A Response to the PA Senate Democratic Policy Committee
On September 6th, 2022, Pennsylvania Democrats gathered to discuss pregnancy centers and how they can be legislated or perhaps even eliminated. The hearing itself was two hours long and can be found online.
I wanted to address some of the main points that were brought up. Included in the hearing were Democratic representatives as well as representatives from Planned Parenthood, Equity Forward, Women’s Law Project, Access Matters, and New Voices for Reproductive Justice.
I broke down some of the common themes by topic below.
Medical vs. Non-Medical Pregnancy Centers and Services Provided
In her opening statement, Senator Katie Muth states that there is no requirement for pregnancy centers to have medical personnel. In part, this statement is accurate. There are non-medical pregnancy centers that provide self-administered pregnancy tests (so clients do not need to spend their own funds to purchase a high-quality pregnancy test) and parenting help. These non-medical pregnancy centers don’t claim to be medical facilities and don’t claim to offer medical services. If a pregnancy center is a medical facility and does offer medical services, they often provide pregnancy testing and ultrasound scans. Some also provide STI testing and treatment along with well women exams. Some pregnancy centers even provide prenatal care. Every medical pregnancy center is governed by the law just like any other medical facility. Pregnancy medical centers have medical directors, medical professionals on staff (whether paid or volunteer), medical malpractice insurance, and all appropriate waivers and licenses.
Cortney Bouse, representing Planned Parenthood, stated that pregnancy centers cause women to delay abortion care. Most pregnancy centers provide same day or next day appointments while abortion clinics often do not. A pregnancy center will work hard to see a client before her abortion. If a client is unsure of her decision or being pressured then yes, she is advised to wait until she is certain. However, that it is to help her have peace of mind.
One concern was that receiving material aid that pregnancy centers provide a client is conditional on receiving “anti-abortion programming.” Pregnancy centers provide parenting education on topics from pregnancy into early childhood. Faith-based material can be woven into this education, but it is up to the family whether they are interested in faith-based material.
Most pregnancy centers utilize BrightCourse material. These videos are short and packed with helpful information. In exchange for attending short lessons, clients receive diapers, wipes, baby clothes, baby furniture, maternity items, baby food, formula, etc. Encouraging clients to earn these items allows them to hold their heads high knowing that they were not given handouts -- they earned it through their own work.
Maternal Health Outcomes
Senator Schwank discussed the need to improve maternal health outcomes. This is something most pregnancy centers are well equipped to do at no charge to their communities. Pregnancy centers provide early pregnancy diagnosis, prenatal vitamins, help with baby and maternity items, referrals to programs like WIC and SNAP, help signing up for health insurance, education regarding pregnancy, etc. Often, the young women who enter our doors are uncertain about how far along they are. Pregnancy centers can provide ultrasounds to date her pregnancy and, with her permission, share those ultrasound reports with her OB/GYN or any other provider responsible for her care. Every pregnancy center has stories of young women who thought they were six or eight weeks along and ended up being more than thirty weeks along. If these young women had not had access to a pregnancy center, they could have ended up delivering a full-term baby in fear and panic because they were unaware of their stage of pregnancy. On the other side of the spectrum, some women end up being much earlier in their pregnancy than they anticipated. Finding out this information for free from a pregnancy center equips them to take charge of their health and gives them all the information they need to make decisions.
Funding for Pregnancy Centers
Also in her opening statement, Senator Muth discusses the state funding available to pregnancy centers. She does not, however, note that most Pennsylvania pregnancy centers don’t accept state funding. Out of 127 pregnancy centers in the state only 27, or 21%, are funded by Real Alternatives.
Because Promise of Life Network doesn’t utilize state or federal funding, I am unable to elaborate on Real Alternatives or how they operate.*
Options and Information
In her opening statements, Senator Schwank stated that pregnancy centers have “one goal,” to dissuade people from having abortions. She acknowledges that an abortion is not the answer to every unplanned pregnancy, but states that people in Pennsylvania have the right to the “best information.”
Pregnancy centers are well equipped to provide this information. Every piece of information a pregnancy center shares with their clients is factual and designed to help them make the best decision for themselves and their families. Many young women enter our doors unaware of the resources in our community. Pregnancy centers provide information on those services and even help women and families make appointments if needed. An abortion decision is not an easy one and should not be treated lightly; it is imperative that women have a place to go to discuss their options that does not profit off of their decision.
Abortion Pill Reversal
Senator Schwank stated that Abortion Pill Reversal “doesn’t work.” In fact, Abortion Pill Reversal is proven to be successful 66% of the time.
