Washington, D.C.– Planned Parenthood hosted a panel recently in D.C. about the disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality for black women. The event showed the film ‘Death by Delivery’ which highlighted the shocking statistics – and the very real women behind them. Nationally, black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth, according to CDC statistics. In D.C., the problem is even more pronounced, it has the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation.
The panel discussion which followed the screening revealed some disagreement, however, when it came to responding to the problem. During a conversation about removing barriers to healthcare that black women face, Nicole Moore, Communications Director at Lady Parts Justice League, discussed her group’s campaign to expose what she called “fake clinics” or pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.
Cassietta Pringle, the co-founder of Mamatoto Village Inc., an organization that provides maternity support services to low-income women in D.C., took issue with Moore’s characterization of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, defending the ones with which she had worked.
Moore initially defined “fake clinics” as “crisis pregnancy centers” calling them “terroristic.” She claimed they “strategically deceive lower income and working class women by saying “they offer a wide range of reproductive care including abortions.” She said the organizations are “run by far-right extremists, mostly religious radicals who tell them that ‘oh you don’t need to have an abortion this is God’s child, instead have your baby,’ and usually, if you don’t know anything about women that want abortions, usually they want an abortion because they know they cannot afford to have this child but they are deceived, they get fake ultrasounds.”
Cassietta Pringle responded, telling Moore that “there are a few crisis pregnancy centers in our area in D.C. and in Maryland. I do know that they provide ultrasounds. I do know that they provide counseling for women.”
“But they’re not real ultrasounds though, that’s the thing,” Moore replied.
“I beg to differ,” Pringle said, “I beg to differ because I have assisted quite a few women who have gotten real ultrasounds from crisis pregnancy centers so I would caution to say that all of them are fake.”
“They are real ultrasounds,” Moore finally acknowledged but added, “they’re just not performed by doctors or medical abortion provider, not even abortion providers, a medical person.”
Pringle concluded by saying that it’s important for a woman to be educated in her decision-making. “If you want to find out how viable your pregnancy is go to a midwife, go to an obstetrician,” she said, “if you’re going to a crisis pregnancy center, make sure you’ve done your research ahead of time…but yeah some of them actually are real in our area.”
“We’ll talk later,” Moore replied.
While the panel did focus on a holistic set of responses to the maternal mortality crisis facing the black community, the issue of access to abortion was featured in the panel repeatedly.
Marisa Spalding, a Public Policy Analyst at Planned Parenthood, said that "unfortunately because of things like the Hyde Amendment low-income women can't use Medicaid to pay for their abortions except for very limited circumstances,” calling that “an attack on black women."
The Hyde Amendment is an appropriations rider, that has been approved for decades with longstanding bipartisan support. It prohibits federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.
Following the panel, Townhall spoke with two pro-life crisis pregnancy centers in the D.C. area, Northwest Center, Inc. and Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, about the label of “fake clinics” and how they respond to the high maternal mortality rates.
Susan Gallucci is the executive director of the Northwest Center which has two programs, a maternity homes facility that provides transitional housing for homeless, pregnant women and a pregnancy center program.
While her center provides free pregnancy tests, she says they don’t provide medical care so “it is definitely our priority to help them to find a doctor who takes their insurance or to help them apply for insurance to get the prenatal care that they need.” She said roughly 60 or 70 families a month also come to a Northwest program that provides diapers, baby clothes, material assistance, and connections to resources in the community.
Gallucci says her organization has experienced accusations of being a “fake clinic” saying that they didn’t have a Yelp page at first and an abortion activist “created a Yelp page for us and said that we were an OBGYN clinic, we’re a fake clinic.” She was able to take over the page and change it to accurately reflect the services Northwest offers.
“Nowhere do we claim to be a doctor,” she emphasized, “if you call us and ask for an abortion we’re going to tell you what we do offer, we’re going to talk to you about abortion but we’re not going to say we’re something that we’re not.”
In relation to the disproportionately high rates of black maternal mortality, Galluci said her organization works to help improve those numbers, both through education and by connecting women with the resources that they need.
“Both those statistics and the high rates of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, we do a lot really for both,” she said, “with SIDS we partner with the D.C. department of health, we’re able to give out pack and plays for safe sleeping but we do education for all of our clients every visit they come to once the baby’s born, where’s the baby sleeping, we’ll do that education, and same with all of our appointment forms, we’re like when’s your next prenatal visit, are you connected?”
She says for her pregnancy center clients, “I can take them to that appointment or we might fill out the application together, or call together for an appointment or if they have Medicaid then they can get transportation, if not D.C. covers most everybody but like in Maryland we work with Catholic Charities, specifically their department Sanctuaries for Life that works with women that can’t get insurance.”
Gallucci pointed to these services as ways that pro-life groups are responding to the problem of high maternal mortality, poor birth outcomes, and poverty.
Janet Durig, the executive director of the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, listed off similar services that her group provides with the same emphasis that they do not provide medical services and don’t pretend that they do. Her center does offer pregnancy tests, however, and are getting ready to provide ultrasounds in the coming months as well.
“We help women who are pregnant or who have just had their babies,” she said, “they can come every month to get a fresh supply of items that they need and we can’t supply all the diapers a baby needs but we can give them an emergency supply of diapers and we connect people to the various places in D.C. that can help them like the diaper bank or if they’re homeless to the Virginia Williams Center to get them in the program for finding housing for them and things of that nature so we’re very extensive.”
“There’s nothing fake about what we do,” she emphasized, “it’s real and it’s helpful and if a person doesn’t want our services that’s fine, you know, that’s their choice.”
“We’re focusing on the whole picture of a girl, woman who is pregnant from, you know, from conception to birth and in between whatever her choices are in between,” Durig summarized. “We can give someone who’s interested in adoption, we can connect her to caseworkers at the various adoption agencies…we offer education and sound education on each of those choices and when it comes to keeping your baby we can walk with them before the pregnancy by outreach classes taught by nurses and midwives and we can offer them parenting classes.”
“What’s fake about that?” Durig asked.
In addition to accusations of fake or misleading advertising, pro-life pregnancy centers across the country are facing legal attacks in the form of regulations attempting to force them to post signs disseminating abortion information to their clients.
On March 20th, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of NIFLA v. Becerra which will determine if a 2015 California law violates free speech rights. The law requires pro-life pregnancy centers to “disseminate to clients” a message promoting public programs with “free or low-cost access” to abortion and contraceptive services.