A CRISIS PREGNANCY Center — CPC for short — hopes to be the first place a woman turns when facing an unplanned pregnancy. But pro-choice groups assert that Crisis Pregnancy Centers use deception, intimidation and harassment to dissuade women from having abortions.
Though not actually pregnant, to investigate these charges I recently visited some local clinics to see how I’d be treated.
The Savannah Care Center on East 34th Street advertises free pregnancy tests on the sign in the yard. I knock on the front door but no one answers. Finally, a woman comes out with a baby on her hip and says they’re closed.
I’ll have to try back later.
Across the street a young man waits on the cement stairs of the Savannah Medical Clinic. Also listed in the phonebook as “Abortion Clinic of Savannah,” the Savannah Medical Clinic is virtually the area’s only abortion provider.
But search “Savannah, GA abortion providers” on Google and the Coastal Pregnancy Center is one of the first names to pop up. Indeed, CPCs often set up shop in close proximity to abortion providers and choose similar-sounding names.
Another local CPC, the Coastal Pregnancy Center, is a small one-story building on the corner of Skidaway and DeRenne. When I walk in, I’m bombarded with babies.
Business cards with photos of embryos are displayed on the front check-in counter. Framed on the wall of the lobby is a huge drawing of oversized hands holding a baby. Below, it says, “God’s handiwork.”
A woman in jean shorts welcomes me.
“Do you need a pregnancy test?” she asks.
“No, I just wanted to talk with someone,” I say.
“She just wants counseling,” she hollers down the hall.
Another woman emerges from the rear. She has shoulder-length blondish hair and wears pink medical scrubs.
“Have you had the pregnancy confirmed by a doctor?” she asks.
“No. But I’ve taken some home pregnancy tests and they were positive,” I say.
“Are you going to get Medicare or health insurance involved? Because we need to confirm the pregnancy if you’re going to get Medicare involved.”
“I’m on my parents’ health insurance. I’m not sure I want to get them involved.”
I can tell she’s displeased. “What we do here is confirm your pregnancy and then provide counseling,” Pink Scrubs says forcefully.
“Would you be willing to take a pregnancy test?” Jean Shorts asks.
Pink Scrubs hands me a bottle of water and a form asking where I heard about the Coastal Pregnancy Center.
Their ad in the Yellow Pages says ‘Pregnant? Worried?’ and offers free pregnancy tests and counseling. It’s listed under ‘Clinics,’ right after the All Women’s Health Center of Jacksonville, which offers abortions and free pregnancy tests. I can see how someone might get confused about which clinics provide legitimate medical services.
When I’m done filling out the form, Jean Shorts leads me to the bathroom in the back of the building. Pink Scrubs irons a onesie.
Many CPCs give material aid like diapers and baby clothes as gifts to clients who come in for pregnancy tests and counseling. There’s also a push to get more ultrasound equipment in pregnancy centers, presuming that once a woman sees images of her baby, she’ll decide to keep it.
I leave my urine sample on the top of the toilet and a third woman in her sixties ushers me down the hall. We wait for the results in a separate room with matching orange armchairs.
“Have you ever been pregnant before?” she begins her checklist.
“Have you ever had a miscarriage?”
“Ever had an abortion?”
“If this test comes back positive, is an abortion something you’re considering?” Her voice is motherly and I don’t want to disappoint her.
“Yeah, I want to explore all the options.”
She looks down at the intake form. “You wrote here that you’re Lutheran.”
“Do you go to church?”
“Not down here,” I say.
She leans closer.
“Have you been Saved?”
I don’t respond.
“Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you’re not Saved unless you believe that.”
She pulls out a laminated leaflet and scoots closer so I can look. She reads a prayer off of the leaflet and says, “You can hold on to this if you want.”
“Thanks,” I say, unsure if I am now Saved.
She leaves the room to check on my results. When she comes back, she says, “it was negative,” and shows me the single pink line.
While the Coastal Pregnancy Center’s ad in the Yellow Pages makes no mention of religious affiliation, once inside, they don’t hide that they’re a faith-based, pro-life ministry and openly express their opinion that abortion is murder.
Their “What Does God Say About Abortion” pamphlet provides Bible scriptures to questions like, “Should a child conceived as a result of rape or incest be aborted?”
