What it’s like volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center
Recently, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas received a message regarding a public high school’s service day at Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, a crisis pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are centers that exist to prevent people facing unintended pregnancies from accessing abortion services, often luring them in under the guise of offering pregnancy services or free pregnancy tests and sonograms. Many CPCs present themselves as medical clinics even though they are not health care facilities and the information they provide about abortion and sexual health is largely inaccurate. Many CPCs in Texas receive millions in taxpayer dollars, despite their strong religious affiliation and political stance. Read more on CPCs here. Read our 2014 report on exposing CPCs here.
Senior Service Day at Westlake High School is an annual event, when seniors spend their day at their choice of 25 different local organizations, with a wide range of causes. Austin Pregnancy Resource Center was one organization among others like Capital Area Food Bank, Pioneer Farms, Colin’s Hope, etc. This seems harmless, as the students were given so many choices. But, exposing high-school students to Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, even as a volunteer opportunity, gives them scientifically inaccurate and misleading information. A service day should provide students with volunteer and learning experience, not sway them with false information. Austin Pregnancy Resource Center is also extremely religious, and Westlake did not inform the students or faculty in advance.
Coincidentally, I’m a rising senior at Westlake High School. A few of my friends actually chose to volunteer last year, without knowing it was a crisis pregnancy center. I interviewed them on their experience there, and you can read it below. All people interviewed wish to remain anonymous.
Can you summarize your time at the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center?
S: Well, we got there in the morning, it was for our Senior Service Day. It was ten girls and two teachers. We walked in, and the first thing I noticed was that there were Bibles right by the door. There were Bible verses all on the walls, and the women was saying how blessed she was for us to be there. That was what happened when we immediately walked in.
A: We met the woman, and she was really really nice actually. She kept saying how blessed we all were, and she took us on a tour. There were a lot of posters and stuff. There was one that said, “We will be the generation that ends abortion,” and we all kind of freaked out when we saw that one. We were going through all the rooms, and I remember there was one room that she took us to look at, and she was like, “This is where God does His work.” And it had models of what your baby looks like at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and basically, it was trying to show that your baby kind of looks like a baby already. She was basically saying, “This is where we convince women not to have abortions.”
S: The thing about the models was a fetus at 8 weeks [in reality] looks completely different than a 9 month old baby, but they looked the exact same. The eight week old or twelve week old fetus was just a smaller version than the nine month old fetus. In anatomy, we learned that in that point of time, the baby’s head is just as big as the body. It was totally wrong, the facts were wrong, they were just trying to convince these women not to have abortions.
A: The rest of the time we labeled formula, labeled diapers, organized things, and that wasn’t bad. Them giving these women resources after they have the baby is a good thing; it just seemed a little like propaganda. The actual work we did, I didn’t feel bad about.
S: They do good work, it’s just that the environment was super uncomfortable, and I know 8 of the 10 girls that were there were pro-choice and felt super uncomfortable, and we had no idea that it was going to be like that. We were checking directions on the way there, and there were Yelp reviews that said, “This place has a creepy vibe,” and that was our first time hearing about it having anything to do with being pro-life.
“It was totally wrong, the facts were wrong, they were just trying to convince these women not to have abortions.”
Did the Senior Service Day website have descriptions about the places?
A: We thought it was going to be Planned Parenthood-esque. Maybe we should have looked it up, but everyone signs up in a big rush because things fill up, and so we were like, “This sounds cool, everyone sign up right now.”
S: And it’s called Austin Pregnancy Center, and so I was expecting a very generic pregnancy center in Austin, but it was on campus in the middle of the sorority houses, super pro-life, telling everyone to keep their baby. They weren’t giving any other options.
What did they tell you their mission was/what they do?
S: She talked about God. She said God has sent us to do this work for women and families, and I don’t think she said they were a pro-life organization. She said our goal is to have women keep the baby or something along those lines, we stick with them with anything they need, giving them diapers or formula, but she never said this is a pro-life organization.
Did they mention birth control at all?
S: They had these pamphlets in the room we were sorting formula in, and one of the pamphlets was about birth control. It was about birth control and the morning after pill, and one of them said how to reverse the morning after pill. I didn’t read the birth control one. The pamphlets were kind of disturbing, those were very extreme.
Was it shaming birth control or the morning-after pill?
S: The morning after pill, they were saying, that it’s abortion. I didn’t read how to reverse the morning after pill, I was like, this is baloney. And then, some of the pamphlets were like staying pure till marriage and not having sex till marriage, and there was one about how there’s this woman that has an organization [for] women who are raped.. Basically saying that if women are raped, they should still keep the baby, things like that.
