This article started with a simple question: what would happen if I went to two women's health centers at opposite ends of the political spectrum and requested a pregnancy test? I chose two Bellingham organizations that offered pregnancy testing, Planned Parenthood and the Whatcom Pregnancy Center, and made appointments, planning to tell them that the same manufactured story: that I was sexually active with one person and it had been a week and two months since my last period.
I approached Planned Parenthood with rose-colored glasses. It is after all a source of pride in the liberal community as a Mecca for supporting reproductive health, sexual agency and awareness for all women, especially those without money or health insurance. I expected to be well informed during my visit.
When I walked into the office I learned Planned Parenthood is a busy place. There were many women in the waiting room and the receptionists seemed rushed. The test here wasn't free, the receptionist said, and would cost about $9, while the appointment might cost around $15 total, for potential additional services. Their prices are adjusted on a sliding scale based on income, with these prices being on the lowest end of the scale. Planned Parenthood also gives the option of billing your health insurance, if you have coverage.
After a brief wait I was called to the clinic from the waiting area. The nurse was friendly but directed me around the clinic so quickly that I was immediately aware she had a strict time schedule to keep. Her speech was equally fast, so much so that I almost couldn't comprehend her words. She told me to pee in a small cup and leave it in the restroom for her to pick up. I was led into an exam room. I asked if these tests were more accurate than those that could be purchased for $6 to $15 dollars at every drug store. She replied that they were a little bit more accurate and that the test should be done in about 3 minutes.
As I waited I wondered how I would feel about this rushed process if I had actually been fearful of a pregnancy. There seemed to be no recognition of my potential anxiety. She soon reentered the room and I was informed that the test was negative. Immediately following I was asked if I wanted to get any other forms of protection. I said yes and the nurse showed me a list of six options, focusing on four: the pill, the patch, the shot and the Nuva ring. Again she spoke quickly without much elaboration. When she asked for my decision I felt that I had to give her an immediate answer. There seemed to be no time to ask about potential side effects. The nurse left and a doctor came in with a similar, rapid fire, scripted way of speaking. She took a survey of my medical history, described some of the risks of the pill and how to take the pill.
I left in a daze of information. None of it had been absorbed yet and I realized despite the description, I wasn't sure how to properly take the pills I was given. I also didn't know if my insurance was covering the medication I had received, or if I would be stuck with a large co-pay later. As I sat in my car, 10 other questions sprung to my mind.
Whatcom Pregnancy Center
I approached the Whatcom Pregnancy Center (WPC) with apprehension. Although the center doesn't overtly advertise their Christian, abstinence-only beliefs, they don't hide them either, and I was aware of this from perusing their Web site. This was not a place I wanted to admit to pre-marital sex in; it didn't matter if my pregnancy scare was fictional. I was expecting chastisement and inaccurate health information. However, this clinic does offer completely free pregnancy tests, which may draw in women whom simply read their sign and make an appointment. I entered the office and filled out a basic questionnaire with some personal information and then read their waiver. It stated that this center was not a clinic, did not prescribe birth control, did not refer women for abortions, and that they did not facilitate the adoption process either. I was surprised and glad that women were informed about this prior to going into the office.
I was immediately shown to a small conference room where a volunteer asked me questions from her clipboard. I was aware of one thing; the center had what Planned Parenthood didn't—time. The questions included: are you happy about this potential pregnancy, what are your plans if you're pregnant, who is the father, what's his involvement, what are your feelings towards abortion. I thought about my reaction to these questions if I actually did think I was pregnant. While on the one hand they seemed overwhelming, these were still questions a young pregnant woman has to answer. I was surprised at the volunteer's tone, which wasn't judgmental and seemed genuinely caring.
As I had said that I supported abortion the volunteer asked me if I wanted to hear about the abortion procedure. I said yes and she explained the process accurately without exaggeration and then explained the medical risks, again without presenting them as prescribed, but only as potential. This too was surprising.
She handed me a cup and asked me for a urine sample. I came back into the room and she put a few drops of the sample on a test strip. This test is a tad more accurate than the drug store variety. She set the timer for six minutes and as we waited I asked her about the clinic.
The WPC provides classes for expecting mothers and fathers in which they can earn points to purchase items for their new baby. They also have a nurse on staff who can perform free ultrasounds. While I don't know what the classes teach, I was happy that a religious organization was providing some monetary support for young mothers.
When the test came back negative the volunteer handed me some abstinence-only, Christian literature on relationships and STDs as well as a pamphlet that cites medical studies linking breast-cancer and abortion. This did not surprise me and these pamphlets were full of medical scare tactics, saying that STDs aren't proven preventable by condoms, and providing unrealistic STD exposure charts. One even linked access to condoms as causing a spike in STDs, due to people feeling too safe. She gave me a small slip with scripture, a hug and I left.
While Planned Parenthood provides so much for women as far as access to low cost reproductive health care, I found that the WPC gave me something that I found lacking at Planned Parenthood, unrushed staff who had the time to let me ask questions and provide answers. I don't think that Planned Parenthood ignores these aims, but I do feel as if the staff I saw that day had a set script to get sexually active women on birth control as fast as possible. With recent cuts in funding I think they probably have little time for anything else. The sad part about this is the WPC has very little to offer sexually active women in the way of health care or accurate information, but they do have the time to dispense it. Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, is full of knowledgeable professionals with valuable medical information, and yet is underfunded and lacking in time to dispense it. The people who this will most affect are those without money and healthcare, the most medically vulnerable of the population.