BY LANDON JAMES
The Mary Washington chapter of VOX, Voices for Planned Parenthood, is initiating a controversial abortion rights campaign on campus that questions the credibility of crisis pregnancy centers in the area.
Anna Halbrooks-Fulks, founder and assistant president of VOX, and National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) campus intern, is spearheading a new campus-wide movement against the crisis pregnancy centers and their methods of care.
The campaign, “Support Without Shame,” focuses on claims that centers make women feel guilty for the decisions they have made, instead of providing the support and counsel they claim to offer. In conjunction with NARAL, the campaign is broken up into two divisions, a grassroots campaign and a legislative campaign, according to Halbrooks-Fulks.
Halbrooks-Fulks said that the grassroots campaign aims to inform the UMW community about pregnancy options, including the crisis pregnancy centers. The legislative campaign focuses on removing all crisis pregnancy center flyers from campus and requiring any future advertisements to include disclaimers explaining that they are not licensed medical facilities and cannot refer patients to comprehensive medical facilities.
“It is important to us that women are not shamed about their reproductive health and that they have the tools they need to make informed, healthy decisions,” Halbrook-Fulks said. “We want women to have support no matter what they decide to do.”
The campaign will also focus on crisis pregnancy center flyers recently hung around the UMW campus with messages such as, “Pregnant? Scared? Need help?” encouraging women to seek help at these centers.
Over the course of the past year, NARAL representatives conducted an undercover study where they visited the 250 crisis pregnancy centers in Virginia and spoke with women who had visited these centers and what their experiences were. The information collected from this study supports the legislative aspect of VOX’s new campaign, according to Halbrooks-Fulks.
According to Halbrook-Fulks, women who have attended these crisis pregnancy centers found that they often exhibit religious and political agendas specifically targeting students, women of color, lower income and those whose second language is not English.
VOX, Latin for “voice,” is a women’s pro-choice club that deals with raising sexual health awareness regarding unplanned pregnancies. They are a chapter of Voices for Planned Parenthood.
Fredericksburg has three crisis pregnancy centers. Of the NARAL representatives who visited the centers throughout the commonwealth, Deputy Director Emily Polak visited Bethany Christian Services on Stafford Avenue.
“Their ultimate goal is to have potential clients meet in person instead of over the phone,” Polak said regarding her interactions with Bethany staff. “Phone conversations are evasive and deceive women in to visiting the centers for services they don’t actually provide. They didn’t listen to what my best interests were at the time.”
According to NARAL, the Bethany Center said, “Many women who have had an abortion now have bad flashbacks whenever they hear a vacuum cleaner.” NARAL and VOX claim this is an example of medically inaccurate information the centers are giving.
Gloria Whitley, nurse manager at Bethany, denied the claim that every woman who has had an abortion experiences these flashbacks.
“Some of our clients have reported experiencing these painful memories after receiving suction abortion,” Whitley said.
Gloria Whitley, who has been at Bethany for five years, feels the NARAL study was done under false pretences. Whitley confirmed that Bethany is a Christian anti-abortion facility, which is why staff do not refer clients to centers that provide abortion.
“We’re more than anti-abortion, we’re pro-life,” Whitley said. “We care about women, families and babies.”
Whitley said Bethany staff never try to force clients to make a certain decision and that the ultimate choices are always up to the clients. According to Whitley, choices and options are the ultimate concerns of those at the Bethany Center.
Jonathan Shields, president of the Young Democrats, supported VOX’s efforts.
“Women who are faced with the difficult reality of an unplanned pregnancy should be able to make decisions with as much unbiased and factual information as possible,” Shields said. “VOX has worked hard to make sure those confronting that reality can make educated choices for themselves.”
However, not everyone on campus agrees with VOX.
Virginia Osella, secretary for UMW’s chapter of Students for Life, feels that VOX’s flyer campaign is going too far.
“We don’t feel a flyer is any danger to a woman on campus,” Osella said. “We don’t censor VOX’s flyers so we would hope they would represent our freedom of speech.”
Students For Life is a pro-life organization that educates college students about the issues of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide.
Osella said the centers do not misinform or endanger women who come to them for guidance.
Cally Myhrum, president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, does not agree with the abortion rights campaign, but agrees with the idea of supporting women.
“We believe that abortion is an act of murder, whether it’s born or unborn you’re taking a life,” Myhrum said. “If somebody in our community had the experience we would do everything we could to care for them and encourage them to keep the baby.”