to receive help from threatened not to let her leave until she promised she was no longer considering abortion as an option. One woman even chased her into the parking lot, using rather unkind language, trying to get her to accept God’s forgiveness for her actions.
Unfortunately, this sort of bullying happens all the time at supposed help centers for young, pregnant women. Centers that advertise comfort and guidance often hide their religious agenda at the forefront, and then attempt to sway the minds and hearts of the women they meet, which means that many confused, or not-so-confused, women don’t get the kind of treatment they’re looking for at these places. Offering only ultra-sounds and pregnancy tests, the medical procedures available within these help centers are severely limited, and no methods of birth control are on hand to give out. Instead of the pill, visitors get penitence; instead of options, they get a stern talking-to about the provider’s perception of the only option.
When looking at George Mason’s own “Pregnant? Need help?” fliers, put up by the Pregnancy Lifeline Centers of Fairfax and Alexandria, there is no indication that the group is affiliated with Christianity on the piece of paper with phone numbers available to be torn off at the bottom. Once one explores the website, however, the Christian point of view becomes apparent, slowly but surely. While I am not against Christian organizations reaching out to young women about their sexuality, I am against the spreading of misinformation, intolerance, and guilt. When comparing the Pregnancy Lifeline Center’s website directly with Planned Parenthood’s, a number of examples of misinformation, intolerance, and guilt can be found. One of the most upsetting differences between these help organizations is the continuing assertion that a condition called Post-Abortion Stress (PAS) exists, even though it has been discredited by research.
Portrayed as an off-shoot of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), symptoms can include, among others, “sadness, sudden crying, guilt or depression, low self-esteem, poor relationships, anxiety over fertility and childbearing issues, development of eating disorders, alcohol or drug abuse.” Pregnancy Lifeline goes on to say that “studies show that these symptoms are real and legitimate and may surface immediately or over time,” however, no real or legitimate source is offered to back up these claims. In fact, in Planned Parenthood’s FAQ section about abortion (which is authored by Dr. Cullins, the vice president of medical affairs at PP), this “disease” is wrangled with and succinctly debunked. She goes on to say that, “anti-abortion groups have invented this so-called post-abortion syndrome to further their efforts to make abortion illegal,” and specifies the flaws in their studies, where only women with emotional problems were interviewed, as opposed to the majority who simply feel relief.
Besides the false information about abortions that is offered, the Pregnancy Lifeline website also gives very minimal coverage to methods of birth control, listing only the unpleasant and rare side effects of every option besides condoms. Clearly, this is an effort used to influence women into believing that they would be better off avoiding premarital sex altogether. With the “real-life” stories that populate the bottom corner of each page, the website browser is greeted with a barrage of stories that use the misfortune of others to warn against premarital sex, living with a partner before marriage, and abortion, with the overall thread of sin making a run through every tale.
After the parking lot encounter at the Care Net facility in St. Mary’s City, the center proceeded to call the girl’s “emergency contacts” and let them in on the fact that she was considering an abortion and having premarital sex. Though the girl was promised a confidential consultation, her grandparents and best friend were contacted so that her contemplation of abortion could be made known, and her friend was even encouraged to spread hurtful rumors about the girl throughout the college.
Unfortunately for Care Net, this kind of treatment of SMCM students is intolerable, and our Students for a Democratic Society, once they got wind of it, made sure that Care Net’s presence on our campus was completely eliminated. Students were made aware of the nature of the facility, and their pamphlets and fliers were removed from buildings and our Health Center. While I have no concrete stories or proof to illustrate that the actions of GMU’s Pregnancy Lifeline center would be similar to those of Care Net, I still want young women to be wary. If they are looking for religious help in their time of unwanted pregnancy, there is no better place to go, but if they are looking for unbiased and truthful medical support, the best choice may lay in an exam room at the closest Planned Parenthood.
Also, check out one cartoonist’s interesting cartoon series that investigates faith-based pregnancy centers.