Republican legislators and governors have dramatically restricted women’s access to abortion in recent years. Those successes have emboldened the anti-choice movement to pursue ever-more extreme goals, which is why we now see Republican presidential candidates vowing to grant full constitutional rights to a fertilized egg, and pledging to use the power of the White House to legally ban abortion in all circumstances, including rape, incest, or to save a woman’s life. The Religious Right’s relentless campaign to destroy Planned Parenthood is part of this broader effort to eliminate women’s access to abortion altogether — and the push to control and restrict women’s sexual autonomy and health care extends even further, to undermining access to birth control.
The current campaign against Planned Parenthood relies not only on the deceptively edited videos purporting to show wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood staff, but also on the dubious claim that women’s access to health care will not suffer because women can get health care at other clinics. In this mix are not only federally funded community health clinics, but also religiously affiliated networks of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) and medical clinics whose business model is to intercept women seeking information about abortion and provide them with misleading or one-sided information intended to talk them out of it. Many of those clinics, purporting to “replace” the care that women receive from Planned Parenthood, do not provide contraception.
Earlier this month, the conservative National Catholic Register asked, “Can National Pro-Life Health Centers Become the Cure for Planned Parenthood?” It was a reprise of an article from last year in which anti-choice activist Abby Johnson explained that upgrading crisis pregnancy centers into medical clinics was a strategic way to hurt Planned Parenthood by taking away some of the business it does in providing testing for sexually transmitted diseases and cancer screenings. Asked whether she thinks “these modern pro-life centers” could threaten Planned Parenthood, she responded, “Yes, absolutely. I think they are the No. 1 threat to Planned Parenthood.”
In July, the right-wing National Review published a collection of responses it received when it “asked some distinguished experts what would become of women’s health in a post-Planned Parenthood era.”
One of National Review’s respondents was Erika Bachiochi, an anti-choice attorney who edited a book that defends Catholic teaching on sex and marriage, including the church’s opposition to contraception. Among the groups that Bachiochi says are “working heroically to replace Planned Parenthood” are Obria Medical Clinics and the Guiding Star project.
Obria Medical Clinics offer what the National Catholic Register calls “comprehensive medical care,” but that depends on your definition of “comprehensive.” The article states, “The affiliate agreement stipulates no contraception or abortion referral or things of that nature will be allowed.”
But Obria’s website is far from clear on this point, offering women who come to the site a section entitled “Contraception: A Variety of Choices.”
Before taking any contraceptive, it is important to understand how contraception works and what it could mean to your health to practice various forms of birth control. Understanding the different types of birth control options that are available is critical in making the best decision for you. It’s also valuable to understand how your body works and to track your monthly cycles. At Obria, our medical professionals are happy to go over information about available contraception methods with you and help you feel empowered.
Knowing that Obria does not provide or refer women for contraception makes this language seem a thin cover for anti-contraception propaganda CPCs have been known to provide.
The Obria Foundation seeks to transform CPCs into “life-affirming medical clinics” and hopes to expand from its base in Orange County, California into a statewide, then national network. Its website says it also teaches abstinence education. Obria lists the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as one of its partner organizations; it is also partnering with churches in Orange County, Florida, to raise funds and steer teenagers away from abortion providers by presenting them “with a Christ-centered perspective.” Obria founder Kathleen Eaton Bravo received a Distinguished Leader Award from the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List this year.
Another group praised by Bachiochi that is hoping to build a national network to “replace” Planned Parenthood is Guiding Star. Guiding Star describes itself as “a group of people who uphold Natural Law through the promotion of New Feminism.”
Guiding Star’s website explains that “New Feminism” discards the bad idea of “old feminism” that men and women are “interchangeable”— and replaces it by “viewing femininity through a lens of hope and joy.” They are working to establish “a nationwide family of Guiding Star Centers” that they say will “provide support for natural means of family planning, fertility care, childbirth, breastfeeding, and family life.” One thing Guiding Star clinics will not do is provide women with contraception, because Guiding Star believes that contraception and abortion “interrupt natural, healthy, biological processes and are not in the best interest of women and their families.”
Obria and Guiding Star are joining existing networks of crisis pregnancy clinics (CPCs) with similar outlooks on contraception. In last year’s National Catholic Register story, Johnson cited both Heartbeat International and Care Net as having models for centers who want to upgrade their medical services in order to pull patients away from Planned Parenthood.
Heartbeat International has a video online specifically saying that if Planned Parenthood is defunded, women can get care through “life-affirming” centers and clinics. The group, which says it has “supported, strengthened and started” 1,800 “pregnancy help organizations” globally), describes itself as broadly Christian: “All Heartbeat International policies and materials are consistent with Biblical principles and with orthodox Christian (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) ethical principles and teaching on the dignity of the human person and sanctity of human life.” But Heartbeat International’s position on contraception goes well beyond opposition to methods that it believes act as abortifacients, and therefore well beyond the understanding of many Protestant and Orthodox churches, not to mention most American Catholics:
“Heartbeat International does not promote birth control (devices or medications) for family planning, population control, or health issues, including disease prevention.”
Among the standards that clinics are required to adhere to in order to join the 1,100+ affiliates of the evangelical Care Net is this one:
“The pregnancy center does not recommend, provide, or refer single women for contraceptives. (Married women seeking contraceptive information should be urged to seek counsel, along with their husbands, from their pastor and/or physician.)”
That makes it clear that one goal of those creating and funding these clinics is restricting women’s sexual autonomy. As this month’s National Catholic Register story notes, “Obria and Guiding Star’s providers do not prescribe or refer for contraception; both abide fully by Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and fertility.” Adds Abby Johnson, a board member of the Guiding Star Project, “One of the really important things about pro-life medical centers is they can help women change their behavior.”