In Senator Kosierowski’s opening remarks, she conflates political pro-life efforts with the work of pregnancy centers. Typically, pregnancy centers participate very little in politics. The exception would be educating legislators and representatives about the good work pregnancy centers do and how their help their constituents at little or no cost to the taxpayer.
Sexual Risk Avoidance (Abstinence) Education
One panelist claimed that the sexual risk avoidance education offered by pregnancy centers is judgmental and inaccurate. Contrary to this statement, sexual risk avoidance follows the public health model. Just like smoking or drinking, the sexual risk avoidance model teaches students to avoid sexual risk by avoiding sex. We don’t tell teens to “drink safely” or “do drugs safely.” Instead, we tell them to avoid drinking and drugs. The sexual risk avoidance (abstinence) model teaches students to avoid sex, this avoidance protects them from STIs and pregnancy, along with other social, emotional, and spiritual complications arising from sexual activity.
Rape, Domestic Violence, Sex Trafficking, etc.
Representative Mary Isaacson asked about what happens when a woman comes into a pregnancy center pregnant after a rape. Any woman who has been raped is encouraged to report the rape. The pregnancy center is there for her just as we are with any other woman. As with any other client, she is referred to the help that she will need to recover from this traumatic experience.
Senator Cappelletti then asked about whether pregnancy centers screen for domestic violence, trafficking, substance abuse, etc. The answer to her question is a resounding “yes!” Not only do we screen for these concerns, but we make appropriate referrals and then follow up (when possible) to be sure the client in question is able to access the help he or she needs.
Privacy and Data Collection
Senator Muth asked about basic questionnaires, intakes, privacy forms, etc. Pregnancy centers typically voluntarily comply with HIPAA (even if they are not required to do so) and are required to follow state privacy laws. Confidentiality is extremely important to pregnancy centers and all client information is treated with great care.
A client’s data is only shared with their express permission. Specific data is never shared with national affiliates, sold, given away, or disclosed inappropriately. The only time a pregnancy center would share a client’s information without their permission would be to report suspected child abuse as required by law.
Regulations Governing Pregnancy Centers
One of the recurring themes during the hearing was the presumed lack of regulation surrounding pregnancy centers. Just like any other medical or non-medical social service agency, pregnancy centers comply with both state and federal law as well as industry best practices.
Why Pregnancy Centers Exist – and Where
Sen Cappelletti asked about mobile ultrasound services and where pregnancy help can be provided. Pregnancy centers work hard to be where there is need for services. This may be right next door to an abortion clinic in a large city or in a small town without any other social services. Pregnancy centers are everywhere because the need for our services is everywhere.
True Care and Concern
Ms. Davis from New Voices for Reproductive Justice stated that pregnancy centers are giving “phony care and sympathy…and the only kind words folks are experiencing.”
YES! We may be the only kind words that folks experience. That care, however, is far from “phony.” Women facing an unplanned pregnancy need love, kindness, and support. That is precisely why we’re here. There is not enough help for women and pregnancy centers are here to fill that gap, and to fill it with excellent and free help.
The Goal of This Hearing
Towards the end of the hearing, Senator Muth asks if removing taxpayer funding would “eliminate CPCs.” This is a telling question, because it gives us all an idea of what her true goal is. The answer, however, is no. Unlike many other non-profits, pregnancy centers are not dependent on government funding. Removing Real Alternatives funding may cause some to struggle for a short time, but I honestly believe that most would recover quickly with the support of their communities.
This happens because people believe in what we’re doing. They’re not voting for funding and moving on -- they’re giving very generously out of their own pockets to help women and families.
The next policy hearing on the topic of pregnancy centers is going to be held Friday October 28th at 10:00 am. This time, they have invited both the head of Real Alternatives and myself (as an Executive Director and a Pennsylvania Life Exchange leadership member). Your prayers are appreciated as I prepare for this hearing and work to present pregnancy centers as we truly are: organizations that are here to care for women regardless of their life circumstances.
*Promise of Life Network does not typically accept state or federal funding. However, we partner with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to provide STD testing and treatment free of charge to our community.
Sarah Bowen is the Executive Director of Promise of Life Network, a life affirming ministry including a pregnancy medical center with locations in Slippery Rock, New Castle, Butler, and Sandy Lake, PA. She began with Promise of Life Network as a college intern in 2008, and has been the executive director since 2014. Sarah and her husband Anthony have been married for 13 years and Anthony stays home with and homeschools their four sons. Sarah graduated from Geneva College with a bachelor’s degree in Human Services and a minor in Business. Her first book, Courageously Pro-Life, and other resources for pregnancy centers are available on her website, sarahmbowen.com. When Sarah isn’t working to end abortion she can be found knitting, crocheting, riding her razor scooter, bicycling, and spending time with her family.