“These are fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion. They have a history of giving women wrong, biased information to scare them into not having abortions.” So says Planned Parenthood of pregnancy resource centers. They’ve devoted a whole page of their website to warning women about them. After the GOP’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood this week, the organization’s president, Cecile Richards, blamed the political uproar on “extremists” who “insist on shutting down the government in order to deny health care, including birth control, to millions of women.”
It seems to keep coming back to that — that pro-life advocates are the enemies of women’s health, and that pregnancy resource centers are not capable of filling the hole a defunded Planned Parenthood would inevitably leave in the lives of underprivileged women. Vague terms like “women’s health” and “fake clinics” are bandied around like a trump cards in this debate.
As believers, we have a charge to defend the oppressed and to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have. This standard of compassionate readiness to preach the gospel and defend the truth compels us to look critically at the facts in the midst of the violent back-and-forth going on at this time — about pregnancy resource centers, Planned Parenthood, and what it really means to be an advocate for women’s reproductive health.
Are pregnancy resource centers really fake clinics?
It’s true that some pregnancy resource centers would not qualify has health clinics, but these don’t pretend to be. And they are not without any women’s health benefits either — non-clinic centers often still offer pregnancy tests, prenatal vitamins, counseling, and parenting classes. But so long as they are not advertising that they are a clinic working under a doctor, they cannot in any way be called “fake clinics.”
But certainly some pregnancy resource centers are clinics or at least claim to be, right? Yes, as Students for Life explains, “These are licensed clinics working under the direction of an M.D. Medical services provided range from clinic to clinic, but often include ultrasounds, on-site prenatal exams, and/or STD testing.”
Pregnancy resource centers are easy targets for abortion advocates, because they do not have the security of a single umbrella brand-name, like Planned Parenthood. However, their individualized status is often what enables them to operate without charging their patients, and to best tailor their services to the needs of their community.
Is Planned Parenthood really the best advocate for women’s health?
The claim we keep hearing from Planned Parenthood and many of its supporters is that any attack on the organization is an attack on women’s reproductive health. While it is true that Planned Parenthood offers many more services than just abortion — such as STD testing, breast exams, and birth control — they offer a far from comprehensive approach to women’s reproductive health.
Planned Parenthood likes to associate itself with prenatal care, but in fact many of its clinics don’t offer it at all. By way of experiment, I called my local PP and asked about prenatal care. They do not provide it, but they offered to make me a referral. After two attempts at this referral process, all I got were more agencies (not providers) who said they could refer me to a doctor based on my insurance (or give me the phone number of my local Medicaid office if I didn’t have insurance — not super helpful). Suffice to say, PP gave me nothing but more government-funded middlemen to help me in my search for affordable prenatal care.
Then I called my local CareNet pregnancy resource center. This center does not provide full prenatal medical services, but they told me that if I came in they could give me a pregnancy test and, if positive, provide me with a proof of pregnancy letter, which in my state would qualify me to receive Medicaid. They said they could then put me in touch with a list of doctors in my area who take Medicaid. I later learned from CareNet’s website that they also offer financial counseling and prenatal and parenting classes. And all of their services are free.
Planned Parenthood’s claim to make referrals for prenatal care turned out to only be a referral for a referral — they couldn’t actually help me find a doctor. The CareNet pregnancy resource center offered to help me get insurance if I didn’t have it, and had a list of doctors on hand to cut out as many middlemen as possible. This lack of options on Planned Parenthood’s part points to the real crisis of women’s healthcare in America today.
What about the mothers?
Of everything that an organization aimed at women’s reproductive health ought to encompass, it seems intuitive that care for the actual women reproducing must be front and center. Planned Parenthood likes to tout that abortions make up only 3% of their services, pointing to contraception and STD testing as their main community outputs. Regardless of whether or not their breakdown of services is accurate, if we isolate the services provided specifically to mothers, we get a very different picture. Of the services PP offers pregnant women — abortion, adoption referral, and prenatal — abortions make up over 94%, according to the numbers found in their2013-2014 annual report.
If we momentarily table the moral objections to abortion and look at Planned Parenthood from a strictly women’s health perspective, we find a gaping hole in the services they offer. Even if abortion made up less than 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services — let’s pretend they performed 100 last year (rather than 300,000) — that does nothing to change the fact that Planned Parenthood, America’s darling and supposedly the number one advocate for women’s reproductive health, offers almost no aid to women who actually want to have children. Post-confirmed-pregnancy, Planned Parenthood’s options for women are almost exclusively abortion.
This means that Planned Parenthood’s service for women virtually ends when they become pregnant, unless they want to terminate the pregnancy. Pregnancy resource centers on the other hand, will partner with a mother to help meet her needs throughout the entirety of her pregnancy and often into postpartum. Beyond that, many pregnancy resource centers offer abortion education, helping women to understand the emotional and psychological consequences of their choices. Planned Parenthood does not.
The ideal women’s reproductive health clinic must be one that cares for women before, during, and after pregnancy. It must care for women’s mental health as well as physical, and be honest with mothers about all of their choices. Pregnancy resource centers are forging a new way forward for women’s reproductive health. In this time of national conversation, we need to stand up for them and speak out against the myths many mistakenly believe. If there are any “fake clinics” out there, we should suggest that they may be clinics like Planned Parenthood, that sell themselves as advocates of women’s reproductive health while neglecting the mothers among us.
Our aim should always be to enable women to live completely healthy lives — physically, mentally, and spiritually.