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Involved For Life: Pregnancy Centers In Texas

Originally published on Tue January 22, 2013 3:12 pm

While the number of abortion providers has been decreasing, the number of pregnancy centers has been increasing. According to The New York Times, there are now approximately 1,800 abortion providers around the country, compared with 2,500 pregnancy centers. These centers, largely run by Christian groups, discourage women from getting abortions and offer help during their unplanned pregnancies.

Some of these centers have been criticized by medical experts for giving incomplete or inaccurate information about abortion. Carolyn Cline is the executive director and CEO of Involved for Life (IFL), a ministry partner of First Baptist Dallas. It also runs the Downtown Pregnancy Center of Dallas, which offers alternatives to abortion for women with unplanned pregnancies and provides counseling, ultrasounds, adoption options, STD screening and treatment, and parenthood classes. Most of the clients are women with low incomes. The website claims that "in 2010, 257 babies were saved from abortion as women who came to our center for education and counsel regarding their unintended pregnancies were offered support for a life choice."

IFL operates a similar center geared toward collegiate and young professional women, called the Uptown Women's Center. It also runs a mobile sonogram unit. According to the website, "the one-of-its-kind bus was developed and designed for ministry in the most dangerous place for the pre-born: the parking place in front of an area abortion clinic. ... Sonograms on Site offers a safe, confidential place for those on their way through the doors of an abortion clinic to hear the truth of the Gospel, the ability to visualize their baby on the screen of a sonogram machine and be offered support and help through the ongoing ministries of the DPC (Downtown Pregnancy Center) or UWC (Uptown Women's Center)."

Fresh Air's Terry Gross spoke with Cline about the center's services, and about how the mission of the center affects the information it presents women on the medical and psychological consequences of abortion.

A full transcript of this interview is posted below.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. While there are now only 1,800 abortion providers around the country, there are 2,500 pregnancy centers, according to The New York Times. These pregnancy centers - many of which are run by Christian groups - discourage women with unplanned pregnancies from getting abortions, and help them through their pregnancies. Some of these centers have been criticized by medical experts, for giving incomplete or inaccurate information that exaggerates the risks of abortion.

My guest, Carolyn Cline, is the president and CEO of Involved for Life, a ministry partner of First Baptist Dallas. It runs the Downtown Pregnancy Center of Dallas, which offers alternatives to abortion; and provides counseling, ultrasound, adoption options, STD screening and treatment, and parenthood classes. The center's clients are largely women with low incomes.

Involved for Life also runs a center for college women and young professionals, called the Uptown Women's Center; and it has a mobile sonogram unit that offers sonograms to pregnant women, with the goal of discouraging them from having abortions. Involved for Life is not a state-funded program.

Carolyn Cline, welcome to FRESH AIR. When people come to the Downtown Pregnancy Center, do they know that you are pro-life and anti-abortion; or do some of them come to you not sure of what to do, and not sure which side you're going to fall on?

CAROLYN CLINE: Well, we don't come across as anti-anything when we speak with people on the phone, or with our advertising. So we are very pro-woman, and they know that. We do not ever mislead because there would be no integrity in that. And if we have anything, we have very high integrity. So people do know. If they are asking about abortion information - or how much does an abortion cost, or do you perform abortions - we are very straightforward in that we do not offer or refer for abortions, in our organization. What we are there for is to give women all the education; that they can make an informed decision.

GROSS: And you have a couple of information sheets on your website. So on one of these sheets, you compare the difference between adoption and abortion. For example, it says women that - if they put their child up - if they carry to term, and put their child up for adoption, they can feel good and positive; whereas if they have an abortion, they may feel guilt and-or shame.

You don't tell them, oh, you might feel guilty, too, if you put your child up for adoption. And you don't tell them, if you have an abortion you might decide, boy, that was really the right choice. You know, you're sorry you had to have one, but given that you got pregnant, it was the right choice to terminate that particular pregnancy, at that particular time. You're not telling them that those are possibilities.

CLINE: Well, we are telling them those are possibilities. When we talk to a woman about adoption, we tell her it's not going to be an easy decision. So we don't sugar-coat it in any form or fashion. If a woman chooses abortion, we will tell her that we are there for her regardless of what she chooses, and we stand behind that statement.

It has been our experience - because we do offer post-abortion support and counseling and healing - that we have many, many women that are hurt by abortion. And we do say, you may regret that decision. And if there's any way that we can be there for that woman afterwards, we're there for her as well. I don't know what that woman's going to feel. But I think she does deserve to know that she may regret that decision. And we have many women in our center that have told us that they regret that decision.

