By Sophie Smith
There is a picketer outside Salem’s Planned Parenthood. Bundled in winter clothes on a blustery day, in one hand he grasps a tattered umbrella and in the other, a sign demanding passersby pray for aborted fetuses. Against my better judgement, I approach the man.
The protester, who is associated with several local pro-life groups, tells me about St. Germaine’s, a Catholic women’s health center next door, and its mobile clinic (sonograms on wheels!), and then he hands me a “Blessings Bag” filled with brochures and Snickers bars. I say goodbye with a smile on my face. It isn’t until I round the corner and open the bag that I realize I just validated the crusade of an extremist.
The brochures in the bag are filled with misconceptions about abortions – they say abortions are riskier than childbirth, and that every abortion a woman has increases her likelihood of getting breast cancer. This unapologetic negligence of scientific fact makes my skin crawl; there is no correlation between abortions and breast cancer, and the American Journal of Public Health estimates fewer than 0.05 percent of women obtaining abortions experience complications.
But the worst thing in the bag is a list of dozens of alternative clinics and resources in the area. The list reveals the pro-life movement in Salem to be much greater than one rogue Catholic in an empty parking lot.
At the top of the list is the Hope Pregnancy Clinic, a nondenominational Christian organization near Planned Parenthood. On its website, Hope clinic advertises its “options counseling,” a free service that allows pregnant women to discuss with an expert their three choices: parenting, adoption and abortion. Yet closer inspection of the site reveals the only medical procedures the clinic offers are pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. No abortions.
From my perspective as an outsider, the Hope Pregnancy Clinic shows all signs of being a Crisis Pregnancy Center. In 2014, VICE news produced a fantastic piece called “Fake Abortion Clinics of America: Misconception.” It describes Crisis Pregnancy Centers, facilities that advertise themselves as abortion providers but whose real mission is to deter women from pursuing abortions. Patients receive counseling sessions, in which staff members warn women of the health risks associated with abortions, whether factual or not, and talk about the religious and moral implications of the operation. As of 2014, Crisis Pregnancy Centers outnumbered legitimate abortion clinics five to one.
It may seem harsh to classify Hope Pregnancy Clinic as a Crisis Pregnancy Center. The clinic does good work for the community, providing low-income women free maternity and baby clothes, as well as strollers and car seats. I do not even have proof their “options counseling” sessions actively try to dissuade women from seeking abortions.
But I still hold the firm belief that Hope Pregnancy Clinic is not a place for women dealing with unplanned pregnancies. My evidence: lining the front desk are brochures identical to the ones the protester outside Planned Parenthood gave me. An organization spreading medical falsities and religious dogma is not the type to support a woman set on obtaining an abortion.
Hope Pregnancy Center has asserted itself as the primary provider of pregnancy care in the Salem area – it seems all roads lead to Hope. I called several numbers on the list of resources the protester gave me, and nearly everyone I spoke to suggested I give Hope clinic a visit. I live-chatted with an operator from a pregnancy center in Woodburn, Oregon, who, when asked where one could receive an abortion in the area, gave me the address to Hope clinic. When I responded, “To be clear, Hope Pregnancy Clinic does not perform abortions,” she suggested I go anyway, just to take things “step by step.” A chat on Option Line, a similar organization, ended the same way. After the operator told me to visit Hope clinic and I told her they do not provide abortions, she disconnected the chat. When I messaged her again, she disconnected the chat a second time.
Hope Pregnancy Clinic is at the center of a massive and deceptive web of pro-life advocates in the Salem area. The clinic pretends to be unbiased, but its very affiliation with bodies like Option Line, Salem Right to Life and the protester outside Planned Parenthood proves it prioritizes its religious beliefs over the wellbeing of vulnerable women.
The power of Hope clinic and the pervasiveness of anti-abortion sentiments in Salem is disheartening, but there is still hope for pregnant women in town. Salem’s Planned Parenthood, despite being one of the city’s few secular women’s health clinics, still stands tall, and the access to healthcare for Oregon women is secure for now. In July 2017 Governor Kate Brown signed into law the Reproductive Health Equity Act, a law that provides reproductive care to all women, regardless of insurance coverage or citizenship status. No longer should the zero-cost services of religious women’s healthcare centers be incentive enough to draw women to them.
More people need to be aware of the prevalence of Crisis Pregnancy Centers – their anonymity makes it far too easy for unwitting women to fall into their dangerous hands. Spreading awareness of the centers’ deception, as well as continuing to support essential organizations like Planned Parenthood, is at the core of the fight to protect the sexuality, health and freedom of women across the country.