At a crossroads between family planning

Jackie Au 

CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR

Nestled in a quiet and historic Uptown Whittier street corner, Planned Parenthood of Whittier provides family planning services to thousands of women every year. With discreet window shading and security-enforced entrances, the building does not seem to be the most welcoming. Yet upon entering, posters with slogans such as: “No judgment. Just Care” and “We’re here for you. Our doors are open” line the walls, alongside various pride flags. The corner next to the front desk is flanked with pamphlets on various sexual health dilemmas and their treatments, as well as resources on birth control and family planning.

The clinic provides women and men with access to vital family-care options such as free STD checks, pregnancy tests, abortions, screening for different cancers, and assistance with child care. However, before even entering the clinic, or even entering the parking lot for that matter, a small, old building across the street catches the eye.

Less than 100 feet away from the Planned Parenthood is the Whittier Life Center. It has the feel of a Planned Parenthood that has been left in the sun too long. Signs line the windows of the dilapidated building with faded images of happy families and smiling babies. Baby jumpers, with cute blue letters on them spell out the words “Choose Life.” A number for a pregnancy hotline is plastered on the side of the building, but no one seems to be inside, and, in fact, no one is. At least, not until an appointment is made.

The pregnancy hotline number works, and a friendly female voice belonging to a woman named Peggy picks up on the other end. She explains that her mother founded these clinics in 1971. Peggy’s demeanor was pleasant and caring. She informed me that there are two of these centers in Whittier. Peggy wanted to know if I was pregnant, and she seemed thrilled to hear that I was not and at little risk of that. 

She seemed thrilled to hear that, though her tone became a little less welcoming when I told her who I worked for and why I was calling. After I assured her that I simply wanted to know more about what she and her center do, she hesitantly agreed to speak.

Some advocates for women’s health contend that crisis pregnancy centers such as these are misleading. Facilities such as the Whittier Life Center may, at first glance, seem like a women’s health clinic, but, as Peggy explained, they bill themselves as “Pregnancy Counseling Centers” and “Crisis Pregnancy Centers.” Although they advertise free pregnancy tests, they only provide the test kits. They do not administer them at the center. Primarily, they seek to persuade women to making decisions that, according to Peggy, “both the woman and the child can live with.”

Oftentimes, these centers are headed by untrained individuals who are not doctors or nurses.

End The Lies, an advocacy organization run by Pro-Choice America seeks to provide transparency about “the more than 2,700 fake women’s health centers across the country [that] intentionally mislead and deceive pregnant women and families.” The Whittier Life Center is a recorded fake clinic by the organization. 

According to endthelies.com, “These are facilities that claim to offer pregnancy-related health care and medical services, but prey on women at a vulnerable moment in their lives by pushing medically inaccurate information, using deceptive advertising, running misleading websites, and engaging in a variety of other dishonest tactics to lure women seeking care and information about their full range of healthcare options into visiting these facilities.”

Peggy, however, appeared to be very upfront about the reality that the Whittier Life Center was not a clinic. As the conversation continued, though, she started to speak of medical “facts” such as birth control not being effective and that, during a pregnancy, an embryo’s heart starts to beat even before a woman’s period is missed.

The presence of the Planned Parenthood and the Whittier Life Center across the street from each other is a coincidence with a tinge of irony. Planned Parenthood — being a taxpayer-subsidized program — had more hoops to jump through in order to get information than did Whittier Life Center. When I entered Planned Parenthood, a pleasant lady behind the front desk said that they could not make any official statements. When asked about the Whittier Life Center across the street, the woman paused and shook her head. She, along with a co-worker who happened by as we were conversing, said the operation was “bull” and a fake health clinic. Both agreed that it can be dangerous for women who are in need of real care and medical attention.

Nor is Whittier Life Center’s Peggy a huge fan of Planned Parenthood. Peggy wanted to make it clear that a heartbeat is heard as early as 18 days after conception, and that adoption is a loveable option. According to americanpregnancy.org, an embryo’s heart is developed by weeks four to five of pregnancy, while most legitimate medical sources agree that a heartbeat isn’t discernible until several weeks later.

Peggy also recommended some “must-see” movies on the issue of abortion. She would not speak about what happened in an actual consultation, as I was not pregnant. Instead, she spoke of marches for life that the center hosts. Peggy said the Whittier Life Center is funded through donations from churches and individuals. I asked how women hear about her center, and she told me they are often referred by their local churches, friends, or family.

We talked for awhile and, eventually, the conversation wound its way to my feelings about abortion. I told Peggy I thought the choice should be up to women, not the government. I told her of my friend who got pregnant as a teen and had an abortion. She ended up going to New York University. Peggy told me about the 13 – 14 year olds whom she had helped convince to maintain their pregnancies. I wondered how they were doing.