What kind of activities did they have you do as a volunteer?
A: We started out labeling formula with expiration dates and stuff, and then I went upstairs and sorted formula. Some people folded baby clothes and labeled diapers.
S: We did formula and we sorted clothes from 0-3 months, 3-6, 6-9, 12 and up, marked formula expiration dates, I think we did similar stuff.
Do you feel like they forced religion into the time they had with you?
A: Yeah, the woman was definitely respectful about it, like at the end, she wanted to pray for us, and she asked if she could. They’re very religious people, and it was a very religious place, and I feel like they were trying to be careful about it, but at the same time, it was so ingrained in the place that it came up a lot.
S: I don’t know if there was a sentence that came out of this woman’s mouth that didn’t have “God” or “blessed” or “prayer” in it. It was a lot.
A: It didn’t seem like she was trying to force religion onto us though, I think she just is a very religious person and it’s a very religious place. But, I mean, I felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t like she was trying to convert us or anything, but it was just awkward, in a school setting.
S: I know if I was pregnant, like a pregnant college student, and I went there looking for options, I would feel super uncomfortable. I would feel like their beliefs were kind of forced onto me.
A: I think it was different because we were volunteering, but especially when they take women into that room where “God does his work,” that would freak me out.
Did they give any statistics or facts about pregnancy care or abortion?
A: Yes, they had an anti-Planned Parenthood poster, where it said whatever percent, a very high percent of people who go to Planned Parenthood get abortions, and it was basically just saying… I don’t know what it was saying.
S: So they had a poster and underneath the poster they had handouts that you could take. All the handouts were like, “97% of women in 2010 [who] went into Planned Parenthood pregnant, got an abortion” or something like that, and then it said how Planned Parenthood is trying to give abortions, instead of giving other options.
A: Yeah, it was basically just saying that Planned Parenthood is biased towards abortion, and it doesn’t like to show you your options. Which was kind of ironic, because that’s how I felt about that place.
Do you feel like people who aren’t as well-versed on abortion or the pro-choice movement would have been misled by this organization?
A: The statistics, I’m sure they weren’t just blatantly wrong, but they painted a very different picture than what is actually. They were hand-selected to paint this picture that just isn’t reality.
S: If I knew nothing about the pro-choice movement, I definitely would have felt swayed by what they were saying.
How do you feel about having this as an opportunity, at a public school, for Senior Service Day?
A: I felt like [they should have had] some sort of disclaimer or something, like “This is a very religious place.” I just felt like we were given no warning and no other side of the story. I feel like if they were going to do something that polar, they should have done something like Planned Parenthood, so that we would have both options. But I also definitely feel like if they’re going to include religious things, they need to be clear that they are religious things. Because we walked into that not knowing anything about it, and it was really uncomfortable in a public school setting.
S: I know that if it did say something like “very religious, leans more pro-life,” there would probably be some people that would want to go there on Senior Service day, but they definitely do need Planned Parenthood if they’re going to have this organization.
What kind of alternatives would you like to see?
S: Planned Parenthood or anything like that.
A: Even like a women’s health clinic. I feel like they just list the places that offer volunteer opportunities, I don’t know that they look into it that in depth, but it would definitely be nice to have another option.
S: Or even if they didn’t have either side, and just had purely a women’s health clinic that wasn’t biased in any way and just offered all the options.
A: I think I would even be okay if they just had a disclaimer.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
S: I know everyone involved felt uncomfortable, even the teachers. Like when we were leaving, my pre-cal teacher was like, “I had no idea this would be like that, they needed to say something on the website or to us, they can’t just have the teachers go in not knowing what they’re doing either,” so really, no one knew what was happening.
A: I feel like they will be a big candidate for removal from the list, just because, it was just really, a weird, jarring experience. Even our friends who are pro-life were really uncomfortable.
S: They were like, if I was pregnant, I would not want to go there.
Were there only girls who volunteered there?
S: Yeah. There were ten girls. And I will say that they did good work. Like if they weren’t biased in anyway, they do good work, they provide women with the things they need if they decide to keep the baby. It’s just that their beliefs are forced onto the women.
Did they say anything about Roe v. Wade?
A: I think one of the posters said, this many deaths since Roe v. Wade. They had a lot of posters like that, that were very freaky. It was very jarring.
S: I would feel traumatized if I was in there as a pregnant woman.
A: There’s two different issues, there’s the issue that we were sent there as public school volunteers, and then there’s the issue that pregnant women go there for help and are given this information in this creepy environment. There was also religious music playing the whole time.
S: There was Christian music playing the entire time. It was very weird.