My Experience with the Women’s Choice Network: Religion, Deception, and Medical Falsehoods

In order to expose the deceptive practices of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) across America, some people have actually gone into clinics pretending to be clients. This tactic has uncovered some of the lies and persuasive tactics implemented by CPCs across the country and has exposed these clinics for what they are: factually deleterious centers of coercion.

So why not me? I wanted to find out the exact experience women would go through when interacting with the Women’s Choice Network. Is the experience all that bad? Do they really lie to women who come to them seeking accurate medical information? What I found out was more than a little shocking.

To start my initial tour of the Women’s Choice Network (WCN) experience I went to the North Oakland clinic located on Craig Street. For Pittsburgh locals, this neighborhood is well known for its plethora of college students and low income city dwellers – prime turf for CPC deception of “abortion vulnerable women”. I went to their office under the guise of attaining more information for a student health fair held by the University of Pittsburgh. Being a grad student from the University, I thought the half-truth was appropriate.

After telling the woman at the front desk that I was seeking materials about the services offered by the Women’s Choice Network for a student health fair, I was immediately told that I could speak with the executive director, Amy Scheuring (author of such thrilling publications as “Sex: More Than a Plumbing Lesson” and a hiking blog that celebrates and encourages marriage at http://www.yourweeklyhike.com). When Amy, (whose background is in educational counseling, not any sort of physical, medical science) was available, she led me enthusiastically into her office and asked me what in particular piqued my interested in the services that the Women’s Choice Network provided. I told her I saw from their website that “The Women’s Choice Network offered a different view from a lot of other health-providers, and that I thought it was important for the students to hear about their services.”  Upon this remark, Amy immediately started to hand me publications that the Women’s Choice Network had to offer. These pamphlets detailed how condoms are not sufficient for protective sex, and how having sex with only one partner was ultimately the only way to stay disease free. Because we live in a sexual utopia where keeping people from having extramarital sex is a totally realistic goal.

While Amy was rattling off statistics of STDs, premarital sex, and teenaged pregnancies, I scanned her office for a better idea of what the Women’s Choice Network was working on. Above Amy’s desk was a white board that caught my eye. On the right side of the white board were patient ID numbers, followed by the dates they were seen, and the outcomes of their pregnancies. There were only about eight or ten patient ID numbers on the board, yet almost ALL of them listed the same pregnancy outcomes: ABORTION.

This list of patient ID numbers and pregnancy results says a couple of different things to me, both of which are bad. First off, it means that the majority of women who come into the Women’s Choice Network are indeed seeking abortion. If 8/10 of Women’s Choice Network’s patient’s pregnancy results end in abortion, then abortion is most definitely the clear ‘choice’ that these women are seeking. Secondly, the Women’s Choice Network ultimately does not care enough to list the health outcomes of these women in regards to STDs, nor do they care enough to list the breast exam results. If the Women’s Choice Network claims that they offer a variety of services like STD and breast cancer screenings, then how is it that the only outcome listed next to these patient ID numbers was the results of their pregnancies? Although they may offer a wide variety of services, keeping women from attaining abortions is clearly the main focus of their organization.

After the time I spent in the Executive Director’s office, I was offered a tour of the facilities, which I gladly accepted. The office space was set up to resemble that of a medical doctors, made complete with a check-in desk with sliding glass window, a waiting room for children, volunteers wearing hospital-white gowns, and a ‘counseling room.’

Let’s back up a bit to consider how medically-centered the WCN is in regards to staff. The WCN has four different locations in the Pittsburgh region – spanning from Wexford all the way to Monroeville. Despite this, there is only one staff doctor for all clinics . In half of the clinics, like the Monroeville and North Side locations, there is one RN on staff. Other locations, like the ones in North Oakland and Wexford do not have ANY trained medical staff in the office on a daily basis at all. One would think that a non-profit centered on women’s health would have trained medical staff at all of their facilities, but they don’t. You know what they have instead? The WCN has both a Pastoral Care Director and a Prayer Coordinator! I guess religion knows how to keep my uterus healthy way better than any old medically trained professional does. And prayer coordinator? Are we able to pray away STDs and unwanted pregnancies now? What a time to be alive.

Blessing the Ultrasound
Oh wait, I forgot that this is the same organization that had Bishop David Zubik bless the ultrasound machine that was donated to their North Side clinic in 2012 . There’s no better place for a Catholic priest than in my womb, amiright?

