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Window to the womb

National | Crisis pregnancy centers that add ultrasound and medical services find they are more effective

Issue: "Lieberman vs. Gore," Aug. 19, 2000

Dark-haired and sullen, the young man looked as if he had been dragged against his will into the Care Net Pregnancy Services Center of the Treasure Coast. To Mary Garment, director of the Port St. Lucie, Fla., crisis pregnancy center (CPC), "Sean" appeared to be in his early 20s, as did his pregnant girlfriend "Carrie." Sean wasn't happy about visiting the CPC, and seemed to Mrs. Garment to be pushing hard for Carrie to have an abortion. But Carrie wanted an ultrasound first. She persuaded Sean to come with her into the examination room. "When he went back into the room, he was very cold, and kind of just stood there with his arms folded," the center's executive director Susie Werdt told WORLD. But when the ultrasound revealed a tiny child growing inside Carrie, she says, Sean couldn't take his eyes off the screen. The ultrasound technician began pointing out the baby's anatomy: "This is the head, this is the back, there's a little arm ..." "What's that flickering?" Sean asked abruptly. The technician replied, "That's your baby's heart." When the couple emerged from the room, Sean's own heart had changed. "What do you think about what you saw?" Mrs. Garment asked him. "I saw a little person," Sean answered softly. "And that's my little person in there." Sean and Carrie, once so close to ending their child's life, are now the proud parents of a baby boy. More stories like theirs-anecdotal evidence of the success of ultrasound in helping expectant parents choose life-may soon be coming out of CPCs. Care Net, a network of about 600 such groups, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a pro-life advocacy group, now offer help to CPCs that want to perform such medical services. As early as 1983, doctors predicted that ultrasound, in the hands of those who oppose abortion, might someday prove an effective weapon in the war against it. In an article published that year in the New England Journal of Medicine, John C. Fletcher of National Institutes of Health and Dr. Mark Evans of George Washington University Medical School recounted their conversations with pregnant women who had undergone first- and second-trimester ultrasounds. "I feel that it is human," one patient told the researchers when asked how the procedure affected her view of the fetus: "It belongs to me. I couldn't have an abortion now." In their article, Mr. Fletcher and Dr. Evans concluded that "ultrasound examination may ... result in fewer abortions and more desired pregnancies." That prediction seems to be coming true. While the effectiveness of ultrasound in helping women choose life has not been formally studied, CPC directors across the country report case after case of women and couples who had been determined to abort, but changed their minds after seeing pictures of their babies living busily inside the womb. At Care Pregnancy Clinic, a Baton Rouge, La., CPC that offers medical services, 98 percent of women who have ultrasounds choose to carry to term, according to center director Dorothy Wallis. And last month a pregnant 13-year-old, along with her mother and aunt, came to the Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center in Texas. All three said they were Christian believers. The young girl didn't want an abortion, says Barbara Adams, the CPC worker who counseled the family. But the girl's mother was convinced that her daughter's life would be ruined if she carried the baby to term. "A lot of times parents begin grieving the loss of their child's future," Ms. Adams noted. "The girl's mother was devastated. She did not believe abortion was right but felt she had no choice. Her attitude was, 'I know it's wrong, but God will forgive us.'" Ultrasound changed her mind. Ms. Adams says the procedure revealed a very active baby. "The baby was turning her face toward us, and I could see the mother's face softening." The next day, Ms. Adams called the girl's home to follow up. The family had decided against abortion. Pro-life groups, hoping for more decisions of that kind, are backing ultrasound use-but Care Net does not "have the view that every CPC needs to be a medical clinic," said Lynn Bisbee, Care Net's Vice President of Center Services. "In some communities there are already pro-life physicians offering free medical services to women in need. The need in those communities might be for CPCs to offer abstinence education, or simply continue social services, like providing baby clothing and furniture." Currently 50 of Care Net's 600 member clinics have added medical services, and the group has published a transition manual that helps CPCs