Jackie, who withheld her last name, was alone and scared. “What was I supposed to do?” she says bitterly. “I mean, really?”
At the Utah Women’s Clinic, one of three abortion providers in Utah, she lay on the operating table awaiting an abortion, but started hyperventilating and tore the oxygen mask off.
The doctor asked if she wanted to stop the procedure, but Jackie felt she had no choice. She remembers hearing the suction machine being turned on to extract the fetus’ remains. The doctor left and Jackie, half-naked, fell off the table to the floor and curled up in tears. “At that very second, I wanted to take back what I had done.”
Rather than offering women the means to terminate a pregnancy, the nonprofit gives a free, self-administered pregnancy urine test—which Anderson acknowledges can be unreliable—counseling, an ultrasound to verify pregnancy, clothing and food for the baby up to one year after birth as well as post-abortion support. Jackie volunteered and one year later, credits the PRC, and particularly its Post Abortive Counseling Education (PACE), with saving her life.
For its pro-choice critics, though, the PRC’s location—next door to family-planning and birth-control clinic Planned Parenthood (PP) on a quiet, tree-lined stretch of 900 East between 600 and 700 South in downtown Salt Lake City—underscores its methods to pursue a pro-life agenda. PP’s executive director Karrie Galloway says there’s a national pattern of Pregnancy Resource Centers moving close to Planned Parenthood clinics. Such PRCs can take advantage of the “confusion factor” of young women who go to the wrong door or enter seeking help without recognizing the political agenda behind the help being offered.
The high-pressure pro-life tactics employed in other states—emotional lectures, aggressive picketing, even firebombing abortion clinics and killing abortion providers—are not evident in what Galloway calls “polite” Utah. But she expresses concern about misleading information in pro-life brochures disseminated by the Salt Lake City PRC and its use of ultrasound machinery purchased by the PRC in 2008 through a grant from Focus on the Family. Under President George W. Bush, Galloway says, “There were many moves to initiate parity funding for anti-choice reproductive health care, so they could make their case for women not to choose abortions,” one of which was to provide PRCs with ultrasounds.
The ultrasound has proven to be an effective tool. Anderson wrote in the PRC’s March 2010 newsletter that supporters “believed that if women were able to see their unborn babies they would begin to love them,” noting that 87 percent of PRC clients who had the ultrasound decided against abortion. While PP’s Galloway says such uses of an ultrasound amounts to emotional blackmail, others are more receptive to the PRC’s pitch. PRC nursing manager Joan Manning spoke at a January 2010 Utah Senate committee hearing in support of House Bill 200, which made it mandatory for ultrasounds to be offered to abortion-seeking women. Anderson wrote in her newsletter that Manning brought “light to the perils of abortion and the woman’s need to see her ultrasound.” The bill was passed later in the session.
Unlike Jackie’s traumatic experience, some other women view abortion as simply a five-minute procedure followed by a period of physical discomfort. Teresa, who works in retail, had her first abortion when she was 18. Two years later, one Tuesday afternoon in late July in the Utah Women’s Clinic, she has returned for her second. While some might think her selfish, she says, “they’re not the ones who have to raise [the baby].” She takes an analgesic for the coming pain—“It’s like cramps,” she says of the procedure—and indicates that the amount of fetal material from the seven-week pregnancy is little more than a pea. “It’s no big deal,” she says.
With Planned Parenthood’s Metro Clinic (downtown Salt Lake City) set to offer abortions in a few weeks and the PRC, according to board member Steve Earnshaw, wanting “a louder microphone,” the fight for the minds and souls of young women like Teresa might well begin to heat up. For now, though, the PRC’s mostly women volunteers, many with personal scars from long-regretted abortions, clearly recognize that their most effective tool in this grass-roots fight for the hearts and minds of often low-income, scared, single women is one that pro-choice supporters don’t mention: namely the PRC’s arsenal of hugs, smiles and attentive ears.
