The Problem with Problem Pregnancy

Isabella Frederick, Contributing Writer

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Since my freshman year at Clark, I’ve been heavily involved with NARAL Pro-Choice, a reproductive health advocacy group. Through this work I learned about crisis pregnancy centers (also called fake women’s health centers), which misinform and manipulate people’s decision regarding pregnancy, birth control, and sexual behavior.

The ultimate goal of these centers is to prevent abortion. After learning about them for years, I wanted to see for myself what they’re all about. Unfortunately, one was not hard to find: Problem Pregnancy is located directly across from Planned Parenthood in Worcester (right off Park Avenue between Leitrim’s and C.C. Lowell) and within Clark Escort’s driving distance. Armed with a fake pregnancy story and one of my closest friends, I made an appointment through Problem Pregnancy’s website.

I arrived at Problem Pregnancy with my friend on a Thursday afternoon to check in for my appointment. I gave the receptionist my name and waited just a few minutes before being called in. At no point was I asked to present any form of ID or insurance. We were the only
two in the waiting room, which had a calming atmosphere, lots of magazines, brochures, and information on parenthood, babies, and WIC.

Much of the information was in Spanish. Although I asked several times throughout the appointment if my friend could join me, we were given vague answers and she stayed in the waiting room for the entire 50 minute visit.

The counseling room was small but had a desk, more brochures, a large TV, and about 10 plastic models of fetuses at different stages of development. The receptionist was also my counselor for the one on one session, which began with basic demographic information about my life, including my living situation, education, job, friends, family life, my parents’ relationship and jobs, and my siblings.

She asked what my parents would think of my situation. I said they would probably be really disappointed in me, to which she responded, “Well, that’s pretty common.” She spent several minutes trying to pinpoint my religious views, as I explained that I was raised Christian but now felt more spiritual.

She kept asking questions about my parents, church, my practices, and even explained agnosticism, which I finally agreed aligned with my views.

She also asked about the “father” – his life, education, job, and potential role in my future. She asked if his opinion would matter to me. We then discussed the potential pregnancy and what I wanted to get out of the visit.

I clearly stated I wanted a pregnancy test and counseling for my options because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. The counselor said it was smart to come to them, and that they “get a lot of very young girls ages 13 to 15 who don’t know who to talk to about this.”

She then moved on to my physical health and asked about pregnancy symptoms (I indicated about half of them). When I said I wasn’t on birth control and used condoms inconsistently, she raised her eyebrows and gave me a look.

My last period date could have put me at 8 weeks of pregnancy, so after stating, “I think you’re probably pregnant” the counselor said she recommended an ultrasound before a urine test to ensure I had enough urine in my bladder.  (I was skeptical about the science here but later learned a full bladder does produce a better ultrasound.)

She left the room and came back with two cups of water and a release form, and said, “Don’t worry about what this says” while waving her hand in front of the paragraphs. I read them anyways; they disclosed that this was not a medical facility and they could not legally tell me whether or not I was pregnant. At no point was I asked if I wanted an ultrasound or given time to consider having one.

My counselor and another woman prepared the ultrasound room and both stayed with me the entire time. The woman who gave the ultrasound did not introduce herself to me, and only clarified she was a nurse after I asked if she was a doctor. In addition to the ultrasound screen next to my head which she looked at, there was a screen directly in my line of sight as I lay down on the exam table.

The door was cracked open for light, and it made me uncomfortable because I was in such a vulnerable position with my lower abdomen exposed. The nurse looked at the monitor quietly for several minutes while the counselor stood very close on my other side. I asked if the nurse saw anything and she didn’t, but seemed annoyed as she pointed out my not-full bladder, explaining that made it a lot harder to see anything.

The nurse wrapped up the ultrasound and said, “I don’t think you are pregnant- I’m not supposed to say that, but I don’t think you are.” I sighed in relief, and she responded with, “Well don’t get too excited, you’re not out of the woods yet. Is this going to lead to any lifestyle changes?” I said, “Oh definitely.” But there was no follow-up discussion about birth control or what “lifestyle changes” meant.

She simply asked me if I had learned anything from this situation, and said she didn’t want me to have to go through this again. I agreed and said, “I think I’ve learned my lesson,” which seemed to satisfy her.

The nurse joined us as my counselor walked me to the waiting room. As I stood at reception, the nurse looked me in the eyes and said, “That was a close one.” She told me, “You know what, wait until you have a ring on your finger, when you can walk down that aisle in a white dress and be proud of yourself.” I laughed and said I was thinking about doing that. “Guys love the chase, honey!” were her last words to me as I thanked them both and rejoined my friend in the waiting room.

Throughout the entire visit, the two volunteers I interacted with were pitying, condescending, and judgemental. I heard them whispering in the hallway several times, and although I don’t know if it was about me, it added to the sense of unprofessionalism.

During the ultrasound in particular I felt physically and emotionally vulnerable. It was upsetting to have my made-up life choices and personal relationships so deeply questioned, so I left feeling anxious and upset about all those who seek legitimate help from Problem Pregnancyand are met with judgements in a time of need.

I share this story because I want more people to know the truth about crisis pregnancy centers and Problem Pregnancy in particular. This experience is not sensationalized or exaggerated. I am not regurgitating second-hand information or making sweeping generalizations.
This really happened, in Massachusetts, in 2018. In our state these centers outnumber abortion clinics 3 to 1, and there are thousands more throughout the country. For compassionate and reliable care, please contact Planned Parenthood or another legitimate
doctor’s office. Spread the word about crisis pregnancy centers and encourage your friends to do the same.

No matter your lifestyle or political views, you deserve accurate information about your health and respect for your choices.