By Dr. Lynette Leighton
As a family physician, I provide comprehensive health care for all of my patients, including safe abortions for women who decide to end a pregnancy. I’ve cared for many women who came to me in crisis when they learned they were pregnant. The last thing my patients need is to be misled by anti-abortion organizations masquerading as health clinics. I’m strongly in favor of the New York City bill requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions or contraception, or offer referrals for these services.
I recently treated Michelle, a 16-year-old who came to my clinic for an abortion. Michelle received counseling from our social worker, and she was quiet when she entered the exam room—not unusual for a woman going through a difficult time. However, as I began to counsel her about what to expect during the procedure, she started to sob.
“Are you sure this is the right decision for you?” I asked.
She exclaimed through her tears, “I can’t have a baby right now!”
We sat down together and discussed the pros and cons. She was not ready to be a mother, or to be pregnant. She wanted to go to college. Michelle felt suicidal at the thought of carrying out the pregnancy. Her mother was opposed to abortion, but Michelle still concluded that it was right for her.
On the way to the clinic, however, Michelle saw a nearby building with a large sign: “Unintended Pregnancy?” Thinking it was our clinic, she went in. She was surprised that instead of taking her medical history, the staff asked her about her relationship with God. They told her that ending a pregnancy is murder, and if she followed through with her abortion, the baby would feel pain during the procedure. They showed her pictures of fetuses from much later in pregnancy. “I can’t get them out of my head,” she said.
I expected Michelle to say that she had changed her mind and wanted to leave our clinic. Instead, she touched my arm, looked into my eyes, and thanked me for being there. “I’m ready now.”
This young woman had determined on her own that she did not want to be pregnant. She considered all of her options, and she chose abortion. She did not want to be a mother right then. She wanted to continue her education. Despite the propaganda that the crisis pregnancy center forced on Michelle, she chose to end her pregnancy.
New York City has just introduced a bill that could help prevent women from being misled by crisis pregnancy centers. It would require these centers to post signs clearly stating that they do not offer abortion or contraceptives, and will not help women find a provider who does. The bill would also make centers without a licensed medical professional on staff add this fact to their signs. Michelle might have been spared her traumatic experience had she seen a sign like this on the door of the crisis pregnancy center.
Beliefs about abortion and reproductive health are all over the map. Some women in Michelle’s situation will choose parenting or adoption. But traumatizing women with misinformation doesn’t help anyone. Pregnant women need care and counseling based on medical evidence and compassion, not lies. That’s why I support the effort to give women in New York City clear information about what happens inside crisis pregnancy centers.