Pregnancy Center More Than Just 'Anti-Abortion'

Critics: Patients deserve to know all options

Jan 27, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Cincinnati’s Pregnancy Center East sees hundreds of women each year, all facing what’s likely the toughest question of their young lives: I’m pregnant. Now what?

And in this tough economy, for women who typically visit the center that question isn’t getting any easier to navigate.

“That number is trending up, I will tell you, in this economy,” says Janie Klare, the center’s Director of Development.

Between 700-800 women visit Pregnancy Center East each year. About half are African-American; the remainder are white or Asian. Most are single and poor; three-fourths live below poverty level. About one-fourth are college students from across Greater Cincinnati.

“Typically they are unmarried, in a relationship, or have been in a relationship. They think they’re pregnant and have no idea what to do,” Klare says.

That’s among the reasons Pregnancy Center East, which bills itself as a “Pro-Life, Pro-Women, Pro-Children” organization, has expanded and relocated. The center — among the region’s largest — moved from the basement of a Hyde Park medical center to a higher profile, stand-alone building in Oakley. The center relocated in two days from Erie Avenue, reopening on Dec. 21 at 3944 Edwards Road.

It was a longtime search, Klare says.

“For seven years our home committee has been searching for the right place in the community, without getting too close to other centers,” she says.

Founded in 1982 in Mount Lookout Square, Pregnancy Center is one of around a dozen pregnancy resource centers in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area that advocate abortion alternatives.

The center offers a host of services including pregnancy testing, parenting classes, post-abortion counseling medical, social services and legal aid referrals among others. All services are free and confidential.

The new building is visible from Edwards Road, just off Interstate 71. It’s along a Metro bus route, making it more accessible to clients who don’t always have independent or reliable transportation.

“It’s a much more viable and visible spot for our ministry. It’s much more accessible to clients on a bus line, because we draw clients from all over the city,” Klare says.

Not everyone agrees that facilities like Pregnancy Center East are beneficial for women’s mental health.

Another organization that assists pregnant women, Planned Parenthood, questions the center’s use of the term “ministry” and says the center mixes the need for medical services and counseling with overt religious aims.

“I don’t think such facilities are a good choice if they don’t give a woman all of her legal options or tries to push her in a certain direction,” says Becki Brenner, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio.

Contrary to popular belief, Planned Parenthood outlines multiple options for expectant mothers and doesn’t advocate for one choice over another. That attitude has built a bond of trust: Planned Parenthood has been around for 80 years, and its local offices serve about 60,000 clients annually.

“If a woman has questions she has a right, medically and ethically, to get all the information,” Brenner adds. “When you narrow her choices, you’re doing her a disservice. You’re not fulfilling your responsibility.”

The Pregnancy Center’s Oakley building triples the size of the center’s previous space — now at 31,000 square feet. It’s a single-level building without the stairs of the Hyde Park space, which were difficult for some clients and volunteers to access. Private client rooms have doubled from two to four, and there is a separate reception area.

“We’ll be able to grow and offer more health services at our center,” Klare says.

Among those new services is ultrasound imaging. A local retired doctor has volunteered to operate the center’s new machine on site.

“We can show the client her baby and its development. Dr. Joe Gromada is a retired, licensed OBGYN and … he can give the ultrasound to a client directly,” Klare said.

The center is funded by grants and private donations, gifts and memorials. And most of the staff is volunteer, including social workers, students, doctors and advocates. The building itself was a gift. Well-known developer Bill Butler of Corporex Cos. in Covington purchased the building on the center’s behalf (they have worked out an agreement to purchase it later). Butler also donated design and construction services.

“By engaging Bill Butler on this venture, on our behalf, it allowed us the incredible good fortune to use a design architect and finishing professional employees to manage and oversee the build-out of our building. It would have cost well over $100,000 if we farmed out work,” Klare says.

Laura Strietmann, of Mount Lookout, has been a center volunteer for three years. She became a patient advocate after a friend asked her to consider it. In those three years, she’s listened to women talk about their home situation, referred them to doctors for care, helped them sign up for medical cards and other services.

Although advocates are anti-abortion, Strietmann adds, they don’t pressure women in their decision, and it’s ultimately up to the individual to decide how to handle her pregnancy.

Some clients have had abortions, she says, and they’ve returned to the center afterward.

To counsel those women, the center soon will be offering on-site, post-abortion counseling.

“We are planning to add that service very, very soon,” she says.

Since becoming an advocate, Strietmann has seen how difficult it is for many women to deal with pregnancy without the support of friends, families or the father.

Brenner replies that claims about women experiencing traumatic side effects after having an abortion are overblown. Most women, if properly informed before deciding on the procedure, generally are content with their choice and the need for such counseling isn’t widespread, she says.

“According to the Mental Health Diagnostic Codes, there is no such thing as ‘post-abortion syndrome.’ The mental health world doesn’t recognize it as a legitimate mental health disease process,” Brenner says.

Brenner’s concern is that such counseling could actually worsen a woman’s mental outlook.

“If a woman feels bad after having an abortion, that’s fine as long as that doctor or counselor respects that woman’s choice,” Brenner adds. “Don’t try to make her feel guilty or like she’s committed a crime or gone against God. Listen to what she has to say.”

Strietmann, though, believes there is a legitimate need for the services.

“It has changed me. Crisis pregnancy has been around since the beginning of time, but it surprises me the amount of people who don’t have anyone to talk to, how many women need a friend, a nonjudgmental friend,” she says.