The following is a letter I wrote to an acquaintance who asked me to contribute to a “Pregnancy Resource Center” in order to assist them to do their “important work.” As you can see, my investigation revealed that Pregnancy Resource Centers are unwilling to plainly admit their real agenda.
I was intrigued when you invited me to contribute to the “Walk4Life” to support the Missouri “Pregnancy Resource Center.” I took your invitation as an excuse to learn more about the PRC. The more I learned, however, the more I disagreed with its work. I decided to respond at length. Though this email might seem out of proportion to your short request, it is commensurate with my strong feelings on these topics.
I applaud the efforts of the PRC to offer free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds to women. Assisting women who really want to give birth to a baby is great. Making parenting assistance available to pregnant women is laudable. And I certainly agree that adoption is a genuine worthy alternative to abortion, for those who freely choose this option.
The web site of the Missouri PRC (like the sites of many of the numerous “Pregnancy Resource Centers”) says very little about what PRC actually does when a pregnant woman walks through the door. Clicking on the topic buttons of the PRC website brings up only blank email forms (see http://www.prcmo.net/ ). I thought it quite odd that the Missouri PRC wouldn’t clearly state its true mission on its website. This lack of candor suggested to me that the Missouri PRC is one of the numerous “pregnancy resource” establishments designed to resemble legitimate health care facilities that are actually operated by fervent anti-abortionists, not health care professionals.
To learn more, I called a St. Louis area Pregnancy Resource Center and spoke with a woman who advised me that the Center does not provide any information regarding the morning after pill, not even to victims of rape. She laughed and thought I was joking when I inquired. She made it clear that use of the morning after pill was the equivalent of an abortion.
I find this policy disturbing, given that rape is not a rare occurrence that can be ignored when offering “pregnancy resources.” More than 15 American women are raped every hour in the U.S.. Every year, an estimated 25,000 U.S. woman are impregnated by their rapists. Ninety percent of these rape pregnancies can be prevented with the prompt use of the morning after pill.
A few PRC websites admit that Bible-based religious indoctrination is the basis of the entire Pregnancy Resource Center program. I was disappointed to learn that the modern PRC family planning program is allegedly founded upon ancient, incomplete, cryptic self-contradictory writings. But where does the Bible specify that a woman must bear the children of her rapist? In what book of the Bible is it stated that a zygote is in charge of a woman even when it is not implanted in that woman’s uterus?
It is clear that the PRC policy is based on the assumption that zygotes are the moral equivalents of crawling cooing babies. Such a belief is neither factual nor warranted, however. What would you think, for instance, if someone who promised to sell you a dog handed you a five-day old microscopic dog zygote in a Petri dish? Would you really take it home, put it in a doghouse and tell all of your friends to come over and see your “dog?” Admittedly, the genetic material is that found in dogs and it’s alive, but it consists of totally undifferentiated stem cells (no brain cells or heart cells, for example). Wouldn’t you think it strange if people called you a “dog killer” if you subsequently decided not to try to implant your new dog zygote into a real dog’s uterus?
There’s simply not enough there to attribute legal or moral rights to un-implanted zygotes. If a woman doesn’t want a zygote to implant, she should have every right to take steps to prevent this. It’s her uterus. It is morally suspect for your PRC to invite emotionally fragile women (especially rape victims) into your PRC without telling them at the PRC doorstep and website: “We will do everything possible to make you give birth to a baby, even if you’ve been raped.”
Please tell me if I have somehow misunderstood Pregnancy Resource Center policy on this topic of morning after pills. I’d also be interested in knowing if any rape victims volunteer for your Center. I would assume they would be outraged by the your policy.
Nature (or if you prefer, “God”) designed us so that half of the fertilized human eggs never implant (that’s about 15,000 each day in the U.S.). Further, more than 1,500 miscarriages occur every day in the U.S. Despite this rampant loss of life, I suspect that you don’t go around calling your God a baby killer. I don’t think the rule should be any different for a woman than for God. There is an immense difference between a zygote that never implants and a SIDS death, for example. Despite their rhetoric, even the most earnest pro-lifers treat un-implanted zygotes differently than full term babies. They don’t hold funerals or buy tombstones for un-implanted zygotes (or for most miscarriages). Most of them refrain from calling woman who use the morning after pill “murderers.” This policy to enshrine un-implanted zygotes is therefore motivated by something other than concern for “babies.”
Based upon the few Pregnancy Resource Center websites that are forthright enough to publish their actual policies, I learned that PRC opposes all effective methods of birth control. PRC actively discourages the use of oral contraceptives, Norplant, Depo-Provera and IUD’s, because these methods might keep zygotes from implanting. Therefore (the argument goes), standard birth control methods are abortifacients. I consider this to be an irresponsible and extremist policy.
