By Carly Priest, Opinions Editor
Like most college campuses, the College of the Holy Cross has signs everywhere. Advertisements for textbook buyback programs, spring break trips, research and study abroad programs litter the campus. The flyers are everywhere: dorm hallways, classrooms in Stein, CB 2, bathrooms— no where is safe. Recently, I’ve seen one or two flyers for Clearway Clinic hung in various women’s bathrooms on the back of partition doors (I can’t really speak to whether they’re in the men’s room, too). The signs for Clearway Clinic always features some diminutive of the following slogans: “Pregnant and scared?” or “Had an abortion, want to talk?” with a resource number to call.
Clearway Clinic offers an example of the growing number of the “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” or “Pregnancy Resource Centers” that have shot up since the passage of Roe vs. Wade. Ostensibly, these CPCs offer a sort of triage care, with free counseling and services to assist those accidentally-pregnant to allow women the opportunity to consult alternatives to abortion, these including motherhood and adoption. Under the Presidency of George W. Bush, CPCs received millions in federal grant money for their work. On the website homepage of Clearway Clinic, the organization features stock photos of smiling, white, pregnant women and baby shoes alongside their work as “specialists in pregnancy diagnosis and medical confirmation,” and the clarification of their role as not “an adoption agency, abortion doctor, or obstetrical medical practice”(http://clearwayclinic.com). Generally, CPCs offer ultrasound services, gestational counseling, partner support, and STI testing and treatment. Some, Clearway Clinic included, offer baby clothes and infant supplies. Others, like those affiliated with the organization Care Net, provide patients with financial aid and bible study.
CPCs sometimes adopt names that imply choice or are similar to those of well-known abortion providers, like Planned Parenthood. Though “Clearway Clinic” seems pretty innocuous, “Options For Women,” “Informed Choices,” and “Birth Choice Clinics of Orange County” (all CPCs in my home state, California) are not. Oftentimes, CPCs will establish themselves as geographically close to abortion clinics as possible. Such is the case of a CPC right here in Worcester, Problem Pregnancy. Located at 495 Pleasant Street, Problem Pregnancy opened right down the street from the Planned Parenthood clinic at 493 Pleasant Street. As a proud patient of the Worcester Planned Parenthood, the similar fonts, color schemes, and close proximity of two offices struck me when I went to my first appointment. English is my first language and I can read it well, but if I was a recent immigrant desperately seeking Planned Parenthood’s gynecological services— STI testing or treatment, a wellness check, or birth control? I sincerely question whether I would have been confused as to which building was which— and as a woman, this makes me angry.
I’m not angry that Holy Cross students put Clearway Clinic flyers on the back of restroom stall doors. I’m not angry Clearway Clinic provides free STI testing and treatment for chlamydia and gonorrhea, or that they promise free ultrasounds and pregnancy tests by their licensed nurses and doctors. I’m not angry the Clinic promises minors that their doors are open for them, too. In fact, I’m not angry that CPCs attempt to present pregnant women with options, or that they provide counseling to women who have had abortions and reach to them for help.
I’m angry because I demand an answer to the question: “Where were you?” and the Clearway Clinic flyers on Holy Cross bathroom doors do not heed my cries.
Where were you, Clearway Clinic, when Jane Doe didn’t have the resources to see a private OB/GYN to discuss which birth control methods best suited her body and family history? When Jack received abstinence-only education? When Sally needed condoms? When Sarah thought she felt a lump in her breasts and wanted a manual exam performed by a licensed professional? When Stan had no idea how to protect himself from HIV? When my unbiological sisters, with far fewer resources than I, were duped into entering a clinic with far fewer gynecological health services? Where were you, when I went to college out-of-state, 3,000 miles from home? Where were you?
The conversation surrounding crisis pregnancy centers, especially on a college campus, must include a conversation about the accessibility of birth control in this country. To utterly ignore the fundamental link between easily-accessible birth control and a nationwide reduction in unplanned pregnancy rates proves irresponsible to our level of medical education. In my critique of CPCs I neither question Catholic social teaching, nor make statement about anti-abortion or pro-choice values. Instead, I hope to illuminate the difficult line some walk on a Jesuit Campus in the 21st century, about whether to ignore Catholic social teaching or to silence the science-backed research that shows a positive correlation between increased access to birth control and a decrease in pregnancies terminated. If CPCs exist because of the “crisis” of unplanned pregnancy, why not significantly reduce the number of pregnancies that go unplanned? With the epidemiological knowledge of the 21st-century, each and every woman in this country must have access to the care that allows her bodily autonomy. Sex education must be comprehensive and complete, accurate and accessible—our young people must feel empowered to ask frank questions about sexual health.
Certainly, I don’t advocate we eliminate clinics like Clearway Clinic— I’m more about opening doors to ensure women can make meaningful choices than closing them. However, CPCs must be held accountable to proactive sex education and pregnancy prevention—which, in sad truth, not many are. Recently, California legislature passed the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, to reach more women seeking reproductive care. Under the Reproductive FACT Act, all CPCs must post a notice declaring: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion” (Article 2) to provide all women with factual information about available reproductive services. Under this legislation, CPCs must acknowledge the greater problem of accessible female healthcare as they try to better assist those pregnant women navigating their options. I advocate that we open the floodgates: make birth control easily accessible, teach comprehensive sex education, and shunt the idea that the same biological gift which allows women to have children also limits their capacity to decide when to have a child.
We need free, comprehensive birth control and sexual education for all women and men— anything less denies the full autonomy of meaningful choice. With these thoughts, I clear a path of direct action for you, Clearway Clinic: expand your mission to provide women with meaningful choices. Utilize your licensed nurses and doctors to teach sex education, to inform women about types of birth control and to distribute condoms— if not in the name of pregnancy prevention, at least to curb the STI epidemic. Create a generation where pregnancy does have to go unplanned—or, in the very least, partner with an organization that already does.