Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Flashback 1987: Abortion counseling can differ

Barbara Kruger (Art Institute of Chicago)
Last week, the New York Times ran a story on its front page about Christian zealots who disguise themselves as abortion counseling services to lure in unsuspecting women who fear they might be pregnant so they can harangue them about keeping their babies.
     This loathsome practice particularly resonated with me because I wrote about the exact situation more than 35 years ago. We've been fighting this battle so long ... 
      The odd thing about this story is, I was less than a month on the job, still worked for the features section, on the staff of the Adviser, the weekly insert giving readers tips on cleaning their garages and keeping Japanese beetles off their lawns.
     What I remember most, besides the shamefully anodyne headline my timid editor gave it, is that Scott Powers, then the features editor, hauled me in his office afterward and dressed me down — I had done some reporting by visiting the sham centers, accompanied by a staffer from the organization posing as my girlfriend. This is exactly the sort of thing that caused us to lose the Pulitzer over the Mirage Tavern, he said. Of course, doing the story is what made us even considered. I was unmoved and felt, then and now, it was not bad initiative for a 26-year-old a few weeks after being hired.  A short time later I moved to cityside.

     Late last July, Cathy Berndtson thought she was pregnant. She went to the Women's Center on Lawrence Avenue for a free pregnancy test.
     "I wanted to be pregnant," she said. "I wanted this free test because I was too impatient to wait two weeks for my next hospital appointment to find out."
     Berndtson gave a urine sample, and was told it would take a half hour for the results to be ready. While she waited, she was asked to see a film.
     "They didn't say what kind of film it was," she said. The film turned out to be about abortion, with graphic photos of bloody fetuses in white plastic pails. It stressed the physical danger and moral criminality of abortion, how it can lead to sterility and suicide.
     "I was appalled — it was pretty disgusting," Berndtson said. "I watched out of curiosity. They didn't have any facilities for children, so my daughter, who was 2 1/2 at the time, was with me. I tried to keep her from watching it."
     Berndtson had stumbled into one of eight bogus abortion counseling centers in the city, according to Women Organized for Reproductive Choice, a women's group that monitors abortion centers.
     The clinics are listed in the Yellow Pages alongside regular abortion counseling centers, but their purpose is to promote the pro-life philosophies of the Christian groups that run them, using the lure of free pregnancy tests to draw women in.their anti-abortion stance ("Someday your child will thank you for giving him (or her) the gift of life," a Birthright ad reads).
     "We don't oppose groups that are upfront about it," she said. "What we are opposed to are groups that advertise themselves as abortion counselors — that implies they will give you information about the full range of services, not coerce the woman into continuing her pregnancy."
     The eight centers — the Women's Centers at 5116 N. Cicero and 2334 W. Lawrence; Aid for Women centers at 8 S. Michigan and 730 Waukegan, Deerfield; Crisis Pregnancy Center, 6416 N. Western; Uptown Crisis Pregnancy, 939 W. Wilson; Loop Crisis Pregnancy Center, 185 N. Wabash; Southside Crisis Pregnancy Center, 7905 S. Cicero, and Crisis Pregnancy Services of DuPage County, 890 E. Roosevelt, Lombard — were all visited by WORC investigators.
     The WORC investigation found that all eight centers misrepresent the time it takes for the test, which can be purchased in any drugstore and costs $6 at Planned Parenthood. Results are usually provided in two to three minutes, but the clinics all claimed the test took up to an hour, to provide an excuse for showing women a film or slide show.
     All the clinics are listed in the phone book under "Birth Control Information" although none of them gives information about birth control. One center offered a WORC investigator the loan of baby clothes and a crib, while the Crisis Prevention Center in Berwyn presented a tiny baby jacket as a parting gift.
     When a couple asked about forms of contraception, a counselor at the Women's Center on Cicero displayed a chart that showed the medical risks of all forms of contraception, including condoms, as well as their cost projected over a 30-year period. She then asked them to think seriously about chastity.
     "It's basically emotional abuse," said Catherine Christeller of WORC. "They want women to feel pain, they want women to be upset. A very young woman who doesn't have a lot of information on abortion is upset enough about being pregnant. This could be very disturbing. Even if she isn't pregnant, none of these places provide birth control counseling, including prevention of AIDS, because these people feel the woman should not be having sex, period."
     Besides emotional stress, Christeller said, the clinics act to delay a decision that women already tend to put off, making the abortion process more dangerous and expensive.
     The ads for such clinics usually emphasize free pregnancy testing. Although phrases such as "low-cost plans" or "excellent safety record" might be included to throw people off, WORC said, the ads will not list specific medical practices, such as "gynecological services," or "tubal ligations."
     Both WORC and Planned Parenthood suggested the following strategy: When making an appointment on the phone, ask directly if the clinic provides contraceptives, or if it will refer you to an abortion clinic. If the answer is evasive — "We provide contraception information," or "We will give you information about abortion services" — then be wary. Finally, ask how long the test will take. If the answer is anything longer than five minutes, you should suspect it's a bogus clinic.
     "I felt I was led there under false pretenses," said Berndtson, who is about to have her second child. "I just wanted the free test — I could have been a teenager, already traumatized thinking I was pregnant, only to have someone show me this terrible film. I would have rather waited the two weeks and paid for it."
               —Originally published in the Sun-Times April 19, 1987


  1. TThe tell was the "Crisis Pregnancy" euphemism. That was a dead giveaway that the clinic was bogus. Don't ask me how I knew that in 1987, although it's not all that difficult to figure out.

    For the past forty years, I have been, euphemistically speaking, "a miltant and aggressive ally in the struggle for bodily autonomy." You can probably figure out the reasons for that, too. The use of the plural is, in this instance, entirely correct.

  2. Those who run the “counseling” centers are no different than those who push the stop the steal malarkey.
    They don’t care what tactics they take as long as it forwards their agenda.
    Ironically, most of these trauma inducing liars consider themselves good Christians.

  3. "...the medical risks of all forms of contraception, including condoms, as well as their cost projected over a 30-year period."

    I'm sure that this information was objectively presented alongside details about the medical risks involved in continuing with a pregnancy and the trifling cost of raising multiple children over the course of 30 years. Costs that the members of such groups will vote to assure that the government does nothing to assist with.

    Though distinctly unpopular and woefully unrealistic, chastity does have the clear benefit of being the cheapest option -- I gotta give them that!


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