Social Issues

Abortion and the mission of pregnancy resource centers

While political debate and litigation continue over the legal status of providing abortions in Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers are looking to provide funds for groups that discourage the practice.

By Steven Potter | Here & Now

August 15, 2023

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Abortion once again became illegal in Wisconsin in June 2022 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states should individually decide on abortion access.

That left standing a Wisconsin law passed in 1849 that effectively banned abortion. And because of that ban, some organizations say they’ve become much busier.

“We are seeing a lot more women coming in that are seeking options because abortion isn’t readily available here,” said Rita Flores, manager for the two locations of a non-profit pregnancy resource center in Waukesha County called Life’s Connection.

Flores said Life’s Connection is a “medical, educational and resource center” that offers pregnancy and STD testing as well as prenatal counseling, adoption information and post-miscarriage support, among other services.

“We can see anyone from a teen all the way through to married couples that come in and just would like our labor and delivery classes or to prepare for pregnancy or newborn care,” she explained.

They also offer pregnancy ultrasounds at the centers.

“[That’s] where we’re able to really connect Mom with the baby and see that true development – we call it the window to the womb,” Flores said.

But one thing they won’t do at Life’s Connection is refer anyone who’s pregnant for an abortion.

“We don’t refer for abortion, but we do educate. We help them to understand what abortion would look like for them and for the baby now and in the future and how physically and emotionally they could be impacted,” said Flores.

According to Choose Life Wisconsin, there are more than 70 pregnancy resource centers like Life’s Connection around the state.

Because of their prenatal support and the fact that these organizations don’t refer pregnant people for abortions – and do actively discourage abortions – some Republican state lawmakers think they should receive state taxpayer funding.

“If you walk into a pregnancy resource center, they’re not going to refer you to an abortion – that’s not why they exist,” said state Sen. Romaine Robert Quinn, R-Cameron.

Legislation introduced by Quinn aims to fund these centers – which are sometimes called crisis pregnancy centers – with $1 million dollars per year. That money would be funneled to the centers through grants administered by Choose Life Wisconsin.

He said the state should provide the money because these centers do necessary work.

“They just give an enormous amount of support and service and a place for families to go that are questioning, ‘Am I ready for this pregnancy?'” explained Quinn. “Or maybe it’s unexpected or maybe ‘I’m fleeing an abusive relationship and found out I’m pregnant.’ So there’s so much good they do.”

Gabriella Boldon said she wasn’t planning to get pregnant a year ago.

“I took a pregnancy test and it was positive and I started crying – it was not something that I wanted,” she remembered. “At first, I wanted an abortion, because I never wanted kids.”

“I was going to Planned Parenthood first,” Boldon continued, “and it’s actually right next to the Life Connections in Waukesha,” adding that she noticed the pregnancy resource center offered ultrasounds. “So I was like, ‘We’re going to go here and see what they offer.'”

During her visit with a nurse at Life’s Connection, Boldon said they discussed abortion and she was given an ultrasound. She felt encouraged by staff at Life’s Connection to have the child and become a mother.

“I was asking her how do abortions work,” Boldon remembered, “[and] she was just trying to weigh our options and to see which one was better and just to give us, well, give me hope that I could do it.”

The ultrasound helped Boldon make her decision.

“I think it was like after we seen him and we heard the heartbeat is where I said, ‘No, I don’t want to get an abortion anymore’ and I just wanted to keep him,” she said.

Flores said a foundational belief of pregnancy centers like Life’s Connection is that abortions are harmful to women.

“A woman that goes through an abortion is going to be impacted emotionally and physically,” she said. “So at no point would it ever be something that would be good for her in any way.”

A study from the National Institutes of Health, however, found that having an abortion does not increase a woman’s risk of health dangers often cited by pregnancy resource centers, nor does it increase the risk of mental health disorders.

Sara Finger of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health warns that pregnancy resources centers are spreading misinformation.

“The kind of information that they’re giving is often actually full of lies. They have studies that are showing how these websites and the centers themselves are talking about falsely claiming that abortion will increase your mental health challenges. They’re falsely indicating that abortions will lead to breast cancer or infertility. And these are all lies.”

Finger added that physicians groups have also raised red flags about pregnancy resource centers.

“The American Medical Association, who is a predominant leader in terms of health care in this country, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists both have briefs warning people about the dangers and the unethical behavior of these fake clinics,” she said.

Flores rejected claims that pregnancy resource centers provide misleading information to clients.

“We tell them exactly what it looks like to parent, what it looks like to consider adoption as an option and also what abortion would look like for them,” she said. “So I feel that we’re as truthful as we absolutely can be. We don’t hide anything and then we guide them to whatever services they might need, with the exception of referring for abortion.”

Flores added that organizations like hers could certainly benefit from the state funding being in Quinn’s proposed legislation.

“Everything that we do as a nonprofit is done by donation, either by individual or by a church and any other kind of a group that would like to donate to us,” said Flores.

But for Finger from the Women’s Health Alliance, that connection between pregnancy resource centers and faith-based organizations is another reason the centers shouldn’t get state funding.

She doesn’t want “one dollar of taxpayer funded money going towards to support these fake clinics, who are not licensed, who are not regulated, they’re not accredited, and they don’t have to follow HIPAA regulations. They don’t have to protect your privacy and your confidentiality.”

“Why are we even considering putting a single dollar towards these fake clinics in our state or anywhere in this country?,” Finger asked.

Quinn said he’s unbothered by any faith-based connection the pregnancy resource centers may have and said they deserve funding.

“I don’t care who does the work, right? They’re doing great work. So if it’s faith-based or not faith-based, it’s not a criteria that’s a must, so it shouldn’t be the other way that you can’t be that,” he said. “I get frustrated sometimes when people call them fake clinics or things like that. And it’s like, you know, not every baby is going to be aborted. For those families that want to raise a child but need support, why not support them? Why not support the very centers that give them the services, the classes, a shoulder to lean on and talk to?”

Whether these pregnancy resource centers ultimately get the $1 million dollars per year that Quinn’s proposed legislation calls for will be up for debate in the fall when the bill is expected to be brought up for a committee vote in the state Legislature.

Over three weeks, “Here & Now” examined the debate surrounding abortion, presenting the viewpoints of those who have utilized abortion, those who want to keep it illegal, and those in the medical community advocating for their patients.

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