The answer is Deuteronomy 24:16. “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”
The Pregnancy Center of Rincon is a one-story brick building nestled in among other medical buildings. Like many CPCs, it looks like a health care facility, with a waiting room and partitioned check-in desk. A bubbly pregnant woman greets me. She has short curly hair and wears a brown tee shirt that says “Care Net.”
Care Net, an umbrella group that provides resources to pregnancy centers, is the largest network of CPCs. About 1,900 pregnancy centers are affiliated with Care Net and Heartbeat International, a second national umbrella group that works closely with Care Net.
The pregnant woman hands me a clipboard with forms to fill out.
In the back room, we sit down. We talk about abortion first. She gives me a booklet called “Before You Decide: An Abortion Education Resource” published by Care Net.
It describes in great detail how each abortion procedure is performed and the risks involved. The main risks the anti-abortion camp focuses on are breast cancer and post-abortion stress syndrome. (The National Cancer Institute refutes any connection between abortion and breast cancer.)
The woman tells me she has a friend who had an abortion and now suffers from something called “anniversary guilt.” Every year on the anniversary of her abortion, she has flashbacks of the event and nightmares.
She says a lot of women get post-abortion stress syndrome, which she likened to post-traumatic stress disorder. (Research studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, American Psychologist and Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, have all concluded that post-abortion syndrome does not exist.)
She tells me about another friend who gave up her baby for adoption. Every year her friend gets pictures of her son playing softball and blowing out birthday candles.
“Doesn’t it make her sad?” I ask.
“She says getting the pictures is just a confirmation that she did the right thing,” the woman replies.
She hands me another pamphlet, “Adoption: A Loving Choice,” from a nearby shelf. I believe that adoption is a loving choice; I’m sure family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood agree.
She continually reminds me that I have plenty of time to make a decision.
“You’re a skinny little thing and you won’t show for awhile,” she says. I like her even more.
I get the sense that she thinks my best option is to marry the baby’s father and keep the baby. We talk at great lengths about the benefits of marriage and parenting, especially after she learns that my boyfriend lives with me.
“Well, he’s obviously really smart and you love him and it was going towards marriage anyways. It’s not like you guys have only been together for two months.”
“True,” I say, suddenly wondering why my boyfriend hasn’t proposed.
This push to get married directly conflicts with the center’s own pamphlet on adoption, which says, “Getting married because you are pregnant is now recognized to be a poor basis for building a loving family. Marriage failures are high for those who marry under such pressures.”
The woman tells me I have plenty to discuss with my boyfriend and says, “I’ll be praying for you this weekend. Call me or I’ll worry.”
From there, I get back on Highway 21 and drive back to the Savannah Care Center on East 34th. The renovated house looks like a daycare center. Toys litter the floor.
Their ad in the Yellow Pages says they offer free pregnancy tests, counseling and medical referrals, but no one could mistake this for a medical facility.
After standing awkwardly in the lobby for a minute or so, a woman approaches me. “Can I help you?” She’s dressed in a navy pantsuit.
“I’m pregnant and I’m not sure what I’m to do,” I say.
“Are you considering abortion?”
“Yes.” I try not to sound apologetic.
“Are you considering adoption?”
“Yeah, I’m considering all the options.”
She tells me they work with a great adoption agency and that I can change my mind about giving the baby up at any time, even when it’s born.
“We had this one girl who called me up the morning she gave birth and said ‘I can’t do it. I can’t give him up.’ So she kept him. She’s real young, but she’s a good mom.”
Young moms trading parties for pampers are a growing population. Last year the government announced that the nation’s teen birth rate had risen after a 14-year decline. Less than one-third of teen moms ever finish high school.
Navy Pantsuit leads me to the bathroom in the back of the house, where I’ve agreed to take a pregnancy test.
After I’ve done my business I walk back to Navy Pantsuit’s office. She instructs me to place my cup of urine on a small table by the door. She hands me a little eyedropper and tells me to squeeze out five drops onto the test area.
She and I hover above the test until it indicates that I am not pregnant. I act surprised and relieved.
Navy Pantsuit asks me about contraception and says, “Using condoms is like playing Russian roulette.” She says that condoms fail “something like 40 percent of the time.”
“That’s why we promote abstinence,” she says. “You know, abstaining from sex.”
She says ‘sex’ like it’s a dirty word.
I thank her and take my leave. cs