-{Somewhat unusually, this post involves a very hot-button political topic. Please, please be respectful of people of different mindsets in the comment section. References to the other side as baby-murderers or anti-woman fascists or whatnot will not be tolerated.}-

Clancy and I were invited to a dinner for a pregnancy assistance center that a colleague of hers, Dr. Lang, is associated with. Other than free food that wouldn’t be remotely Trumwill-friendly and rounds and rounds of self-congratulations on the part of the organization, I didn’t really know what to expect. If I’d thought about it longer, I might have given more thought to what “pregnancy assistance” likely means in this part of the country. It didn’t take me long before I realized that we were drawn into something we were not expecting. Oh, it’s one of those pregnancy assistance centers!

Arapaho is a relatively conservative state and Dent County is a conservative county within the state (having gone 2-to-1 for McCain), but it’s not remarkably conservative in the real religious sense. At least not compared with the south, which will always be my benchmark. We had a state house candidate that actually had a story to tell about his conversion to Christ and how it took him from being an ex-con to a pillar of the community, but it was actually something that he undersold (it only came up when he had to explain his felony record) in favor of lower taxes and antipathy towards socialism. But it nonetheless is a place of “small-town values” and that is usually going to include a public antipathy towards something like abortion. It’s also a place where abortion is apparently a real problem (if you view it as such) with some of the highest rates in the country*.

So I guess it shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise that this center was one of the ones where helping the mothers-to-be is more a means than an ends and the ends is talking them out of getting an abortion. I figured this out by the second prayer, which included a part about God looking out for the unborn and it seemed pretty apparent that he wasn’t solely talking about miscarriages. My views on the abortion subject shift around with time but are ultimately pretty conflicted, squishy, and middling. I can’t get on board with laws banning the practice and have difficulty mustering up support even in the later-term procedures which I find particularly abhorrent. But I also have pretty significant moral objections to it. While I support the notion of choice legally, I believe that there is a right choice and a wrong choice (the vast majority of the time). So in that sense (as there is nothing this organization can do with respect to the law), I really am on board with what this organization is trying to do.

At the time, though, I felt rather blindsided. This was partly an organization, but also partly a “ministry” (which they referred to themselves as repeatedly). I wasn’t sure to be irritated with the organization or irritated with Dr. Lang for not cluing us into this aspect of it all. But the feeling was all the same. I was also not sure to the same extent that their clients were not as blindsided as we were. Young ladies going in there thinking that they’re going to get help with all of their options only to find themselves pushed really strongly in a particular direction. The place has a pretty innocuous name that only lightly suggests what their aims are. Concealing their motivations, of course, is a strategically wise move. Both when it came to us (once they had us there, it was going to take some courage not to give at least a little bit of money to their cause) and when it came to mothers (you want the ones strongly considering abortion to come in, cause those are some of the ones you most want to reach). In any event, we found ourselves drawn into taking sides of a fierce debate that with forewarning I would have had to think long and hard about getting involved with. I would have felt similarly if I’d found out that this innocuous-sounding organization suggesting more general aims was actually an abortion clinic.

In addition to the religious angle, there were also a couple other points of concern. Their support for abstinence-only education, for example, leaves us somewhat cold. Truthfully, I am coming around to the point of view that the sex-ed debates ultimately don’t actually make all that much difference**, but to the extent that there is a line in the sand I am ultimately on the other side of it. We won’t be sending out kids to the abstinence camp that this organization helps fund.***

More seriously, though, they also made statements that simply aren’t true with regard to viability. So what are they telling the young women that come to them for help? The main thing, I have to assume, is “this is your baby.” The fundraiser was trying to raise money for a live ultrasound machine. They brought one in from Alexandria and gave us a demonstration of an 11-week old fetus that was sucking its thumb. It was the first live ultrasound I’ve ever seen****.

At the point where they were having people dump checks in the offertory buckets, Clancy mouthed the question of whether or not we wanted to donate. I subtly shook my head. At the time I was rather agitated with the blindside and wanted more time to unpack the very unexpected evening. She took the slip, folded it up, and put it in her pocket. She is a stickler for the facts (particularly as they pertain to medicine, and so the rather major fact they got wrong resonated more with her than with me. And, of course, she is not a fan of organized religion dating back to her unwilling Catholic days, reinforced more recently with her experience working in a Catholic hospital with… optimistic… views of viability leading to complicated issues. I figured if I was being blindsided and was resentful about it, it probably went doubly for her since she is further away from their perspective and she is particularly wary of being sold. We talked about it on our way back to the hospital. She decided that she would need to find out more about what they do and how they do it before she donates.

That night, while I was doing some late-night shopping, I started to unpack the thoughts. Once I cooled down, the main thing I kept coming back to is that whatever my objections to the way the whole evening went, theirs is a group with a mission statement I can mostly support. Theirs is an organization dedicated to doing what I believe ought to be done: encouraging people to choose life. Whatever my disagreements with regard to the nature of God, the legality of abortion, abstinence-only education and the like, their relative extremism on the matter compelled them to do the heavy lifting (and the courts preventing them from supporting legal changes I can’t get on board with. Not just pushing girls and women in the “right” direction, but helping those that make the right choice. Pointing the way to adoption agencies. Helping those that keep their baby with material goods like diapers and the such. Reaching out to women who made mistakes rather than smugly condemning them. I might prefer an organization with ideas I am more in line with doing these things, but this is the organization that Dent County has.