GROSS: You also have a program of - life after abortion. And in the literature in your website, for that program, you talk about how abortion affects women differently, but they can suffer from something called post-abortion stress. And the symptoms of post-abortion stress include social and relational breakdown, sexual dysfunction, loss of self-esteem, nightmares, anxiety attacks, guilt and remorse, inability to enjoy previously enjoyable activities, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, depression and suicide.

Is there anything in the scientific literature about post-abortion stress? Because I will say that the American Psychological Association says that they have found no link between, for example, depression and suicidal thoughts after an abortion - or at least, after a single abortion.

CLINE: Yes, that's one organization that says that. But there are also medical studies that show that there's a link. You'll see, in our language, that we do not say everyone is going to experience post-abortion stress. But do I have women that come into my office and have experienced that? Absolutely. We certainly do. We give them a safe place where they can come and talk about that without the condemnation; without them worrying if their employer knows that they're struggling with that decision; without the embarrassment or the guilt or the shame of knowing their church would know about that decision.

Yes, there are women that are seeking out a safe place where they can discuss that. And we want to give them the opportunity to have a voice; to be able to say, you're heard. We hear what you're saying. We're not out soliciting, waving billboards, charging for our services saying, you know what? Abortion has hurt you. We know it; you come in here. We are just offering it on our website; that if you have a struggle after your abortion, then we're a safe place for you to come and to discuss that.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned one of the three programs that you offer is a mobile sonogram unit.

CLINE: Yes.

GROSS: And that it often parks near - did you say near Planned Parenthoods? Or...

CLINE: An abortion clinic. We don't name which one it is.

GROSS: Near abortion clinics. OK.

CLINE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Yeah. What's the purpose of parking near an abortion clinic?

CLINE: Because we want a woman who doesn't know that there's other options, to know there's other options available to her; and to give her that opportunity to hear about her other options.

GROSS: Well, any doctor performing an abortion is - I think, at this point - legally required in Texas to talk about other options.

CLINE: They will give you a piece of paper, yes. Or they'll have you sign off and say that you have read a piece of paper. I will tell you that our experience is that the women who come outside of the abortion clinic and speak with us, said, nobody told me that; I didn't know that. Even if they've had a sonogram, it wasn't a clear picture - I didn't see that; well, y'all must have a much better machine than they have.

GROSS: What's an example of something that a woman has told you that she learned through your sonogram unit, that she hadn't been told before; and she was glad that she found out?

CLINE: Well, just that that, in fact, is a baby that is there; how far along she is; what the fetal development of that child is - that kind of definitive information that's not given her; and even more importantly, probably, than that, is that there is support for her if she wanted to make another choice; that there are other options for her, and there are people there that will help her, if she wants to make a choice other than abortion.

GROSS: Now, is the sonogram unit diagnostic? Like, my understanding is that the point - or part of the point - of the sonogram unit is to show a pregnant woman who might be considering an abortion, look, you have a baby growing inside you. See? This is what it looks like. Listen; this is how the heartbeat sounds.

But if there's anything going wrong with the development of the baby, will the person reading the sonogram be able to diagnose that, and will they say something to the woman?

CLINE: Well, we use it strictly to diagnose if there is a viable pregnancy or not; if it's developing in utero. If it's not developing in utero, she has a possibility of having an ectopic pregnancy. Then we let her know that immediately, and advise her to go to an ER. An abortion's not going to help her at that point, either, because it scrapes the inside of the uterus. So if that's the instance, yes. Do we do diagnostic? Neither does an abortion clinic. We - that is not our purpose. We're there just to show if it's a viable pregnancy or not. That's what the sonogram law in the state of Texas requires.

GROSS: The mobile sonogram unit - are there people working with that unit; who go out to the women who are going into the abortion clinic where the sonogram mobile unit has set up, and say, you should come to our unit - you know - and we'll give you a sonogram; like, do they go out and approach women, and invite them in?

CLINE: No. We have sidewalk counselors that are there. And they have a business card, and they can hand it to them and say, we are here; we have support services, if you'd like to hear about them, and we will provide a free sonogram - and point to Sonograms on Site, to our mobile unit. I will tell you, you have about 10 or 15 seconds to speak with someone, if you're not chasing them down to their car - which we absolutely, would not ever do. We stand in one spot and as they go by, we'd speak to them. They don't have to even speak to us, or even get anywhere near us because there's plenty of room for them to walk into the door. We're very limited on where we can stand, and where we can park. And so we're very observant of all the laws.

And we are not there to attack women.That's not our point at all. We're there to provide a service. They either want it, or they don't want it. I will tell you, about one out of 10 say they want it. Some nine out of 10 say they don't; and they walk on by.