The PRC presents an extremely selective version of pregnancy resources. Only two PRC websites (out of the fifty I viewed) even mention diaphragms—those two sites go to great pains to warn readers that spermicide used with diaphragms does not prevent HIV. Without fail, PRC sites disparaged condoms. Nor is there (in any PRC website) any discussion of vasectomy or tubal ligation, even though these are highly effective methods of preventing pregnancy chosen by half a million American men and one million American women every year. This last failure can’t be a mere oversight by the “Pregnancy Resource Center.” Nor can un-implanted zygotes be blamed for this particular lapse.
Here’s what I figured out from my review those fifty Pregnancy Resouce Center sites: Pregnancy Resource Centers do not recommend any birth control method other than “Natural Family Planning (formerly known as “rhythm”). This offends me too. Given that a woman can be fertile for 30 years, the failure rate of “Natural Family Planning” (up to 20% per year) would typically result in five or six accidental pregnancies over the course of each marriage—that’s lots of repeat business for the Pregnancy Resource Center, of course.
For “singles” the Pregnancy Resource Center recommends only one thing: abstinence. But numerous studies of abstinence-only programs have failed to find any measurable impact. In fact, a recent Texas study found that teenagers became increasingly sexually active after taking such abstinence-only courses. Although I support abstinence as an important part of sex-ed, abstinence-only programs are typically loaded with false information.
The PRC promotion of abstinence in the context of permanent adult relationships would be comical if it weren’t true. (“Abstinence means refraining from any type of sexual activity. This is the best way to prevent pregnancy . . .”). “Best for whom,” I wondered. I imagined PRC management lying awake at night worrying that someone, somewhere, might be having a pleasurable moment without simultaneously committing herself to twenty years of parenting.
I assume that I already know the Pregnancy Resource Center position on the “Prevention First” legislation co-sponsored by pro-life senator Harry Reid. On Mar 20 2005—in a 53-to-47 vote, the US Senate rejected this proposal to increase access to contraception and cut down on the number of unwanted pregnancies (and therefore, abortions) by expanding access to contraception.
When Pregnancy Resource Center websites provide information, it is often misleading and unsubstantiated. They are even fraudulent. For example, PRC sites state, as undisputed fact, that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer, despite blunt statements by the American Cancer Society & National Cancer Institute denying any cause-and-effect relationship. Pregnancy Resource Center sites also state that having an abortion will cause a woman to become promiscuous and that it leads to smoking, drug abuse and eating disorders, despite no meaningful supporting evidence. Many PRC’s refuse to acknowledge any risks of childbirth and, instead, dwell (falsely) on the supposedly high risks of having a first trimester abortion. If these claims were justified, why aren’t we seeing headlines about all of those women killed and injured in during first-trimester abortions?
I’ve discussed abortion with more than a few women who have had abortions. None of them were flippant about their decision. None of them were pressured to get abortions by any representative of Planned Parenthood or any U.S. Supreme Court Justice. They all had their abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (88 percent of all legal abortions are performed within this period). None of them appear to be promiscuous. They haven’t become psychotic drug abusers. Most of them have children now and they don’t hate their children. Talking with them does not make me think of “a culture of death,” the phrase all too many “pro-life” web sites shout. Speaking of “culture of death,” anti-abortion states spend far less money per child on a range of services such as foster care, education and child welfare (See Schroedel, Jean Reith. (2000). Is the Fetus a Person? A Comparison of Policies across the Fifty States).
Perhaps my problem is mostly with the misleading name of the “Pregnancy Resource Center.” Because the agenda is strictly anti-abortion and opposes all effective birth control, the name of your organization should reflect this. Perhaps PRC should be called the “Anti-abortion Center” or better yet, the “Morally Judgmental Anti-Abortion Advocates Specializing in Periodic Abstinence.” I was happy to see that the Yellow Pages publisher sees the problem as I do. PRC’s are required to list under “Abortion Alternatives,” so that women who consider using your services will know exactly what they are getting into before they walk in.
Perhaps none of my concerns matter to you. I assume, for example, that you agree with the president that we should “always err on the side of life.” But that is a slippery slope. Why stop at “saving” un-implanted zygotes? Why not encourage people to have as many babies as possible by outlawing abstinence (for married couples only!)? Why not start new programs to quintuple the human population on this environmental disaster we call Earth? After all, if we don’t do this, we’re murdering living trillions of human eggs and sperm (each of them is undeniably alive, genetically human, and unique)—we’re keeping children from being born! I don’t actually assume that you take this position. I assume that your agenda doesn’t really obsess about quantity of life to the total exclusion of quality of life. I just want to make these all-important points: 1) Erring on the side of life doesn’t give meaningful guidance to PRC policies and 2) quality of life really is relevant.