Further, their main goal at this point is an ultrasound machine, which I think is a great idea. Ultrasound images are perhaps the most powerful tool in the anti-abortion arsenal. Also, one of the least objectionable. If seeing what is being aborted changes someone’s mind, I believe that to be a good thing. Having an ultrasound of the baby that is actually in their womb also has the effect of preventing dishonest portrayals with mis-dated ultrasounds or ultrasounds of unusually developed or large fetuses (as was alleged at Southern Tech – see below). What they see is what they have. Honesty in live motion. I know some of you will disagree with me on that as well, but it’s my take on the subject.

They mentioned that to do their work they need a better computer and a laptop. If they’re having computer troubles, that is certainly something I can help with. Depending on what they have, I may be able to just give them one of my computers that’s sitting around doing nothing. Or if their computer is underfunctioning I can bring it up to speed for them. Even on the laptop front, I am a really good go-to person for anyone that needs an expensive laptop that won’t set the world on fire with its speed but that is good enough for day-to-day use (I have a possible business plan involving solid laptops – not netbooks, laptops – for under $300). If nothing else, it’s a good way to introduce myself to people as a guy that can do these things.

I was and am kind of curious if we basically freeloaded ourselves a dinner. I was under the impression that our seats were tickets purchased by Lang. I don’t like to think that we were given free food with the understanding of a lavish check at the end of the evening. I don’t really know how these things work.

*- Among the highest in the state or the country. They made a point of mentioning the high abortion rates repeatedly but couldn’t settle on the parameters, giving the same figure (xth in the y going back and fourth with y being the state or the country (I suspect y=state). They also mentioned what towns the nearby abortion clinics were in. This had the unintended effect of Clancy making mental notes because she is legally obligated to refer care to anyone that wants abortion. She does not and would not perform them herself (except in an emergency situation out of necessity). Beyond our moral/ethical reservations about abortion, the notion that some on the pro-choice side don’t believe it should be her prerogative on whether to perform the procedure herself of not is one of the things that keeps us from being very firmly in the pro-choice camp.

** – Both abstinence-only and safe sex movements severely overestimate the decision-making capacity of the young as well as the influence that educators, spiritual leaders, and ultimately parents have on that decision-making process.

***- The thought also occurred to me that for all of the money they were trying to raise for advertising, one hell of an advertising mechanism would be to give out condoms (which I don’t think I have seen for sale since moving here and the purchase of which in a small town is not likely to go unnoticed). Then, after the user errors that would inevitably result do result, they’ll probably go back to the center where they can then be talked out of having an abortion. Of course, this runs headlong into the religious foundation of (most of) the anti-abortion movement and it’s an awfully big concession to make. Also, given the strong Catholic presence here and the social conservatism of the people most likely to donate money, going this route would probably be inordinately expensive with regard to dried up fundraising. So even if they weren’t true-believers, which they almost assuredly are, from a pragmatic institutional standpoint this idea probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.

****- I think I may have seen a video or something on YouTube, but even if I have I might still be uncertain that the fetus is the age that they say it is. A pro-life group at Southern Tech was notorious in liberalish circles for showing pictures of fetuses with ages that were either incorrect or extremely developed for their age.


Category: Coffeehouse

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8 Responses to Accidental Activists

  1. Peter says:

    On 14th Street in Manhattan there is a door leading to a professional office that bears two small nameplate-style signs. The top sign reads “Podiatric Medicine and Surgery.” The bottom sign, less than an inch below the top one, reads “Pregnancy Help.”

    It is impossible to see the signs in such close juxtaposition and not think that some really extreme foot fetish is involved.

  2. Mike Hunt says:

    References to the other side as baby-murderers or anti-woman fascists or whatnot will not be tolerated.

    You are no fun. 😛

    We won’t be sending out(sic) kids to the abstinence camp that this organization helps fund

    Abstinence camp LITERALLY sounds like a big circle jerk.

    By the way, telling someone who is between puberty and menopause to not have sex is an exercise in futility. Generally speaking, someone in that age bracket who isn’t getting any can’t get any. Most importantly, sex is enjoyable. Like most other enjoyable things, it should be enjoyed safely, in moderation. It shouldn’t be discouraged for the sake of discouraging it.

  3. trumwill says:

    When I was living in Cascadia and looking for a doctor, the first name on the list I was looking at (under “family medicine”) actually turned out to be an abortion clinic. Of course, I can understand why they might want to be under the radar.

    Mike, I think you overstate the case a bit. It seems to matter on the margins. But it doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective strategy when the most influential adults on teenage sexual norms are writers on TV shows like Dawson’s Creek.

  4. Maria says:

    “Pregnancy assistance centers” have been around for decades, and are called that in godless California as well as in conservative states. I am surprised that you were taken unawares by the nature of the beast.

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    Mike, I think you overstate the case a bit. It seems to matter on the margins.

    Fair point. Maybe what I said shouldn’t be taken completely literally, but I think the general point still holds. I think parents spend way too much time and effort to prevent the expression of sexuality. Ironically, once they are married, sex is encouraged.

    Obviously, this should all be age appropriate.

  6. trumwill says:

    I agree with your general point. There’s only so much you can do, really. I think that really all you can do is lay out your expectations and have the general sort of relationship with them that your expectations actually matter. That latter part depends on a rather large number of variables.

  7. stone says:

    “Other than free food that wouldn’t be remotely Trumwill-friendly”

    What free food would you turn down?

  8. trumwill says:

    Frou-food. Meat in fruit-sauce, cranberries on salad, and the like. They actually did okay on the former, but the latter left my salad untouched. They also had broccoli, which I forced myself to eat prior to digging into the meat… only to have the meat taken away before I could finish it. A piece and a half of cake, though!

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