Crisis pregnancy centers

Last week, Time ran an article about crisis pregnancy centers called The Grassroots Abortion War (single-page version). I went in expecting the usual hit piece about “fake abortion clinics terrorizing women”, and was surprised to find a reasonably nuanced presentation of the strengths and weaknesses of CPCs.

Of course, the usual imbalances exist. The web version of the article is 9 pages long, and not until page 7 does author Nancy Gibbs offhandedly note that, “Abortion providers, of course, have been accused of coercion as well”. The rest of the paragraph is devoted to an abortion provider identified only as “Lorrie” vouching for her own medical ethics and care for women. Nothing more is mentioned on the topic. Never does Gibbs question whether abortion providers give women accurate (or any) information on fetal development, or whether Lorrie’s ethics are typical in the industry. “They do it too!” is never an excuse, but surely crisis pregnancy centers should not be the only ones held accountable for giving accurate information to women. The overall effect is of a writer steeped in pro-choice culture examining “the other side”. (JivinJehoshaphat has more on this.) I have to hand it to her, though; it’s a pretty fair examination.

When I was in college and first getting acquainted with the pro-life movement, I was always proud to be able to point to the number of centers to which pro-lifers donated their money and time to help pregnant women. And in a lot of ways, I’m still proud. By far, most people who work at CPCs are there because not only do they want to save the lives of unborn children, but they also have compassion for the women who may choose abortion and want to alleviate the difficulties that lead them toward that choice. There are thousands of centers in the U.S. and tens of thousands of loving, compassionate people working in them. This outpouring of caring and support is especially beautiful and necessary in the midst of the often-vicious struggle over abortion.

Later, though, as I read more from both CPC detractors and supporters, I found that my initial enthusiasm could no longer be completely unqualified. The Time article pinpoints several of the reasons for my ambivalence.

They are staffed largely by volunteers. This is great in one sense — these are people who care enough to give their own time to help others. However, since the staffers aren’t professionals, it is extremely important that they be adequately trained to counsel women about the complex matters of fetal development, childbirth, and abortion. If that doesn’t happen, they can end up giving information of questionable accuracy, which helps nobody.

Most CPCs, including the large networks discussed in the article,* consider themselves Christian ministries. Obviously, this is a topic on which I have an outsider’s viewpoint. From that viewpoint, I don’t have a problem with (and in fact, quite admire) the kind of ministry that takes the “show we are Christians by our love” approach — helping the needy as they feel called by God to do, and letting that work make the case for the truth and power of their beliefs. But I don’t think it’s right that a person in need, who may not be Christian or have any desire to be, should have to be proselytized to in order to get help. Furthermore, some people can be tempted to employ less-than-ethical tactics in the service of a higher calling. Pastor Jeff Hutchinson admits that this is a problem he has wrestled with:

“I never would have said that the ends justify the means,” he says. “But I know that was in my heart–if lying helps save a baby’s life, that glorifies God.” He has read some pregnancy-center brochures that he suspects are maybe shading the truth in the name of a larger good. “This whole process has reminded me that Jesus is not a Machiavellian,” he says. “It really helps me trust the sovereignty of God. He’s in control of who lives and dies. My effort is to serve folks, and the means I use matter. I have to glorify Jesus. The results are in God’s hands.”

Hutchinson has changed his way of thinking and realized that he must be honest with the women he serves, and he says he now thinks about them more as individuals. It must have been hard to re-evaluate his approach to his mission, and I respect him for that. But I wonder how many others have yet to come to the realizations he has.

Finally, due to their religious foundations, most centers offer unmarried women no options for preventing pregnancy and STDs other than giving up sex. I realize that they sincerely believe this is the best advice they can give their clients, but I believe just as sincerely that this approach is both ineffective and unnecessarily limiting, and can’t support it.

Rather than tell conservative religious CPCs that they have to change their mission, I think this is another area in which the more moderate to liberal among us need to get better organized and offer alternatives that reflect our values and ideas. I’ve wished for years that there were a pro-life alternative to Planned Parenthood, where women could go for sexual health care and contraception as well as prenatal care and other forms of support for giving life to their children. I have some ideas for a later post on how we might make a start.

* I do wonder where Birthright was in all of this. From everything I have heard, they are non-proselytizing and are by far the group of CPCs most likely to allow GLBT, non-Christian, and other “non-traditional” volunteers.

The things you learn on the internets

Let me get this straight. A society so values boys over girls that sex-selection abortion has resulted in a large surplus of men, who are now having trouble finding women to marry. And who’s to blame for this state of affairs? Feminists.

(The blogger also says to someone in the comments: “1. You’re an atheist. So, do try to recall that you don’t get to call anything “wrong” that doesn’t involved your behavior unless it is factually inaccurate.” When are Americans going to get over this idea that morality can only derive from religion? Sadly, it doesn’t look as though that day is coming anytime soon.)

Tim Ryan calls for consistency

In an impassioned speech against the Iraq War escalation last night (video), Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH17), had the following to say

And my friend from Indiana also mentioned something about the issue of consistency; and I find it funny that the pro-life– the self-proclaimed pro-life party is the party that wants to keep extending the war.

It’s nice to see a high-profile pro-lifer making this point for a change. Ryan has received high ratings from Peace Action, PeacePAC, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, National Right to Life, and Democrats for Life during his time in Congress, so he has some credibility when talking about consistently opposing the taking of human life.

(Unfortunately, I don’t think that the rest of Ryan’s speech is going to win him a lot of Republican good will when it comes to voting for the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act when/if he reintroduces it. On the other hand, he’s right.)

gimme some sugar

I had a glucose tolerance test at my last prenatal appointment and, although my levels were not quite high enough to warrant a diagnosis of gestational diabetes, I was nonetheless sent to a nutrition class to learn about the proper diet for stabilizing blood sugar. One thing the nutritionist told us was that contrary to popular belief, it’s OK to have some sweets; we just need to make sure to account for them in our total carbohydrate intake, and to eat them with meals so the sugar is absorbed less quickly.

Of course, unable to leave well enough alone, I spent my spare time for the next few days doing searches on gestational diabetes. (Yes, even though I don’t technically have it. I can do some pretty obsessive worrying at times.) I came across several sites claiming that people with GD, or diabetics in general, need to completely eliminate refined sugar from their diets. A popular line of reasoning was that since nobody really needs sweets anyway, it was better to be safe than sorry and cut them out entirely. Often this was delivered in a tone that seemed to chide people for wanting something that was simply pleasant, rather than nutritionally necessary.

I’m seeing that same tone a lot in conversations about the HPV vaccine. Nobody needs sex to survive, they say. So people should just exercise self-control (where “self-control” means no sex, ever, unless they’re in a heterosexual marriage), and then they wouldn’t have to worry about all these diseases.

Fortunately, these days most nutritionists don’t recommend cutting out all sweets even in a diabetic diet. In fact, studies have found that patients whose diet plans allowed for the consumption of refined sugar within certain guidelines were more likely to comply with their diets, and thus to keep their blood sugar under control, than those who were told they had to abstain entirely. Sure, it’s not a purist approach, but it works.

If only we could apply the same lesson to sexual health. Recognize that people like sex, and work with them to find ways to incorporate it into a healthy lifestyle, rather than constantly fight and chastise them for daring to want something that brings them pleasure.