There are more than 90 pregnancy crisis centers in Minnesota. This essay was submitted by Vendela Cavanaugh, who decided to find out what happens at a state-funded resource center, compared to a Planned Parenthood clinic.
The Pregnancy Resource Center of St. Cloud sits in a grey slab between a Pizza Hut and a Firehouse Subs shop. By the door is a chalkboard sign advertising free tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The website says they offer free testing, counseling, limited obstetrical ultrasounds, PAP smears, and HIV screenings. “Abortion, Adoption, or Parenting. Get the facts to make the decision best for you. We can help. And we do it for free. #YouMatter,” the site boasts, and warns they will not provide or make referrals for abortions.
“Hi,” two women say at the same time behind a small, rounded desk. The waiting area is no bigger than my dorm room. There is a screen displaying in vibrant blue letters how men in their 20’s and 30’s suffer from erectile dysfunction due to the use of porn. They hand me a yellow sheet attached to a clipboard to fill out. It asks for the date of my last period. I put down two months ago — a lie, according to the tampon in my bag. In a scattered pile lay magazines with cherub-faced babies dressed in spring colors, one like a fluffy white bunny, and pregnant bodies with glowing women.
The receptionist calls my name and leads me to a room. A bible verse, John 1:12, is inscribed on the pillows. “Yet to all who receive him to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to be become children of God.” The door opens. A lady walks in wearing a grey sweater with “Pregnancy Resource Center” stitched to the breast pocket and glasses that dangle on a beaded thread.
She’s got an arm full of pamphlets, papers, and a black iPad. We discuss my medical history, her brow furrowing when I say I am in for a pregnancy test. On a notepad she writes whatever I say without looking up at me.
“How old is your boyfriend? Would he be prepared to be a father? Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?”
The questions fly off her tongue before she even asks my name.
“He’s…older. I don’t really know; we’ve only been together about a year. My goals for a year from now? I’d just like to still be alive,” I answer.
“So you don’t have any career goals? A year is a long time, I’d assume you might want to start thinking about your kids soon.” Her voice is soft and calm, like every element in the room.
She takes the iPad from under a magazine. “We’re going to watch these two videos and then get that test done.” The first video is titled “Abortion or Baby,” following a woman down two roads. The video illustrates the types of abortions, and how they terminate “the baby,” with a red glowing heart beating in her orange uterus. From an abortion pill, the baby falls out. The video indicates the risks with this abortion are heavy bleeding, infection, failure to abort, and death. “When you kill the baby, you also risk killing yourself.”
Another early term option is a “miniature suction device” that removes the baby from the uterus down the suction tube. The second trimester abortion uses a tweezer-like clip to rip the baby’s limbs off. The latest term abortion device is an injection that stops the baby’s heart. Again, the baby is depicted as detached limb from limb, but the head gets caught going down the vaginal canal as the video warns the baby might not fit.
The video changes to upbeat music and baby giggles as the mother goes down the “Baby” path. “Pregnancies may come with challenges, but in the end, you’re met with an adorable baby you get to name!” the narrator exclaims as a baby girl coos at her smiling mom and dad. Adoption is the next option. The baby is handed to a heterosexual couple. “There’s always a family in need,” the narrator says.
“A happy ending,” the nurse beside me says. She plays another video. A fleshy, white blob pops up on the screen, red vessels protruding, oddly webbed hands that look like fins flailing around in a clear bubble. Two black dots take up most of the screen, looking up at the screen before suddenly, in a single beat, flickering to stare straight at me.
I gasp, “Oh my god what is that?”
The nurse chuckles. “This is your baby at seven weeks, almost fully developed! The baby’s legs are just about to start growing, along with a louder heartbeat. Let me show you what they look like by the time you’d be due.” The baby grows larger on the screen.
Eventually, she stands. “Okay, let’s get your urine sample.”
I am, of course, not surprised that the test comes back negative. “Be safe dear!” the receptionist calls out as I pass through the doors to the outside world.
Planned Parenthood hides in a packed but silent parking lot, taking up just a small square corner of a business complex. Opening the door, I’m greeted by a blonde-haired lady behind a glass screen. A song by Cardi B plays as she hands me a clipboard. Atop the ceiling, tiny security cameras at each corner of the room track everyone’s moves.
My name is called, and I exchange the forms for a plastic sealed cup. “We just need a urine sample before the exam.” Eventually I am led to an examination room that smells of antibacterial sanitizer. Again, my test results come back negative, and I explain my school writing project.
“How many women do you usually get for annual exams?” I ask.
“You’re about the third or so today, and it’s only past lunch. We mostly get women needing pregnancy tests or STI treatments.” I ask about other services. “We provide screenings for HIV, birth control services, emergency contraception, abortion services and referrals, even sexual health education and health services for men and women.”
Leaving Planned Parenthood, the parking lot is peaceful and emptying. A girl no older than me gets out from a beat-up car and walks quickly to the clinic door.
I hope, like me, she will find people who ask what she wants, tend to her health, and send her on her way.