In my experience, all single-issue rule-book versions of morality are destructive. There are always ramifications for simple-sounding social policies and responsible people strive to keep the consequences on the table when making decisions. Pushing parenthood on the unwilling, keeping people in ignorance about birth control and giving women guilt trips about using it (as PRC does) has horrible consequences.
Many of Missouri’s children have been tortured and wrecked by parents who really don’t want them. In 2003, 64,601 children were involved in Missouri’s child protection system. Of these, 9,712 children were confirmed to be abused or neglected. Family planning would have prevented many of these horror stories. I prosecuted some of these horrible cases when I worked at the juvenile court. I also have friends who have handled cases against these “parents,” and it’s revolting. More than 200 people call the Missouri child abuse hotline every day. http://www.mokids.org/facts.htm. Based on the polls, there appear to be sufficient pro-lifers out there to take, into their own homes, the more than 15,000 unwanted and un-cherished children currently in Missouri foster care. Unfortunately, the pro-lifers don’t seem to be lined up to open their homes for these children. It’s not wise to foist a dog on a family that doesn’t want a dog. It’s not even a good situation even for the dog. Why would it be any different for children? Why not give people the tools to enable them to truly plan if and when to have children?
Many of these children come from families that have been convinced (perhaps by Pregnancy Resource Center) that they should keep popping out babies. They err on the side of life. In the meantime, the numerous pro-lifers who elected Matt Blunt seem content with Blunt’s “pro-life” agenda. At this point, Blunt is best-known for slashing money to programs for adoption, foster care, juvenile corrections, First Steps, child abuse investigations, child care programs and Medicaid services for the parents of many children. At the same time that Missouri is slashing funds for those who adopt foster children, the Missouri Senate is proposing an unprecedented $25,000 tax credit per year for those who contribute to so-called “pregnancy resource centers.” The apparent government strategy is to cause the birth of thousands of unwanted babies, then to deny them stable environments. I find this to be shameful. This same proposed law (which Matt Blunt approves) makes it illegal for many professionals to even discuss abortion with many women who seek frank information (See Post-Dispatch article of April 22, 2005). This new law would even create anti-abortion license plates. If you don’t see any problem with a governmental entity taking a position in this issue, I’d be interested in whether you would be offended were the state of Missouri to create a new “Jesus Saves” license plate while they’re at it. Or maybe I’m just a First Amendment zealot.
It is obvious to me that the Pregnancy Resource Center disparagement of all real contraception is a religious pronouncement, not a medical judgment. I’m not referring to all religions—many mainstream religions are vigorously opposed to the PRC positions.
It disturbs me greatly to see this increasingly incestuous relationship between the government and conservative Christian groups. At least assure me that you are not an adherent of Christian Reconstructionism, which calls for the intentional subordination of American civil law to biblical law. I ask this because these Reconstructionists (including Missouri Representative Todd Akin in person and Tom Delay delivering a welcome by video hookup) gathered on April 7, 2005, to listen to one of their speakers call for the death penalty for homosexuals, abortion doctors and women guilty of “unchastity before marriage,” among other moral crimes.
Another religious entanglement is Missouri Senate Bill 160, which prohibits using unfertilized eggs for medical research. If this bill is passed, Washington University will cease being a leader in the biological sciences and the world will lose out on promising opportunities to save untold lives and relieve horrendous human suffering. More than 500,000 Missouri adults and children suffer from diseases and injuries that could be treated or cured with therapies developed from this SCNT research—this research could reduce Missouri’s health care costs by billions of dollars that could be reallocated to paying for the sorts social services that Matt Blunt claims he can’t afford. I mention this bill because the woman I spoke with (from the PRC) told me that your “Pregnancy Resource Center” opposes this lifesaving research.
I’d be interested in knowing how many of the “babies” that Pregnancy Resource Center “saves” end up being adopted by someone other than the biological parents. I’d like to know how many of them drift in the foster care system. I’d be interested in knowing how many of them end up being abused and neglected. Do you know any of these statistics?
