Crisis pregnancy centers in the spotlight

Memorial pulls support, citing concerns about creating barriers to care

click to enlarge Crisis pregnancy centers in the spotlight
First Step Women’s Center, 215 South Grand Ave. West, was one of the crisis pregnancy centers that previously received support from Memorial Health. Executive director Elmi Patton said another medical organization has now partnered with the nonprofit.

Memorial Health will no longer provide financial or in-kind support to crisis pregnancy centers, which counsel against abortions, Illinois Times has learned.

The health system, which operates hospitals in Springfield, Lincoln, Taylorville, Decatur and Jacksonville, made this decision after the organization's diversity, equity and inclusion team found that crisis pregnancy centers can "exacerbate health inequities and create barriers to care," according to a memo obtained by IT.

"These are thought of as deceptive organizations and there's a lot of ethical concerns with them," said a person familiar with the internal debate who asked not to be identified.

System spokeswoman Angie Muhs said, "Memorial Health has determined to focus its limited resources on activities and partnerships closely aligned with our mission to improve health and contribute to our ongoing work in health equity."

Crisis pregnancy centers have become high-profile players in the national debate over abortion rights.

Ralph Rivera, legislative chair for Illinois Right to Life, said these centers do not engage in deception and are dedicated to providing pregnant women and girls with alternatives to abortion. He added that advice their opponents label as "deceptive" often just involves differences of opinion.

"There are risks to abortions," he said. "And they're not saying there aren't any, but they're saying they're being overstated by crisis pregnancy centers. ... Our studies and their studies may disagree. That's not a deceptive thing. That's just stating what our studies have found."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists contends crisis pregnancy centers "represent themselves as legitimate reproductive health care clinics providing care for pregnant people but actually aim to dissuade people from accessing certain types of reproductive health care, including abortion care and even contraceptive options."

On July 27, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a law banning crisis pregnancy centers from using "misinformation, deceptive practices, or misrepresentation" to interfere with access to abortion services or emergency contraception. Attorney General Kwame Raoul championed the legislation, which would have allowed his office to investigate complaints against crisis pregnancy centers and fine violators up to $50,000.

Less than a week later, a federal judge blocked the law from taking effect after anti-abortion advocates contended it threatened their rights to free speech and expression. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Iain Johnston said the new law "is painfully and blatantly a violation of the First Amendment."

Crisis pregnancy centers often provide clothing, baby supplies, emergency shelter and parenting classes to new and expectant mothers. The centers also provide sonograms, enabling individuals to see fetuses.

"What the other side says is, it is just a blob of tissues," Rivera said. "It's important for them to see the humanity of this unborn child."

But part of the concern Memorial's diversity, equity and inclusion team had is that sonograms are not necessarily being used for diagnostic purposes.

"The only point of the sonogram is for them to be able to show a heartbeat and try to have the person develop an emotional tie to her pregnancy," said the person familiar with Memorial's internal discussions.

That person said of Memorial's contributions: "It has not been a substantial donation. It's essentially been in-kind donations for things like gloves, sonogram jelly, lubricant."

Elmi Patton, executive director of First Step Women's Center, a Springfield crisis pregnancy center that has received help from Memorial, issued this written statement about the hospital system's new policy: "We are grateful to Memorial's support of First Step Women's Center over the years; they have generously provided First Step Women's Center with office and medical supplies. This allowed us to focus more of our energy on our mission of providing vulnerable women who are pregnant medical services at no cost and giving these women the answers, kindness and support they need, which in turn empowers them and fills them with confidence. We are thankful another medical organization has since partnered with us, providing these supplies, so working together, we can improve lives and build stronger communities."

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].

About The Author

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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