JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — When Liz became pregnant unexpectedly, she turned to Google. After finding a listing for what she thought was an abortion clinic, she scheduled an appointment and made the hour drive from Columbus to Tupelo. She drove to the center with the intent of having an abortion.
Once she arrived, the 33-year-old married mother of three took a pregnancy test and confirmed what she already knew: She was pregnant. But then her appointment took an unexpected turn. Instead of being able to talk about terminating her pregnancy, Liz was given a baby’s bib with a Bible verse on it and sent home.
She began to cry.
“My heart felt heavy and my eyes filled with tears,” she said. “I actually had my 15-month-old with me. It stung.”
Once home, the bib “laid on my deep freezer near my kitchen and was a constant physical reminder of my already difficult decision.”
“I went to that clinic for help, an open ear,” she said, “not for someone to make me feel like I was going to rot in hell.”
Shortly after, Liz traveled out of state to get an abortion. She hasn’t told any one of the decision she and her husband made and didn’t want her real name used.
“When I walked in that clinic in Memphis, I knew I was in the right place. Those women were there to do a job. They were there to give me a service and to help me, woman to woman, with a hand out instead of a bib.”
In Mississippi, there are more than 30 organizations that identify along the lines of a crisis pregnancy center. The state has one abortion clinic.
The differences between the two are striking but are not always immediately clear.
Many centers, nationwide, will list abortions on their websites and/or open next to an abortion provider. For example, the Center for Pregnancy Choices in Jackson does not provide abortions. Their website, however, describes both surgical and non-surgical abortions. Under the description of non-surgical abortion, the center clearly states they do not perform that procedure. But when the reader clicks on surgical abortions, they are directed to make an appointment.
Once a woman is inside a CPC, she is often given pamphlets or tracts that talk about adoption. Many keep models of fetuses at 10 and 12 weeks on display.
CPCs are nonprofit organizations established, in general, to counsel pregnant women against having an abortion. Nationally, they have come into criticism for deceptive advertising.
“Historically, what we have seen is that many crisis pregnancy centers intentionally use names that are close to either Planned Parenthood or could be easily construed as abortion providers,” said Felicia Brown Williams, director of Planned Parenthood Mississippi. “They do that in an attempt to, for lack of a better word, trick people into believing that they’ll be provided with a full scope of options or at least information on the full scope of options available to them. Often that is not what people receive once they enter inside.”
The largest crisis pregnancy center in the state, Center for Pregnancies Choices, declined multiple requests for comment. Its Fondren location is one block away from Jackson Women’s Health Center, the state’s lone abortion provider. Volunteers or protesters often stand outside Jackson Women’s Health Center and attempt to direct women visiting the clinic to the Center for Pregnancy Choices, telling them they can get a free ultrasound.
The Women’s Hope Center, on the outskirts of Clarksdale, counsels women on four choices regarding pregnancy, said director Nancy Pennington. The center used to be named Crisis Pregnancy Center but changed its name several years ago to offer a wider array of services, Pennington said.
“We show them pamphlets, tracts and a video to help them make a good choice and it tells the consequences of keeping the baby, marrying the father, abortion and adoption. Those are their choices, and we let them know that,” she said. “We are against (abortion) but we’re going to let the girl know that’s her choice as long as it’s legal and make it a choice she can live with the rest of her life.”
Abortion providers and clinics such as Planned Parenthood are staffed by doctors, nurses and other professionally trained staff. Jackson Women’s Health Center and Planned Parenthood in Hattiesburg offer a range of health care options including pap smears, annual exams, cancer and STI screenings and access to contraception. They are bound by the national Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that protects patient privacy. While some Planned Parenthood clinics perform abortions, the clinic in Mississippi does not.
“What we provide at Planned Parenthood to anyone coming in our doors is medically accurate information that is evidence-based because that’s what people need and deserve to be able to make informed choices about whatever medical situation they may have,” Williams said. “That is one of the things that we pride ourselves on as an organization, is providing nonjudgmental care. No person can fully understand a person’s situation except the person in that situation and it is not up to us to judge anyone for any reason. We are a health care provider and it’s our mission to make sure people receive the care that they need no matter what.”
In the last year, the Jackson Women’s Health Center has provided IUDs, a form of birth control, to more than 200 women. Through a grant, patients receive the IUD for free and pay a $50 insertion fee.
CPCs do not provide birth control.
CPCs are not held to any state or federal standard. While some centers have nurses on staff, it is not required. Few have doctors on staff. The pregnancy tests they provide are similar to tests found in drugstores and many are self-administered, according to Kimberly Kelly, director of Gender Studies and associate professor of sociology at Mississippi State University.
The Women’s Hope Center does not have an ultrasound machine. While it once used rubber gloves to handle the urine pregnancy tests, women now self-administer the test. If a woman is pregnant, it refers her to a local OBGYN.
The Pregnancy Center in Oxford performs a “limited ultrasound” by a trained technician. It has a doctor who serves on its board of directors but is not in the center each day. It hands out brochures and shows videos about the abortion process but executive director Summer Farrell notes the center is not a medical facility.
“We really just let them talk, we listen, we’re not a family member talking in their ear, we’re not a medical professional,” Farrell said. “They’re concerned about how their life will change, their dreams. We want to help them walk through this process.”
Many CPCs are nonprofit charities. Most are affiliated with one or more of the following networks: Care Net, Heartbeat International, or the National Institute for Family and Life Advocates, Kelly said.
In her experience, Kelly said CPCs do not hand out contraceptives, advocating abstinence instead.
There are approximately 240 Catholic and 2,000 evangelical CPCs in the U.S., she said.
The Women’s Hope Center, for example, is housed in a building owned by a local Baptist church. The center pays its own bills, Pennington said, but she answers to the church’s pastor. If a woman confirms a pregnancy, staff will give her a series of Bible studies. The center offers a baby closet of used or donated items and asks the women to complete the Bible studies to access the closet, although it is not required. When the women return, the center will often pray with them, Pennington said.
“We’ll help anybody, we’ve got plenty of supplies,” she said. “We ask them if they’re willing to do a Bible study. It’s not required but we know it’s a good thing for them to be doing. We are a Christian ministry so we believe the Bible teaches every child is made from God but we don’t push that on them.
“We do realize the world has rights out there. (Abortion is) legal, but we certainly don’t want to push that. We’d rather they let the baby live, adoption or one way or the other.”
“My biggest thing, if a woman has decided to not have an abortion, or you’ve convinced her to not have an abortion, why does she have to go through these classes?” Brewer asked. “If you’re just there to help her, then you’re just there to help her. You don’t know what she feels about Christianity, you don’t know, why are you forcing that on her?”
However, the Pregnancy Center in Oxford is not affiliated with a local church or denomination, Farrell said. It does not require women to take classes to access their supply closet.
“Our goal is just to talk to the client about their life and what their needs are and help them come up with a plan for what they want to do and give them all the information that they need to execute that plan,” she said. “We ask them questions about their personal life. They can share what they want and what they don’t want, it’s up to them how much they share. There’s no Bible bashing.”
Information from: The Clarion Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com