What You Should Know about Crisis Pregnancy Centers
Originally Published: August 6, 2010
Revised: July 29, 2016
Imagine that you and your significant other choose to have sex one night. All goes according to plan until you both realize that the condom broke during intercourse. It was your only form of birth control and protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). What do you do?
That is the situation I am pretending to be in as I walk through the front door of First Choice, a crisis pregnancy center in Montclair, New Jersey. Crisis Pregnancy Centers provide pregnancy testing, counseling and ultrasounds, but according to a congressional investigative report, they also misinform young women about the risks of abortion. Unlike family planning clinics, crisis pregnancy centers do not provide medical services. These centers have been criticized for offering medically inaccurate information in order to convince women not to have abortions. There are an estimated 2,500 to 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the United States, and I visited one to see how true this criticism was.
When I timidly step inside the brightly lit center, a receptionist greets me with a smile as I try to explain my situation.
“The condom broke…and…freaking out…could get pregnant,” I mumble, flushing red.
She gives me some forms to fill out and sign as she goes to get the “medical professional.” (The receptionist called her a “medical professional,” but when this “professional” later gives me her card, I notice that she has no credentials that say she’s a doctor, registered nurse or nurse practitioner.) When this “professional” comes into the waiting area, she asks me to explain what happened—not privately, but right there in the waiting room. Although there was no one else in the waiting area besides the receptionist, I felt uncomfortable divulging details of my private life in this very public area.
“So, last night, my boyfriend and I had sex and the condom broke,” I explain in a hushed tone. “I’m afraid I might get pregnant.”
With a sad smile, she tells me that I have two options: to wait ten days and come back for a pregnancy test or to get emergency contraception (EC). “I would just wait it out,” she suggests.
While I don’t usually mind waiting things out, such as headaches, I was not OK with waiting to see if I was pregnant, especially if there was something I could do about it. So I ask if they carry EC or the “morning-after pill.”
She tells me that EC is basically a high dosage of birth control pills that may disrupt my body and my menstrual cycle drastically. On top of that, she explains that EC doesn’t always work. Since the center believes that the risks far outweigh the benefits, they don’t carry EC or give referrals.
Throughout this entire discussion, which was filled with a lot of inaccurate information, she kept stressing that my best option was to just wait ten days and return to the First Choice center to get a pregnancy test.
Sitting there, I couldn’t be more shocked. Yes, EC doesn’t always work, but for most brands, the sooner you take it, the more likely it is to prevent a pregnancy (one brand, ella, remains fully effective when taken within 5 days). EC can be taken up to 120 hours after intercourse and prevents pregnancy 75 to 89 percent of the time. With odds like this, how can any “professional” advise against taking EC as soon as you’ve had unprotected sex? She mentioned risks from taking EC, but according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), there are no serious side effects and it would have no effect if a girl were already pregnant. Yes, sometimes people who take EC experience some nausea, but I’d take a little nausea over getting pregnant any day.
I ask if she could tell me more about my options if I were to get pregnant. She disappears into the back to grab some pamphlets.
When she returns with the pamphlets, she says, “The pregnancy could end on its own. If you were pregnant, we would want to do an ultrasound to see if you’re having a miscarriage.”
Although pregnancies can end in miscarriage, she doesn’t tell me that the majority of them do not and that the rate of miscarriage goes up with age. So, the possibility of a healthy teenager having a miscarriage is low.
Throughout this entire discussion, which was filled with a lot of inaccurate information, she kept stressing that my best option was to just wait ten days and return to the First Choice center to get a pregnancy test. She gave me her card in case I needed someone to talk to and sent me on my way with a handful of brochures.
After thumbing through the pamphlets and visiting the First Choice Web site after I got home, I saw much of the information for what it was: lies and scare tactics.
The “abortion education resource booklet” she gave me detailed how women have died from sepsis, or full body infection, after use of the abortion pill. But this is an extremely rare occurrence with a rate of 1 in 100,000. The pamphlet also shows pictures of the fetus throughout its development in an obvious attempt to convince me that abortion was not the way to go. The risk of abortion complications is rare, but there was no information about that in the pamphlet or information about the pros and cons of medical versus surgical abortion.
The Web site, too, contains plenty of inaccuracies. Among them is the ludicrous claim that “it’s possible to get pregnant if the man’s penis is close to the vagina, but doesn’t penetrate it.” If a man ejaculates on the opening to his partner’s vagina, there is a chance of pregnancy, because there is sperm in semen, which can cause a pregnancy. However, a man’s penis being near a vagina doesn’t cause pregnancy.
Even though I was acting and although I knew the facts, I was still shaken up by my experience at the crisis pregnancy center. I was not given any privacy, was told information that was not totally accurate by a person who as far as I could tell wasn’t a health care professional and made to feel as if my only option were to wait and hope for the best.
No one should experience that, especially not a teenage girl who is scared and in need of accurate and honest information about pregnancy, birth control, EC, abortion and safer sex. By giving out misinformation, First Choice and other crisis pregnancy centers are only pushing girls into a corner and scaring them into following a path that may not be right for them.
Only honest and accurate sexual health information can help girls make the right choice for themselves when it comes to sex and pregnancy.
Photo from the HBO documentary 12th & Delaware
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