A big issue that stems from the combination of a lack of medical professionals and an abundance of spiritual (in particular, Christian spirituality) figures is that none of this is listed on the WCN’s main (consumer-aimed) website. If you visit http://www.imissedmyperiod.com (what a URL!) you won’t find any reference to religion, spirituality, or the fact that they DO NOT OFFER ABORTIONS. Even more incredulously, they do not refer women to a clinic where they can actually attain an abortion. This seems kind of crazy. I mean, if you’re calling yourself the Women’s “CHOICE” Network, then you’d think to attract women who are looking for exactly that – a choice of what to do with their pregnancy. However, if the WCN does not offer abortion services, and then refuses to give women information about clinics that do offer abortion services, then how is this offering any woman a choice in her reproductive health rights? Its false advertising, clear and simple. The only choice a woman has with the WCN is that of the religiously geared staff and volunteers.

On top of the fact that the WCN does not offer any abortive services, despite advertising in a way that attracts “abortion vulnerable women”, the WCN actively persuades women against making the choice of abortion. Let’s go back to my visit to the North Oakland office with Amy, who was giving me a tour of their resources. Other than the badly painted facade of “we’re a totally legit medical facility that doesn’t have trained medical staff on hand” – the most shocking part of the tour was the “counseling room.” The room was located in the back of the office, painted a soothing light blue, and filled with comfy chairs and pillows. Amy said that this is where “women are counseled about their pregnancy options.” Considering the WCN does not help with any options other than going through with a pregnancy, I can only believe that this “counseling room” should have more accurately been called the “persuasion room” – aka a place that is made to intimidate women with medical falsehoods and “counseling professionals” into going through with a pregnancy they may have been seeking to end. The cherry on top of the persuasion-filled sundae was the “fetus dolls”.

That’s right… I said fetus dolls. Small, hard, plastic, fetus-shaped toys that anti-choice activists repeatedly use to show what the baby looks like inside the womb. The biggest problem with these dolls, other than the fact that there’s a manufacturer out there somewhere spitting out fetus-shaped toys, is that the dolls are COMPLTETELY UNREALISTIC and do not accurately portray what a fetus looks like inside the womb. The dolls, some of which are no bigger than a quarter, are detailed with fingers, toes, hair, lips, nails, and every other feature of real-life children. The dolls are meant to pull at the heart strings of those thinking of abortion. This persuasive and almost sadistic tactic of coercion is not only emotional blackmail, but it’s also completely unrealistic. Most medically trained personnel will tell you that the previously listed milestones of fetal development (nails, hair, toes, etc) happen in the second trimester. Considering that the whopping majority of abortions (88.7%) happen during the first 12 weeks (aka the first trimester – where no baby has fully formed organs, let alone fingernails), the fetus dolls are false medical information. It almost makes sense that the WCN would have them in their “counseling room” – considering it’s a false medical clinic.

Fetus Dolls. Gross.
No. No no no no no.

So why is any of this important? Why is it a big problem to see the WCN continue to be promoted as a fine alternative to Planned Parenthood and other more choice-friendly reproductive healthcare agents? There are several reasons, of which the first is obvious: they do not offer abortion services. Abortion clinics in America, including right here in Western Pennsylvania are suffering from an onslaught of new regulations and standards that can be expensive for these clinics to maintain. In 2011, the PA General Assembly passed Act 122, which mandated that all abortion clinics adhere to the same regulations that are applied to ambulatory surgical facilities. After the act’s passage, five different abortion facilities just here in the Pittsburgh region closed down . Planned Parenthood was able to keep two of their Pittsburgh area clinics up and running, but it cost the non-profit a staggering $300,000 to update their facilities in accordance with new regulations.  In addition to Act 122, a bill (HB 1762) has been reintroduced in the 2014 cycle that would require abortion providers in PA to attain admitting privileges from hospitals within a 30 mile radius . Similar measures have famously been passed in other states. For example, in the summer of 2013 the Texas legislature passed a smattering of bills that severely regulated abortion facilities within the state. Since then, over a third of abortion providers in TX have closed down.

With the forced closing of abortion service providers that actually provide abortions, women are more and more likely to encounter a crisis pregnancy center that will offer 1) false medical facts about abortion, 2) “counseling” sessions that are meant to deceive women into going through with their pregnancies, and 3) religious rhetoric that has no place in the realm of health care. Ultimately if the CPC trend increases – women who need abortions will not be able to access them.

As a city, Pittsburgh is continuously recognized for its stellar health care providers and outstanding medical research. Pittsburgh women deserve the same when it comes to reproductive health as well.

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