By Brianna Vitands/Murphy News Service
The University Life Care Center on Fourth Street in Dinkytown offers free pregnancy testing, STI screening and ultrasounds to women who schedule a visit. The information given to women there, however, comes at a hidden cost.
One brochure obtained from the clinic says to “choose any option but abortion.” Another says that 93 percent of women regret having their abortions, even though the study was conducted among women associated with pro-life organizations such as Victims of Choice and Last Harvest Ministries.
There is a noticeable presence of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) near the University of Minnesota campus. Both are the most accessible pregnancy resource centers for many women. That reflects a national increase in CPCs. In Minnesota, there are five abortion providers, in comparison with more than 90 CPCs.
“There certainly are crisis pregnancy centers that offer better information and will tell clients about abortion, or at the very least will tell them where to find more information,” U student Zoey Cobb said. Cobb is a double major, in political science and strategic communication, and president of the University Pro-choice Coalition.
“One of the big problems with crisis pregnancy centers is that so many of them have no regulations since they’re private facilities and they’re not medically licensed,” Cobb added.
The University Life Care website says it is committed to providing information about every option, but it will not perform abortions or offer referrals to receive one. It provides a number of medical services, including ultrasounds and therapy for ‘post-abortion’ trauma, which clinic information suggests all women will experience.
STUDIES: SMALL CHANCE OF MENTAL HEALTH RISK
Studies conducted by Johns Hopkins and the American Psychiatric Association found that, for most women, abortion did not pose a mental health risk, and though women experience a wide range of emotions after an abortion, relief was the most commonly reported. Other studies performed by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) indicated that women were just as likely to experience mental health problems after an unwanted pregnancy as after an abortion.
“I’ve gone to ‘secret shop’ the same CPCs on multiple occasions, and depending on who I got, I got different information.” Dan Buck, a grassroots organizer for NARAL Pro-choice Minnesota said. “I think there’s a sincerity in the majority of people I’ve talked to … but when you’re giving them information like this you’re not being fair to them and you’re not being unbiased.”
First Care Pregnancy Center’s website takes a similar stance to University Life Care.
“Abortion has been associated with infection, preterm birth in future pregnancies, and emotional, psychological, and spiritual impact. Our centers offer licensed and professional staff who can provide you with accurate information about all your pregnancy options; however, we do not offer or refer for abortion services.”
“Through studies that have been done, we make sure that all of our information is medically accurate and cited by credible sources and that’s one our requirements for being affiliated with TLC, by the way, any medical information provided has to be cited through an up to date, accredited medical source,” William Cossairt, executive director of Total Life Care (TLC) Options for Women said. TLC Options for Women provides medical and legal services to 33 CPCs in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and is affiliated with University and Highland Life care centers.
The bulk of recent scientific research suggests that abortion does not cause breast cancer, future fertility issues, medical complications, or permanent psychological trauma, contrary to what CPC brochures claim.
“The risk of death due to termination of a pregnancy before nine weeks is one in 500,000, while the risk of death for terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks is one in 8,000,” Rachel Cooper said. Cooper is a graduate student in the University of Minnesota Medical School with a master’s degree from Columbia University in bioethics,and is co-president of Medical Students for Choice.
“Compare this to the risk of death due to driving an automobile, which is one in 5,900 and using a Tampon, which is one in 350,000,” Cooper added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the risk of dying from a legally induced abortion is less than one in 100,000, while the risk of dying during childbirth is one in 10,000.
“A CPC’s ideal client is a woman facing an unintended pregnancy who is seeking information about all her options, but does not have access to a regular doctor or health center,” Jen Aulwes, Communications Director for Planned Parenthood, said. “CPCs often present themselves as comprehensive health-care providers.”
PURPOSE OF SONOGRAM USE VARIES
Many CPCs have begun using sonograms as a way to convince women to continue their pregnancies. Planned Parenthood requires a sonogram before abortions to confirm the term of the pregnancy and for safety reasons, but give women the option to opt out of seeing the screen.
“We want women to be able to see what their babies look like at early stages so they can decide for themselves whether it’s something they want to continue or not continue,” Cossairt said.
“These centers are not health care providers, although they do sometimes buy hospital equipment, like sonogram machines, to deceive women into believing that they are receiving professional health care,” Andrea Ledger said. Ledger is executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota.
One brochure provided by University Life Care states “sometimes, if you are getting an ultrasound in a place that also performs abortions, the sonographer many not want you to see the baby. If you insist, they may show you only quick, unrecognizable images.”
“I’ve actually been into the First Care pregnancy center,” Cobb said. “I just wanted to see the atmosphere, I guess. A lot of crisis pregnancy centers have a ‘clinic-esque’ feeling which can be a huge problem if they’re offering and disseminating inaccurate information. When you go into a space that looks like a clinic and you sit down and someone takes you to a back room, there’s that association of authority that we’ve kind of picked up as a society.”
TAXPAYER DOLLARS COME INTO PLAY
NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota conducted a study on CPCs in 2012 and found that more than 50 CPCs in the U.S. received more than $30 million between 2001 and 2005. In Minnesota, CPCs receive state funds through the Positive Alternatives Act, which grants CPCs $2.4 million annually.
“Taxpayer funding goes to these crisis centers, which do not provide healthcare to women.” an officer for Medical Students for Choice said. “Places like Planned Parenthood provide contraceptive services, mammograms, pap smears, cancer screenings and other preventative care to women who might not otherwise be able to afford healthcare. So there is a grave misallocation of funds in terms of public health, community health, and preventative care for women.”
The University Life Care center and Highland Life Care centers are among the facilities that receive grants. The bill specifically prohibits the organizations that receive grants from referring women to abortion providers.
“University Life Care Center doesn’t do prenatal care, but they do follow-up after care certainly, they have a lot of baby items they provide, a lot of major items too like car seats, and strollers, cribs, high chairs,” Cossairt said.
CPCs are a viable option for women who want to continue a pregnancy, since they offer a variety of child care items, parenting classes, and support groups. Still, the brochures provide alarming information that dismisses abortion as a third option.
“It’s certainly biased toward life,” Cossairt said, “I think everybody would be in favor of life over death.”
“NARAL’s whole point is: You need to make the best decision for you in your current situation,” Buck said. “It should be a non-coerced decision and all your options should be on the table. And I think that’s the one thing the anti-choice people can’t wrap their heads around, is that we offer all options. There are three options, we want you to choose the best one for you. There are not two options.”
The Medical Students for Choice and University Pro-Choice Coalition at the U are busy ensuring female students have accurate information regarding reproductive health care, since one in three women will have an abortion by age 45.
“I do feel that we are fairly lucky on this campus to have organizations like SHADE (Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education) and Boynton,” Cobb said. “They are pretty good about distributing condoms and offering STI testing, so I know our campus climate is a lot better than other college areas.”
Reporter Brianna Vitands is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota.