Provide Real Choices
by Maureen Kramlich
October 26, 2001
The Abortion Access Project (AAP) is an effort of NARAL and Planned Parenthood affiliates in twenty-one states "dedicated to making abortion and reproductive health care accessible to all women." It does this, oddly enough, by attacking hospitals that provide life-affirming health care but do not provide abortion and so-called "emergency contraception." The projects engage in pickets and media and letter-writing campaigns to put political pressure on the hospitals to provide abortion. They also oppose any right of conscience, allowing hospitals, physicians and nurses to decline to participate in abortion. Their latest targets are crisis pregnancy centers, social service agencies that offer alternatives to abortion.
Crisis pregnancy centers do not restrict access to abortion. They do provide free pregnancy tests, unbiased options counseling, referrals to ob/gyns and material support in the form of baby clothes, furniture, formula, diapers and maternity clothes. But one AAP organization calls such centers "the hidden threat to women's health" and claims they engage in "no options counseling," propagate the "myth of post-abortion syndrome" and are "scaring teens abstinent." (California Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL), "Crisis Pregnancy Centers in California: The Hidden Threat to Women's Health" executive summary, October 2001). As someone who has served both as a volunteer, and later a staff counselor for a crisis pregnancy center, I have a different view.
Counseling. I was trained for six weeks by an extremely talented social worker in a "reflective counseling method," known as, "therapeutic counseling." It involves listening to women and "reflecting" their concerns and fears about a potential pregnancy. Women who said they were inclined to choose abortion were invited to consider alternatives to abortion and its potential risks, and view photographs of fetal development. We offered unconditional substantial material support to help in continuing the pregnancy. We gave information about how abortion procedures are performed, not unlike the information provided on Planned Parenthood's own website. We respected the right of a woman to decline to explore alternatives or view fetal development photos. And it was always clear that we never referred for or provided abortion. The objectivity of the counseling method is evidenced by the sad but true reality that a number of the women who came to the center did choose abortion. But we did feel we helped change that reality for many women simply be showing them there was another option.
Post-abortion support. The center where I worked offered post-abortion support in both group and individual settings by licensed social workers. I didn't participate in this counseling but I did have a discussion with one post-abortion client who came in for a pregnancy test. When I asked her how she felt about the abortion, she said, "like I murdered my baby." Before the abortion she had even told a nurse at the clinic that she believed it was murder. The nurse turned to her and asked, "Why are you here then?", to which my client replied, "You don't understand my situation."
The difference between us and the abortion clinic, captured so well by this client, was that we addressed these "situations" and the abortion clinic did not. For example, when a woman who was the victim of domestic violence came to our center we helped her escape the violence and continue the pregnancy. Had she gone to the abortion clinic, she would have ended the pregnancy and likely would have returned to the abuser. The abortion clinic didn't deal with the underlying reasons for abortion. They simply provided their "service" for a fee and sent women home.
Abstinence Counseling. Most of the women who come to crisis pregnancy centers find that they are not pregnant. They are then invited to consider abstinence as an alternative life-style. They are not "scared into abstinence." I recall counseling one young woman who had come to our center numerous times, testing negative. Knowing that she had probably received all our abstinence literature, I said that instead I would give her something special, a rose lapel pin that with a note saying, "You were created like a beautiful rose. A sexual encounter before marriage takes away from that splendor." When she read it, she immediately began to cry and said, "No one has ever told me this, no one has ever told me that I am like a beautiful rose, all of this abstinence counseling and this is all that I had to hear."
If crisis pregnancy centers affect "access" to abortion, it is only because they offer real counseling and real choices. The abortion clinics hate that, because they have only one thing to offer and it's the worst choice of all.
Maureen Kramlich is a public policy analyst with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.