The Wesleyan University Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD) department’s “Bridge Builder Award” “recognizes a student group that has succeeded in strengthening the relationship between Wesleyan and the greater Middletown community.” The recipients of this award are acknowledged in the commencement program and recognized at the end of year award reception on May 8, 2019. This year, SALD gave Wesleyan for Women and Children (WesWAC) the Bridge Builder Award for their work with ABC Women’s Center, a self-described “pregnancy resource center” that is located in Middletown. ABC Women’s Center is part of a coalition of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) in the State of Connecticut, called the Connecticut Pregnancy Care Coalition, that actively lobbies for the “right” of CPCs to “offer life affirming services” in the state of Connecticut.
Centers that are a part of CPCC, like ABC Women’s Center, might also be known or referred to as “fake women’s health centers” or “fake health centers.” In many instances, these organizations purposefully deceive and misinform pregnant people or people with uteruses who are seeking reproductive healthcare. For example, CPCs try to get pregnant people through their doors by posing as clinics that provide abortions and/or the full range of reproductive-related healthcare only to subsequently shame them out of receiving an abortion or misinform them about reproductive services such as contraception and abortion. In many instances, CPCs deliberately set themselves up in close proximity to licensed reproductive healthcare clinics/centers so that people seeking abortion services or reproductive care are unsure of which clinic they should go to. An example of this deception can be seen in Hartford, where a CPC (The Hartford Women’s Center) is located almost directly across from Hartford GYN (licensed provider) and strategically uses this close proximity in order to “intercept” clients seeking services from Hartford GYN. Other times, CPCs distribute misinformation to clients about the effects of abortion such as: the (disproven) association between abortion and breast cancer, the false claim that abortion can make it harder to become pregnant in the future or lead to higher risk of miscarriage, or the false claim that a patient’s mental health will automatically or always be compromised by abortion. These claims have been refuted by recognized medical institutions like the National Cancer Institute. This distribution of false information reinforces the idea that abortion is not a normal and safe medical procedure and works to further stigmatize not only the procedure itself, but also those who seek or have sought it. Unlike licensed health centers, CPCs are generally unlicensed and unregulated by the state and do not provide the full range of services that licensed reproductive health centers do, such as abortion services, contraception, emergency contraception, ultrasounds, and a wide-range of other services. Many of these CPCs are funded through donations raised by fundraisers, outside organizations, individuals, or groups, such as WesWAC.
With these realities in mind, I was troubled by the fact that Wesleyan University chose to recognize the work that WesWAC does for ABC Women’s Center. It does not sit well with me to see Wesleyan, a university that frequently prides itself on being at the “forefront of…progressive education” and markets itself as liberal institution, condoning the work of CPCs. By doing so, they are allowing for this type of misinformation and deception to continue thriving (with their stamp of approval) and are participating in a practice that has real and detrimental consequences for many. I am not saying that the University or its administrators have to share my political views or constantly be acting in accord with certain values. However, I think it’s important to have a dialogue about the impact of their decisions. I want to pose to you some of the questions that I have found myself grappling with over the past week: If the University tends to profit off of marketing itself as a progressive place full of activism, is it hypocritical for them to be awarding this type of work or participating in this anti-choice project? Is this the type of relationship that we want to be strengthening between Wesleyan and the Middletown community? And, even if it is a relationship that the school wants to recognize, is it ethical for them to do so given the way in which many CPCs actively harm many populations of people who are seeking care? How can we, as student activists and members of this community, hold ourselves and one another accountable for the ways in which we might fall short in striving to live a life that reflects our beliefs?
I do not take issue with supporting organizations or groups that work to provide pregnant and/or parenting people with resources. It is essential, in fact, that those who are religious and/or who are in need of pregnancy services have a place where they can go and feel supported. I recognize that there is a real need for resources that help pregnant or parenting people. I also recognize that, in certain ways, ABC Women’s Center fulfills these needs by providing pregnant people with diapers, support groups, and other services. However, I take issue with the support of institutions and organizations that purposefully work to deceive people seeking reproductive healthcare and that work to make access to abortion more difficult through deceptive or stigmatizing means. There are ways to be pro-life and support people who want to carry pregnancies to term or want religious counseling without lying to people in the way that CPCs have been proven to do. Just as pregnant and parenting people seeking resources deserve access to these resources, people seeking reproductive healthcare services deserve medically-accurate and non-shaming healthcare and health information.
If you feel as though you’d like to discuss any of these issues with me, even if we do not see eye-to-eye on them, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always seeking to learn and to have my perspective challenged in a respectful and constructive way.
For more information on CPCs in the state of CT and beyond:
Rebecca Goldfarb Terry is a member of the class of 2019.