The slightly faded white and blue sign outside the CareNet Pregnancy Center’s offices on Colchester Ave. in Burlington, VT is the best publicity they have. So I’m told by the woman who takes my piss and drips it onto one of those hormonal pregnancy strips. The kind you buy in the drugstore. “It’s negative,” she says, and shows it to me.
I mime surprise. I’m actually pretty certain I’m not pregnant. But I’m here to see what it’s like in a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC), a Christian center that advertises free pregnancy tests and “options counseling” for women with unwanted pregnancies. Their website makes it clear that their affiliation is religious, but the office itself doesn’t. It looks like a small, casual medical office at first glance. But the woman who takes me back to the office with the ultrasound machine and the table full of rubber gloves, trays, and plastic cups is the only medical professional in the office. When she’s not there, women have to administer their own pregnancy exams, and the office can’t do ultrasounds. Those are the only two medical services the Center provides. I told her that I missed my pill for a few days last month and I’m worried. It may be too early to tell, but I still want a test. To accomplish this, she sends me into the bathroom to pee on a cup. She then takes the piss and drips it onto one of those disposable pregnancy test sticks you buy in drugstores.
Throughout our exchange, she’s asked me many very personal questions. Questions about my medical history, including about any previous pregnancies, which I expected. But I was surprised when, upon hearing that I’d had a miscarriage at age 23, she asks whether I looked at the “flow.” She wants to know whether I’d seen anything in it, because at 12 weeks the fetus has all the parts an adult human being has, and it’s “just wiggling and dancing around in there.” She shows me one of these dolls from the “Touch of Life” doll set to illustrate her point about how complete a 12-week-old fetus is. It’s kind of curious, when you think about it. Misinforming women into thinking that the work of making a new human being is mostly done by only 12 weeks into the process doesn’t make much sense. If it’s that complete, why does the pregnancy continue for the rest of the 28 weeks? If women could give birth at 12 weeks, it’d save us a lot of trouble, not to mention epesiotomies. It’s actually not true, unless you don’t count a skeleton as an essential part of a human being. But 12 weeks is the first week when the fetus is actually called a fetus and has a human-looking profile. What’s the point of getting women to believe that a fetus is mostly developed by 12 weeks, when that isn’t the case? What the point of lying about this insignificant piece of medical trivia? It works on two levels: first, it promotes the myth of pregnancy as a happy, flower-scented time full of puppies, rainbows, and soft-focus picnics in the park with your adoring husband. It helps, if you’re trying to convince someone to remain pregnant, to gloss over the health risks and unpleasantness of pregnancy. But, second and more importantly, it also means that a woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy because she just doesn’t want to be pregnant is being irrationally selfish. And that’s a great way to make a woman feel ashamed of choosing to terminate.
That is, I think, the core of CareNet’s strategy. From slight misinformation to outright lies, they subtly tilt the information in a certain direction so as to make you feel worried and anxious about making the “wrong” choice according to them, and warm, fuzzy, and even noble about making the “right” choice. Natural, I suppose, if that’s your mission, talking people into doing what you think they should, but still a bit jarring for me. I’ve been going to Planned Parenthood on and off, since I was a teenager (more than a decade ago now), and I’ve never experienced any sort of opinion pushing at all. Excepting, I suppose the push for contraception whenever I was sexually active. In any case, CareNet’s approach is very emotionally manipulative. My nurse kept emphasizing how anxious I looked, how I looked like I hadn’t slept the night before (I got plenty of sleep that night). When asking about my family, she asked if I didn’t think my parents would love being grandparents. When I said that my sister had recently had a baby (also true), she asked whether my parents had been happy about this. Well, of course. I’m not a teenager after all. But, you know, this is about my life, not my parents’ or anyone else’s. That’s the basic fact that CPCs are straining to obscure.
The other really jarring part was when she asked me so many questions about my religious beliefs. I lied and told her that I believed that there’s “something bigger than us” out there. I’m actually an atheist, but I didn’t want to get into that with her right then. She asked me whether I thought there was a purpose to life and whether that affected my opinions about abortion. I said I hadn’t really thought about it. She asked me about my relationship with the baby’s father, many probing personal questions, like whether I thought he would help raise the baby and how long we’d been together. She also didn’t stop shy of discouraging abortion. She also told me that she gets women in “all the time” who were using both the pill and condoms, and got pregnant anyways. I should think about whether it’s all worth it, she told me, this heartache and worry about being pregnant, and birth control is so unreliable anyway…
“Are you asking me if I think it’s worth it to have sex, even knowing that I might have pregnancy scares?” I asked.
“Well, uh, yes,” she said.
I thought about it for about five seconds. “It’s definitely worth it,” I said. “Sex is awesome.”
“Oh! Well, I guess you answered that question,” she said. I like to think she was a bit flustered to hear a woman so firm in her endorsement of sex. But who knows.
Then I asked her about getting an IUD, and she told me that she couldn’t actually prescribe one for me, even though she is a nurse. It was only then that she revealed that this was not actually a medical center. But she referred me to the Community Health Center, which, as a patient, I can personally endorse. They are lovely hard-working people there and it makes sense to send someone without insurance (like myself) to their currently-under-construction doors. I left on that note, and came into the lobby to discover that my friend had gathered up all the brochures they have in their office and was perusing them on the chair. We left with polite farewells and assurances that if I had any more questions, I wouldn’t hesitate to stop by.
- Brochures from CareNet Pregnancy Center
- Note that the second from the right, on the bottom, reads, “Post-Abortion Stress in Men.” Apparently abortion is responsible for anything in men, from feeling distant from their “mates” and children to “uncontrollable rage.” Hear that ladies? If your man abuses you after you get an abortion, clearly it’s your own fault for getting an abortion. Next time, just have the baby! I’m sure he won’t be abusive then.
- In a little while, we’ll have a new post up that documents, in a more academic fashion, the misinformation spread by Crisis Pregnancy Centers like CareNet. This report represents my experience in the CareNet Center, and alone, it would not constitute much of an indictment of CPCs. However, in my next post, I will detail exactly what practices are representative of CPC tactics, and why they represent a failure to trust women and treat them as adult human beings. An adult is a person who can be trusted to make their own decisions, when given all the information. Clearly CareNet does not regard women as adult human beings.