Simplistic rules like “Err on the Side of Life” constitute morality on training wheels. In my opinion, such rule-driven morality is for children and others who can’t be trusted to think for themselves. I agree with Aristotle that true moral character has nothing to do with clinging to a rulebook. It is forged through and grounded by experience. Though none of us can know all of the long-term consequences of our actions, it is irresponsible to ignore consequences. “Err on the Side of Life” ignores all consequences—it is a form of moral myopia. It tells you to keep the thing in front of you alive, regardless of whether you are thereby stomping on others and regardless of the destruction it will bring in the long run. “Choose Life” flames the political aspirations of organizations like PRC to keep women ignorant about effective birth control and then to cause thousands of these women to die in cheap hotels and back alleys trying to get abortions.
But maybe it’s the “babies” you care about, not the women. I think it’s only fair to ask, then, whether you care about any of the consequences (for all of us, including today’s babies) of bringing millions of unwanted children into the world, and the effect that this would have on the rates of abuse, crime, sickness and death. I need to specifically ask you this because I know that you strive to please an invisible creator so that you can get to heaven. I worry that you might not be concerned about society’s current catastrophes. After all, Armageddon is near, you and yours will be rescued in the rapture, and no one will really have to clean up this mess.
I can assure you that I am deeply troubled by the needless suffering here on this planet. To me, the world (now approaching a crushing 6.5 B; see http://www.worldometers.info/) would be less dysfunctional if all of the children being born were planned and wanted.
I suppose that my positions make me a “baby killer” in your eyes. My version of “original sin” is based upon a wide view of the consequences of our actions where we’re all killers. We kill when we spend money on vacations, nice houses, lawn care companies or big TV’s instead of contributing that money to organizations that strive to feed the 300 children who die of hunger every minute. We kill when we fail to fight new laws that allow more mercury to be poured into our environment. We kill when we cut funds for lead testing programs by 35% or when we cut Medicaid coverage $45B over the next ten years (Bush’s proposals). Many pro-lifers were quite willing to kill thousands of innocent Iraqi children (“collateral damage”) to allegedly rid the world of all of those weapons of mass destruction. No one is “clean,” not even those who claim that they err on the side of life. I must confess, I am really irked by the “I’m holier than thou” attitude of those who force unwanted pregnancies on other women using the police power of the state—laws enforced with guns and prison cells—to accomplish this. I’m sure that “saving” a “baby” gives you immediate satisfaction, but it doesn’t assist with huge social problems that are only exacerbated by promulgating ignorance, misinformation and unwanted children.
Because they propagate so much false information regarding birth control, because they withhold so much medical information and because they present religious-based value judgments as medical facts, I can only conclude that PRC’s are in the business of causing unwanted pregnancies. In my opinion, this is a horrible thing, not a good thing.
When I was in high school I was totally against abortion. I wore the flat silver bracelet that identified me as such. I was somewhat of a hero among some of my peers at Catholic school. I was even invited to speak of the horrors of abortion at a church hall meeting at All Souls Church. Grown-ups applauded when I warned of the evils of all abortions, including “prostaglandins” (now marketed as RU486).
My “pro-life” position couldn’t withstand self-critical thought, however. I became suspicious of my own motives and the dark motives of others who bullied women. I became convinced that many of those who were pro-life wanted to punish women for expressing their sexuality without shame and for striving to be autonomous, just like men. I saw women with children looking especially resentful. I saw prolifers trying to out-prolife each other to impress one another instead of doing the much harder work of helping real life children. I saw many people who put all of their attention on fetuses to the total exclusion of a much bigger and more urgent picture.
I put my trust in the judgments of the women who struggle with unwanted pregnancies, at least through the 1st trimester, without any government interference. I write this having carefully and repeatedly examined photos and preserved specimens of zygotes, embryos, fetuses and in utero babies. In my opinion, women shouldn’t require permission slips from Matt Blunt or George W. Bush or anyone else. They should never be presented with ideology when they ask for biology or psychology. They shouldn’t be pressured to give birth to a full term baby to then hand it to a stranger for adoption, as if this wouldn’t cause massive emotional scars. They shouldn’t have to fear the government asserting eminent domain over their bodies. Instead, they should be encouraged to exercise their own judgments on the most personal of personal matters: if and when to have a child. To do this, they are entitled to accurate medical information when they are promised “pregnancy resources.”
To make the record clear, I’ve never gone around trying to convince pregnant women to have abortions. Nor am I in favor of unfettered third trimester abortions. These would be extremist positions. I consider the positions of the PRC to constitute the other extremist endpoint, however.
I cannot in good conscience make a contribution to Walk4Life. Your letter did remind me, however, that I should periodically contribute to some of the many worthy causes that benefit children. Therefore, your letter has provoked me to make a substantial donation to a very successful and inspired institution, Parents as Teachers.