The setting: Conejo Valley Crisis Pregnancy Center in Thousand Oaks, where pro-life counselors encourage pregnant women to deliver babies rather than seek abortions.
The nearly 4-year-old center is financed by 15 local churches, private donations and an annual fund-raiser. It is one of several dozen similar operations that have opened throughout Southern California in recent years.
The name is deliberately vague. “If you were abortion-minded, would you go to something called a pro-life center?” asks director Teri K. Reisser. “We just want to have a chance so we can talk to them.”
Certain She’s Pregnant
Scene: A tiny reception area.
A young woman enters. She is 22 and certain she’s pregnant again. Despite her boyfriend’s condoms, despite her sponges, she feels pretty much the way she did before. Nauseated. Exhausted. Dizzy. Heavy-breasted. She has missed two menstrual periods already.
The last time this happened, she ended up delivering a son. Now he is nearly 9 months old.
All she knows about this place is that here she can confirm her suspicions. She has come for the free pregnancy test she saw advertised in the local paper. “I have a 2 o’clock appointment,” she says quietly, just as the clock’s hands mark the hour.
She is dressed like the community college student she is, in faded jeans, a T-shirt and sweater. Her brown hair is tangled, her face pale and worn. She shifts from one foot to another before finally settling on the couch. She ignores the model airplane and the Frisbee sticking out of a carton of toys on the floor.
Marge Danielson, her appointed counselor, approaches. Danielson, 44, a volunteer, is a motherly sort in oversize spectacles and a flowery blouse, a 3 1/2-year veteran who has twice taken the director’s 21-hour training course.
The counselor hands the brown-haired young woman a bright yellow paper informing her that the center is not a medical clinic, that she will perform the pregnancy test herself, that the test is 99% effective and that her visit will remain confidential.
She signs the yellow paper, as requested, and then it is time.
Danielson leads her into a dimly lit room with two matching blue-and-pink couches. The counselor sits on one, leaning forward. The young woman sits on the other, legs crossed, one arm folded across her chest.
One by one, a series of questions about the young woman’s health are asked and answered.
“Any emotional stress?”
“Tremendous,” she says. “Worrying about being pregnant, trying to work things out with my son’s father.” She lives with her parents, who watch the baby while she attends classes. But that situation may not last and she has at least a year and a half before she earns a degree.
“If you were to be pregnant,” Danielson asks, “what do you think you would do?”
“Up until this very point, I never thought I believed in abortion,” she responds, composed. “I said I’d never get an abortion. But because of my circumstances, I think I’d probably abort.”
Drugs, No Steady Job
Her boyfriend wants her to have the baby. But he lives in another county. He’s loving when he sees their son, but provides little in the way of child support. It’s been awhile since he’s held a steady job. He has a history of drug abuse.
“I want to get my education,” she says, “so I can support (my son) on my own whether (my boyfriend) helps or not.”
“Do you believe that this is a baby inside of you?” Danielson asks.
“How do you feel about the baby?”
“Confused. I want to have it, but I just don’t see where I can financially support it. I’ve got one child and everybody else has been taking my responsibility and (my boyfriend’s) responsibility.”
“Have you thought about how you feel about abortion?”
“It scares me. Wondering about God’s forgiveness. I already figured out its birthday. I would think about it then. I would wonder, would I have had a little boy or girl?”
The tears well up, and her nose blotches. Danielson moves, tissue box in hand, to sit next to the young woman.
“I was all alone,” she says, her voice pitched high, as she dabs at her eyes. “I get tired sometimes and worn out. I can’t always meet his needs. If I can’t do that for one child, how can I do it for two?”
Danielson strokes the young woman’s arm.
“You believe in God, right?” the counselor asks. If she goes ahead and aborts, Danielson says, “you’d be feeling a lot of pain afterward.”
“I’ve got a friend from high school who had an abortion,” the young woman says. “She gets real melancholy.”
Support From Parents
“You already have a good history,” Danielson says. “Your mom has been supportive and she loves your son. Your dad’s been supportive and he loves your son. . . . You don’t necessarily have to make that your only choice.”
But her father puts conditions on helping her. He’ll be furious that she’s pregnant again. And resorting to welfare, that goes against her every instinct. What would her father think?
“If you feel like this about (abortion) now. . . ,” Danielson says.
”. . . I’m going to be a basket case afterwards,” the young woman says.