With God On Our Side
Anderson’s message is clear: The PRC is a compassionate organization that cares for both women and their fetuses. It is dedicated to providing women with alternatives to abortion, it helps heal the emotional wounds of post-abortive women through counseling and Bible study and it promotes a biblical view of sexuality, notably abstinence until marriage. While according to Utah Department of Health statistics, around 3,500 abortions are performed in Utah a year, the PRC claimed 35 babies were born by 2009 clients in the first quarter of 2010.
Anderson walks a tricky line between the dramatic language of faith she employs when communicating with Christian supporters across the Salt Lake Valley and the emotional needs of the 19- to 25-year-old women she is trying to reach. PRC supporters are urged to pray “for abortion-minded women to feel our compassion and keep their appointments” and thanked for giving their coins to a campaign “to help change the minds and hearts of women who thought abortion was their only solution.” For the young women the PRC is targeting, its language is religion-free. “Pregnant? Scared?” read a recent PRC billboard. “We are here for you.”
On Aug. 2, HBO premiered a documentary called 12th and Delaware, about a crisis-pregnancy center—the pro-choice movement’s preferred term for pregnancy-resource centers—which opened opposite an 8-year-old abortion clinic in a Florida town. When Galloway saw the film at the 2010 Sundance film festival with American Civil Liberties Union lawyers and local abortion providers, she found it “a very disturbing experience.” She says she experienced “such angst, realizing what women were being put through in the [Florida-based] PRC, browbeaten over their decision not to terminate the pregnancy.”
Watch an interview with the filmmakers of 12th and Delaware:
When Anderson watched the film, she said she did not agree with the Florida PRC director’s confrontational style. “Different people love differently,” she says. “That wouldn’t be the way I would do it.”
Contrary to the criticism of intimidation and coercion that pro-choice critics level at PRCs, she says her PRC does not browbeat clients. “I want it to be honest, truthful, caring, respectful of clients and their needs. We understand women have a choice to make. You can’t make choices for people.”
Welcome To The Neighborhood
The Pregnancy Resource Center, which opened in 1986 in a downtown church basement, has a staff of four paid employees and 40 volunteers, all funded by a $200,000 budget, financed in large part, according to Anderson, by individual donors.
Its nonprofit tax returns for 2007 show public support of $154,123, the PRC raising just under $100,000 that year from its annual banquet and a baby-bottle campaign, where sympathetic churches, ranging from Lutheran and Baptist to nondenominational Christian churches, had their members fill bottles with change. An additional financial source is a federal grant for teen abstinence training, which in 2009 was $45,000.
Galloway first learned about the PRC moving in when she got a call while on vacation. “Guess who we have as new neighbors?” a PP colleague asked her. On occasion, she says, groups opposed to birth-control pills come from next door and put out lawn chairs in front of PP, play music and erect posters—something Anderson vehemently denies. But Galloway isn’t opposed to the PRC. “For many women, abortion is not the answer to unintended pregnancy,” she says.
Where Galloway’s hackles rise is the use of what she calls “inaccurate information” to pursue a pro-life agenda, particularly with regard to “the safety net” of emergency contraception—the morning-after pill—that PRC literature characterizes as an “early abortion.” PRC’s Manning says if you believe that life begins when sperm meets egg, then an abortion is exactly what the emergency contraceptive provides.
Other contentious debates that have the two camps refusing to budge include the long-disputed possible link between abortion and breast cancer—which NARAL Pro-Choice America’s communication director Ted Miller says was debunked by credible scientific evidence long ago; the effectiveness of condoms; whether abortion can cause long-term psychological damage; and at what gestational age a fetus feels pain.
Galloway also chafes at the PRC not promoting “healthy, safe sex.” If the PRC promoted safe and healthy sexual relations and family planning rather than abstinence, she argues, then “that would cut down on the need for abortions.” Every dollar that is spent on family planning “saves $4 in social services and health care.”