I’ve wanted to see 12th & Delaware since I first started reading about it several months ago. So when the national tour to expose crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) stopped in Richmond, VA last Tuesday, I was excited to attend. I was looking forward to the documentary by Academy Award-nominated directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, to see what actually goes on behind the doors at a CPC.
It did not disappoint. I walked away feeling sad and angry at the way these centers willfully manipulate, and deceive women in need.
The documentary tells the story of an intersection in Fort Pierce, Florida. On one side of the street there is clinic that provides abortions, on the other a CPC. The directors of the film call these clinics the frontline of the abortion debate.
There are a number of heartbreaking and angering scenes in the film. The viewers see CPC director, Ann, talk about women as “abortion minded” as if they are pawns to be manipulated. At a training, we see her encourage staffers to leave women alone in counseling rooms so that they will read the false anti-abortion propaganda that the CPC sets out for them. In fact she says something to the effect of, “It’s okay to let them sit. If they’re sitting what are they going to do? They’re going to read. And what are they going to read? They’re going to read the information that we want them to read.”
We see her teach staff how to handle a phone call from a patient wanting to know if the CPC performs abortions. She tells her trainees to evade the question and get the patient talking. To “start a conversation,” by asking if the woman is calling for herself or a friend. To ask if the woman has taken a pregnancy test. To then schedule an appointment with the caller to further discuss the pregnancy. She says, “Hook them.” As if women are fish to be caught.
We see the abortion clinic shuttle physicians to and from undisclosed locations, literally cloaked under a sheet to preserve their anonymity, and their safety. We also see an anti-choice protester follow the shuttle and “stake-out” the provider’s car, left for the day in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The directors blur the physician’s license plate, but the harasser makes it clear he has it written down, and that he will do what he can to expose the provider’s identity.
At the abortion clinic we are shown a woman who was lied to by the CPC about the gestational age of her fetus. During her appointment at the clinic the woman is informed that she is closer to 20 weeks pregnant than the ten weeks the CPC told her. Ultrasounds early on in pregnancy are very accurate at determining fetal age, so either the ultrasound technician at the CPC is incompetent, or patients who might be “abortion minded” are intentionally given inaccurate information so that their time to decide simply expires, and they are forced to carry the pregnancy to term.
The final scene in the film was perhaps the most angering. A woman entering the abortion clinic covers her head with a sweatshirt to shield herself from the protesters. She is told by these protestors that they are speaking for her unborn child and that she knows in her heart that she does not want to do this. They begin to offer her support and money. One protestor tells her, “If you need money, I will go to the bank RIGHT NOW, and get whatever you need.” They successfully dissuade the woman from entering the clinic, and the film ends as we watch the woman walk into the CPC where she is encouraged to “pick a stuffed animal, any stuffed animal for your baby.” I’m wondering how a stuffed animal is going to help this woman raise her seventh child.
I believe that women should be supported in their reproductive decisions, FULL STOP. If a woman chooses to have 15 children, that’s her decision. Conversely, if she chooses to have 15 abortions, that is also her decision. I am in no position to assume I know what is better for any woman than a woman does for herself. It is from this position that CPCs anger me. They willfully and intentionally manipulate, harass and disregard decisions women have made for themselves. They believe themselves, as do most anti-choice advocates, to be more capable arbiters of women’s futures than women themselves. Women become nothing more than incidental participants in their anti-choice war, as they want nothing more than to save a fetus.
Per NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s data there are at least 52 CPCs in the state. There are about 20 facilities that provide abortion. This means that a woman seeking pregnancy options is more likely to find herself in a CPC than in a comprehensive healthcare facility. And most CPCs are not regulated by law and receive state money from the sale of “Choose Life” license plates.
Keep putting pressure on them, through support to NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and through letters to your elected representatives, so that in the future women who are seeking support for their reproductive decisions can be confident that they are getting the best information and resources out there, instead of worrying about being manipulated and lied to.