GROSS: So, in the two women's clinics that you have - the uptown and the downtown one - if a woman has come there because she has had an unwanted pregnancy; and you're going to try to convince her to carry it to term, and keep the baby or give it up for adoption, do you counsel that person? You write in your literature that 60 percent of the clients at your downtown pregnancy center are age 15 to 24. So I imagine there's a fair amount of - you know, young teenagers there. So if you convince, say, a 15-year-old to carry to term and keep the child or give it up for adoption, do you then counsel the 15-year-old about birth control options, to prevent another unplanned pregnancy?

CLINE: Certainly, we do. And that's why we are also talking to them and do the STI screening and treatment - is because these girls are engaging in activity; obviously, in unprotected sex. And just because they get on a birth control pill - is not going to protect them from the STIs. And so we want to fully educate them and help them to understand that their sexual health is very important, and it needs to be a long-term plan that they have.

GROSS: What forms of birth control do you counsel about?

CLINE: We don't counsel in detail about any forms of birth control. We - obviously - talk about that if they have sexual integrity, if they choose to not have sex until they're ready to be pregnant, or - then that is the best protection. If a woman is interested and wants to have birth control, then - again - we give her a medical doctor that she can speak with, and that he can talk to her about - for her health, what would be the best birth control method that she could use.

GROSS: But basically, the counseling you're offering at the center - when it comes to preventing unwanted pregnancy, or preventing sexually transmitted disease - is abstinence.

CLINE: It's 100 percent effective.

GROSS: So that's what you teach, basically, is abstinence.

CLINE: Yes. It is 100 percent effective.

GROSS: When you're counseling people about whether they should have an abortion, or have the child - again, if somebody's really young; if they're, say, 15 or 16 and they're single; do you mention the kind of loss of opportunity that might mean for them, that particularly if they keep the baby - as a 15- or 16-year-old, single woman - how challenging it might be to continue their education; how difficult it might be to support, you know, themselves and the child; how it might really negatively affect certain opportunities they otherwise would have had - which is not to say that being a mother wouldn't be terribly rewarding; but just in terms of like, balancing the pros and cons of whatever decision they finally choose to make.

CLINE: Of course we address that, Terry, because we wouldn't care about the woman if we weren't talking to her, regardless of her age, about what kind of difficulties that she's going to have. And that's exactly why we offer so much support. We know this is not going to be an easy decision. It's not going to be an easy life.

But I think every one of us know women that have been successful, even though they had unplanned circumstances happen in their life. That's why we want her to have support. That's why we think it's so important - if she is willing, and wants to do so - to have a mentor that's going to walk through this situation with her, for at least the next 18 months. That's why we work with the schools - is to make sure that these young ladies stay in school, and stay in their education. And you know, what's wonderful is that the schools have really come alongside.

I don't know about the rest of the United States but I know in the Dallas area, so many of the school districts have adapted to young women that have children; and even have day care that's available in the schools, so the girls do stay in school. There are scholarships that are available for colleges, for single parents - because it's so important that these women do go ahead and get their education. We don't try to paint a rosy picture. That would be very lacking in integrity, for us. It's not realistic. It doesn't serve the woman. And we are there because we care about her, and we want to help her. There is not an easy solution, as I mentioned early on; there's not an easy answer to an unplanned pregnancy.

GROSS: This is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade. Could you share some of your reflections on this day?

CLINE: Well, I believe that it was a decision - it was made 40 years ago - that would - thought would help women; that it would be something that would provide women more freedom in their choices, and perhaps that that has been true, for some women. My experience - in what I have seen, in the 25 years that I've been involved in pregnancy centers - is that I've seen a lot of women that have been hurt by abortion. And I don't think that - probably - the Supreme Court had any idea that there would be thousands and thousands of women who regret that they ever had an abortion. And so I think there's two sides, always; and somewhere in between is the reality of it all.

We've learned so much more, even, about prenatal care and - prenatal development, rather. And with the advent and the usage of sonograms, we see so much more; that there is a beating heart at 21 days. And that's not a lump of tissue. That's a life. It has a heart beating. We do know that brainwaves can be detected and measured at only six weeks, in a child in the womb. And so we know that's a child. Medical science has caught up in 40 years, and gone ahead. So we understand now, there's a child's life that's involved, and hangs in the balance with every abortion decision.

But we also need to understand that women don't need to be lied to. They need to be able to make that decision with all the information that they can have. And then if they decide - in their life, and in their situation and their circumstance - that this is their best decision, then they have that option. But if they also decide, boy, I would choose differently if I just knew I had some kind of support, or if I had enough information, then they deserve to have that right as well.

GROSS: Well, Carolyn Cline, thank you very much for talking with us.

CLINE: My pleasure. Thank you so much, Terry, for having me.

GROSS: Carolyn Cline is the executive director of Involved for Life, which runs the Downtown Pregnancy Center, the Uptown Women's Center and Sonograms on Site in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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