navigate the tricky regulatory path to providing medical services. Care Net's manual also helps each CPC assess the need for a pro-life medical clinic in its own community. NIFLA president Tom Glessner agrees that not every CPC may need to become a medical clinic-but he hopes to see 1,000 CPCs add medical services by 2010. He suggests that CPC board members ask whether their centers are reaching as many "abortion-minded" women (women at risk to have an abortion) as they could. Many CPCs have seen a decline in the number of at-risk women visiting them. The number rose until the mid-1980s, which is when the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched the first in a series of legal attacks on CPCs. Then, in lawsuits extending through the mid-1990s, pro-aborts leveraged deceptive or ethically questionable practices used by a few CPCs-such as leading callers to believe they could obtain abortions at the CPC, or showing graphic abortion films-to tar and feather all CPCs as "fake clinics." Soon major newspapers and magazines were publicizing the new pejorative and court rulings bound CPCs in a restrictive legal truss. Judges banned CPCs from advertising under the Yellow Pages heading "Abortion," and relegated them to a new heading: "Abortion Alternatives." CPCs also were required to state in their Yellow Pages ads that they did not offer abortions. And, since pregnancy confirmation is considered a medical diagnosis, judges barred CPCs without medical personnel on staff from telling a woman she was pregnant. The judgments were direct hits: According to Mr. Glessner, while overall visits to CPCs remained steady, visits by abortion-minded women began a steady slide in the early 1990s. He says the judicial order against CPCs' confirming whether or not a woman was actually pregnant was particularly damaging: "Abortion-minded women began bypassing CPCs because they were not legally able to tell women the answer to their No. 1 question: 'Am I pregnant?'" But medical CPCs seem to be tipping the scales in the other direction. CPCs that have added pregnancy confirmation and ultrasound-there are just over 100 in the nation, according to Heartbeat International-report a steady increase in the number of at-risk clients being seen. In 1996, for example, 16 percent of clients visiting the Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center were seriously considering abortion. By 1997 that number had fallen to 15 percent, then to 13 percent by 1998. But when the center added medical services in 1998, the downward trend reversed. As of this June, 24 percent of the center's clients were at risk for abortion, according to center director Darlene Norberg. One big reason for that: Since "going medical," the center is now able to advertise in the Yellow Pages in an additional heading-"Clinics, Medical." About two-thirds of women who respond to the "Clinics, Medical" ad, says Ms. Norberg, are "at-risk" clients. The conversion of CPCs to medical clinics may help lay to rest the "fake-clinic" ghost that still haunts CPCs today. But it hasn't stopped pro-abortion groups from trying to resurrect it. In July, a WORLD reporter infiltrated a hush-hush meeting of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) in Lancaster, Penn. There, NARAL activists stated that CPCs are "fake clinics" because they don't offer a full range of "reproductive health services"-meaning abortion. NARAL's Pennsylvania public affairs director Jill Fink told the group that "CPCs are mentally and physically harmful to women," and asked them to research and "document" the estimated 200 CPCs in Pennsylvania. Hoping to dig up financial dirt on the state's pro-life pregnancy centers, she also asked volunteers to scare up copies of CPCs' income tax forms. Lynn Bisbee believes that adding medical services will help CPCs overcome such anti-life tactics. "The fact that our centers are becoming medical gives us more credibility within the medical community," she said. "They know that people offering medical services are held to a high degree of accountability. It moves us from lay ministry to professional ministry." The movement toward clinics does open up new questions that CPCs need to examine, such as: What do accepted "standards of care" for medical clinics require concerning birth control? If CPCs do not follow such standards, will they open themselves up for new attacks? Having ultrasound machines is not enough; experienced medical personnel are essential. The upside, however, is substantial. Ultrasound itself may prove to be the ultimate ministry to unborn children. In his 1979 book Aborting America, former abortionist turned pro-life author Bernard Nathanson wrote that fewer women would have abortions if wombs had windows. Now they do.

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