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.

Pittsburgh’s Misleading CPC: Women’s Choice Network

Pittsburgh’s Misleading CPC: Women’s Choice Network

In my last post I talked about how Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) use false and misleading information to spread their pro-life values to unsuspecting women. Unfortunately the amount of CPCs in America now outnumbers abortion providers by 2,500 to 1,800. … Continue reading

Crisis Pregnancy Centers and Misinformation: And you thought healthcare was hard enough to understand as it is!

You’ve probably seen billboards with this message: Pregnant? Need help? The signs usually feature a confused and frightened looking woman holding a positive pregnancy test. Whenever I see these signs I can only imagine how confused and frightened I would be in the face of an unplanned pregnancy. If I didn’t have the right information in such a moment of crisis – I could end up making a decision I wasn’t ready to make, and that decision could forever change my life.

First things first – if you are in one of those moments of crisis – if you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, DO NOT CALL THE NUMBER ON THE ‘Pregnant? Need help?’ billboards! If you do chances are you’ll be directed to a Crisis Pregnancy Center, and a whole bunch of lies and misinformation will follow.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers, or CPCs, are a dangerous menace to women’s health care. They are religiously affiliated clinics that claim to give women information regarding ALL choices when facing unplanned pregnancies. Some of the information is great – how to find resources for you and your child if you decide to raise your child; how to get in contact with adoption resources if you decide to give your child up for adoption – women need this type of information (‘cause women love well-informed choices, they’re the best!).

But here’s where things get troublesome if not downright illegal: most of the information CPCs give women regarding abortion is a complete lie. A recent study initiated by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) found that 87% of all CPCs gave “misleading and medically inaccurate information to women seeking abortion.” Can you imagine what being wrong 87% of the time looks like? If hospitals and doctors offices were run like that – we’d all be dead!

CPCs and those who work within them do not want women to have abortions. If they controlled all the uteruses in America, there would be no more abortion – just a bunch of struggling mothers with unplanned families (sounds great!…sike). Here are some of the predominant lies they have been telling women all across the country:

1)   There is a direct link between abortion and breast cancer (FALSE!!!)

The New England Journal of Medicine found there to be ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION between abortion and breast cancer way back in ’97! But medically proven truths don’t stand in the way of CPCs! A study of New York CPCs found that 13% of clinics investigated told women that abortion would lead to breast cancer. In North Carolina, 16% of the CPC’s investigated told women abortion would lead to breast cancer. In the for-profit world, we call this false advertising – except with this lie, you get a baby instead of a faulty product!

2)   There is a direct link between mental health problems and abortion (FALSE AGAIN!)

Several studies have shown little to no mental health issues stemming from abortion procedures. However, plenty of CPCs claim otherwise. For example, on the website of a local Pittsburgh CPC, www.imissedmyperiod.org, they list the following as mental health risks for women who have abortions: “clinical depression, drug and alcohol abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, suicide, guilt, grief, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, difficulty bonding with partner or children, and eating disorders.”

Hmmmmmm….you know what that sounds like? Sure sounds like postpartum depression to me! The only difference is that postpartum depression is a real disorder that sadly affects hundreds of thousands of new mothers, and ‘post-abortion syndrome’ has never been found to be credible, or seen with any frequency in post-abortive women.

3)   Abortion is a dangerous procedure that can result in infections, other serious injury, and even death (FALSE FALSE so FALSITY FALSE!)

First off – lets just talk about how prevalent abortion is. One in every three American women will have an abortion by the time she is 45. If abortions are as dangerous as CPC’s tell women they are, I’m sure we would have heard about all these abortion infections, injuries, and deaths in the 40 years between today and Roe v. Wade. But guess what? The only people talking about how dangerous abortion is to women’s health are people who hate abortion. They could give two figs about the health of the mother as long as that baby gets born.

On the other hand, going through childbirth has been proven to be a relatively dangerous procedure for women. Thanks to the glory of modern medicine, only 8 women in 100,000 die from childbirth every year. If the CPCs are right, then roughly three times that amount would die from abortion, but guess what – they’re not right. In fact, they’re totally, completely, undeniably wrong. Only 0.6 women in 100,000 die from abortion annually. So in reality, abortions are way safer medical procedures in comparison to childbirth.

In conclusion: Don’t trust CPCs. Trust medical facilities that don’t force their religion on their clients. Trust doctors who really care about women’s health. Trust your instincts. Trust your body, but don’t trust CPCs.