“Is welfare the thing to worry about or is the guilt?” Danielson asks. Does she have to take a full class load? Can she cut back her school schedule and work part-time?
“Do you know we have a pro-life position here?” Danielson asks.
The young woman shakes her head. “Uh-uh,” she says softly. She crumples the moist tissue in her right hand.
“We’re here to explore any possible other option for you.”
She would have the baby, she says, if she could. “I’d rather have it if there was a way I could give the baby a future. Just financially. I know I could emotionally.
“I just worry about putting food on the table and clothes on their back and having them able to have outside activities. . . . I need to trust whoever’s taking care of the baby.”
Danielson steers the conversation toward schools that provide child care.
Time for Decision
Then the counselor asks: “Is abortion still an option?”
“Are you feeling any different now?”
“I tend to look at the negative. I was looking at the negative.”
“You are a Christian,” Danielson says. “You have another resource. You have the Lord there.”
The center has a video about abortion. The young woman doesn’t have to watch it, but it would be a good idea, the counselor says.
“Do you think about the baby in a personal way?”
“I’ve tried not to think about it in a personal way. I’ve tried to stay detached. Knowing that the baby’s father wants me to have it, it makes it easier for me to want to have it.”
Soon Danielson asks again, “Do you think you want to see (the video)? If you’re even thinking about getting it done, it would be like going for a second opinion.”
“Can I ask a question? It might be kind of dumb,” the young woman says. “I saw a movie about an abortion clinic. They had to deliver it, actually.”
Danielson tells her she’s describing a saline abortion, a procedure used after the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
A salt solution is injected into the amniotic fluid. “It burns the baby on the outside and it burns the baby on the inside. Sometimes the baby isn’t dead yet” when it is expelled, Danielson says. She does not mention the term used in some other pro-life centers to describe the reddened skin of the fetus. That’s a candy-apple child, some say.
The counselor and the young woman have been closeted together for an hour. They will move down the hall, past a bulletin board jammed with photos of happy mothers and babies, to the bathroom for the pregnancy test.
The director of the center provides the same urine test used in her physician husband’s office. The counselor guides the young woman through the steps as she mixes chemicals. Almost instantly, the result shows up. Positive.
The young woman smiles faintly.
Back down the corridor to the counseling room. The video cassette recorder is rigged up and the television flipped on. Danielson tells the young woman she can shut off the equipment any time she wants. Then the counselor leaves.
‘Living Human Being’
On the TV screen, four women tell of their difficulties at the time each learned she was pregnant. An obstetrician says, “It is very important to understand your baby is a living human being and has been from the time your pregnancy began, at conception.”
Another doctor says, “Abortion is the termination of an innocent human life.” He explains the different types of procedures and shows some of the tools. He talks about the risks of infection or a damaged cervix. “Please don’t think we’re trying to frighten you,” he says, “but every year a few women die. Pro-abortion counselors downplay this but it does happen.”
The young woman puts her hand to her mouth.
“Studies show,” the doctor on the monitor says, “that women who have abortions are more likely to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals than women who deliver their babies.”
All four of the women reveal their decisions against abortion.
“It’s really killing a life,” says one. She is shown with her son, whose name is the same as the young woman’s boy.
A tear sneaks out. A sniff.
‘Sense of Peace’
A rape victim talks about her “sense of peace” raising the child she bore. The couples who adopted the offspring of the two other mothers are shown.
Danielson returns and asks the young woman how she feels.
“I didn’t really understand or know what happens in an abortion,” she responds.
They talk some more. “We don’t want to just say, ‘Yes, you’re pregnant,’ and dump you out,” Danielson says. The center offers long-term emotional support, parenting and childbirth classes, maternity and baby clothes. If the young woman needs help with the welfare bureaucracy, or a place to stay for a while, the center can probably provide it.
“Internally, inside yourself, do you know what you’re going to do?”
“Keep the baby,” the young woman says.
“Be sure within yourself that your decision is what you really want to do.”
“I knew in the back of my mind,” the young woman says, “but I wanted somebody to say that it would be OK.”
They talk about a plan for informing her family and then walk back to the reception area. Danielson makes an appointment to see the young woman in two weeks. For the meantime, the counselor provides her home phone number.
The counselor wraps the young woman in her arms. They break, then move to the doorway. Another hug, a pat on the back.
“Call me if you need me,” Danielson says.