The other day, I had an interesting private twitter conversation with well-known abortion advocate and author Robin Marty.
Marty was promoting a local project that plans to call itself a “pregnancy center,” but that will refer for abortions. The idea is that it will treat abortion, adoption, and parenting as equally valid options and offer support for all three. I wondered aloud to Marty if this was a pro-choice acknowledgment that Planned Parenthood can no longer be feasibly marketed in such a fashion, given that its prenatal services have diminished rapidly over the last few years. We wound up on a different question: do women actually go to Planned Parenthood, or to pregnancy centers, in order to explore their options? Or do women generally make their decisions in advance, and go to Planned Parenthood if they want an abortion and to a pregnancy center if they’ve chosen life?
Marty’s position (edited slightly to reflect how she’d write if not limited to 140 characters):
A person goes into a pregnancy center when she’s already made the choice to carry to term. We’ve hit a point where there is so much information out there, most people think they know what they want before they walk through any door, in my opinion.
I wasn’t sure if I agreed or not, so I promised her I’d explore the topic in a blog post. Here you go, Robin.
According to Planned Parenthood’s annual reports, nine out of ten pregnant women who go to Planned Parenthood get an abortion. But this doesn’t tell us much, because it’s a chicken-or-the-egg problem. Has PP dropped its non-abortion services because people don’t want them anymore? Or do most pregnant PP clients have abortions because PP is increasingly abortion-focused in its offerings and counseling? Hard to say.
We’ve all heard stories about women who change their minds on the sidewalk at the last minute. Heck, Chicago-area pro-lifers even developed a protocol for women who change their minds mid-abortion. But these are just anecdotes; we don’t know how common it is, and I haven’t made any attempt here to separate Planned Parenthoods from places that are obviously abortion businesses and make no pretense otherwise.
Conversely, though, I’m fairly confident that many women going to pregnancy resource centers have not made up their minds. (If they had, the abortion industry and its allies wouldn’t be so obsessed with “warning” people that pro-life pregnancy centers and clinics don’t do abortions.) Most pregnancy resource centers offer free pregnancy tests, a service for which PP and other abortion centers charge; no doubt people do use those free tests, or else the PRCs would stop offering them.1 (After all, PRCs are on a much tighter budget than Planned Parenthood.) Along the same lines, the increasing use of ultrasound technology at PRCs is driven in large part by their ability to change minds on abortion.2 Sonogram machines are expensive, so again, I doubt PRCs would make that investment if they didn’t think women were coming in who might be impacted by it. If the choices were being made ahead of time, we would expect PRCs to focus exclusively on offering maternity and baby supplies, parenting classes, etc.
That said, there is something to Marty’s point about there being a lot of information out there, and particularly on the internet. Look at Online for Life, which reaches abortion-minded women through internet marketing, connects them with local pro-life resources, and is able to follow their journeys through pregnancy and birth. And Secular Pro-Life’s own AbortionSafety.com project aims to inform women about malpractice lawsuits and health code violations long before they make an appointment at a shoddy abortion facility.
So yes, the trend is real, even if we haven’t yet reached the point where all or most women choose life or abortion before seeking a provider. And this trend isn’t surprising to me, either. I think that it’s impossible for a counselor to be truly objective about a woman’s options, because you just can’t avoid the moral issues surrounding abortion. People with no opinion on abortion are unlikely to care enough to become pregnancy options counselors anyway (and even if they did, how long would they remain ambivalent?).3 Women in crisis pregnancies who are truly undecided about what to do probably realize this, and may respond by “self-counseling,” i.e. consulting their friends and/or the internet. It seems that we pro-lifers and our loyal opposition are in a race to be the first voice she hears.
1. According to a joint report by several national PRC umbrella groups, American PRCs provided 730,000 pregnancy tests in 2010.
2. According to that same report, American PRCs performed 230,000 ultrasounds in 2010. I should note that sonograms are not solely used when an abortion-minded woman comes to a PRC; they are also used as a backup to pregnancy tests where there is some doubt as to whether or not the client is pregnant, and to detect ectopic pregnancies. And of course, they are used routinely at those centers that offer full-service prenatal care on site. Most PRCs, though, don’t have the budget for on-site prenatal care and instead have referral arrangements with supportive community physicians.
3. The purportedly neutral project Marty was promoting is staunchly pro-choice. Its fundraising page states: “It is time to demonstrate that anti-abortion organizations do not have a monopoly on supporting parents and people who are continuing their pregnancies.” I found that a fascinating departure from the usual slander that those meanie anti-choicers never actually do anything to support born people.