Last week, Time ran an article about crisis pregnancy centers called The Grassroots Abortion War (single-page version). I went in expecting the usual hit piece about “fake abortion clinics terrorizing women”, and was surprised to find a reasonably nuanced presentation of the strengths and weaknesses of CPCs.
Of course, the usual imbalances exist. The web version of the article is 9 pages long, and not until page 7 does author Nancy Gibbs offhandedly note that, “Abortion providers, of course, have been accused of coercion as well”. The rest of the paragraph is devoted to an abortion provider identified only as “Lorrie” vouching for her own medical ethics and care for women. Nothing more is mentioned on the topic. Never does Gibbs question whether abortion providers give women accurate (or any) information on fetal development, or whether Lorrie’s ethics are typical in the industry. “They do it too!” is never an excuse, but surely crisis pregnancy centers should not be the only ones held accountable for giving accurate information to women. The overall effect is of a writer steeped in pro-choice culture examining “the other side”. (JivinJehoshaphat has more on this.) I have to hand it to her, though; it’s a pretty fair examination.
When I was in college and first getting acquainted with the pro-life movement, I was always proud to be able to point to the number of centers to which pro-lifers donated their money and time to help pregnant women. And in a lot of ways, I’m still proud. By far, most people who work at CPCs are there because not only do they want to save the lives of unborn children, but they also have compassion for the women who may choose abortion and want to alleviate the difficulties that lead them toward that choice. There are thousands of centers in the U.S. and tens of thousands of loving, compassionate people working in them. This outpouring of caring and support is especially beautiful and necessary in the midst of the often-vicious struggle over abortion.
Later, though, as I read more from both CPC detractors and supporters, I found that my initial enthusiasm could no longer be completely unqualified. The Time article pinpoints several of the reasons for my ambivalence.
They are staffed largely by volunteers. This is great in one sense — these are people who care enough to give their own time to help others. However, since the staffers aren’t professionals, it is extremely important that they be adequately trained to counsel women about the complex matters of fetal development, childbirth, and abortion. If that doesn’t happen, they can end up giving information of questionable accuracy, which helps nobody.
Most CPCs, including the large networks discussed in the article,* consider themselves Christian ministries. Obviously, this is a topic on which I have an outsider’s viewpoint. From that viewpoint, I don’t have a problem with (and in fact, quite admire) the kind of ministry that takes the “show we are Christians by our love” approach — helping the needy as they feel called by God to do, and letting that work make the case for the truth and power of their beliefs. But I don’t think it’s right that a person in need, who may not be Christian or have any desire to be, should have to be proselytized to in order to get help. Furthermore, some people can be tempted to employ less-than-ethical tactics in the service of a higher calling. Pastor Jeff Hutchinson admits that this is a problem he has wrestled with:
“I never would have said that the ends justify the means,” he says. “But I know that was in my heart–if lying helps save a baby’s life, that glorifies God.” He has read some pregnancy-center brochures that he suspects are maybe shading the truth in the name of a larger good. “This whole process has reminded me that Jesus is not a Machiavellian,” he says. “It really helps me trust the sovereignty of God. He’s in control of who lives and dies. My effort is to serve folks, and the means I use matter. I have to glorify Jesus. The results are in God’s hands.”
Hutchinson has changed his way of thinking and realized that he must be honest with the women he serves, and he says he now thinks about them more as individuals. It must have been hard to re-evaluate his approach to his mission, and I respect him for that. But I wonder how many others have yet to come to the realizations he has.
Finally, due to their religious foundations, most centers offer unmarried women no options for preventing pregnancy and STDs other than giving up sex. I realize that they sincerely believe this is the best advice they can give their clients, but I believe just as sincerely that this approach is both ineffective and unnecessarily limiting, and can’t support it.
Rather than tell conservative religious CPCs that they have to change their mission, I think this is another area in which the more moderate to liberal among us need to get better organized and offer alternatives that reflect our values and ideas. I’ve wished for years that there were a pro-life alternative to Planned Parenthood, where women could go for sexual health care and contraception as well as prenatal care and other forms of support for giving life to their children. I have some ideas for a later post on how we might make a start.
* I do wonder where Birthright was in all of this. From everything I have heard, they are non-proselytizing and are by far the group of CPCs most likely to allow GLBT, non-Christian, and other “non-traditional” volunteers.