Getting it Right: Setting the record straight about pregnancy center practices

Thank you for taking the time to begin this series with me. Government leaders are having “hearings” around the country (and here in Pennsylvania) focusing on the practices of pregnancy centers, the goal being to shut them down. Many ideas are being discussed in those hearings without the benefit of testimony from actual center directors, so I would like to shine a light on pregnancy center practices. I do not speak for all centers, but I do speak for Lifeline of Berks County.

Princess A came to Lifeline undecided about the outcome of her pregnancy. She had significant support, but she was not sure that she wanted to carry and parent. She called a local abortion facility first and asked for help in making her decision. According to Princess A, she was told, “We can terminate the pregnancy.” She was not offered any other information. She asked if the abortion facility would do an ultrasound, and they informed her that they would, but that they would not show her the images. Again, in her words, she asked them, “Why? Because you don’t want me to change my mind?”

Princess A decided to call Lifeline. The staff member who answered the phone told her that Lifeline does not provide or refer for abortion, but we do provide a termination evaluation. The staff member reviewed the three points that we believe are important to know before making a pregnancy decision:

  1. Are you still pregnant?  20-25% of pregnancies end on their own. (In fact, we have seen an increase in miscarriages at the center in the last few months.)  A woman can still have enough pregnancy hormone in her body to have a positive pregnancy test.  Why subject your body to (and pay for) a medication abortion when you may no longer be pregnant?  The Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (“RDMS”)– certified in OB/Gyn scanning – performs an ultrasound with a positive pregnancy test, and after a medical history taken by an RN or LPN, determines no impediment.  This non-diagnostic ultrasound will – after being read by our medical director (an OB/Gyn) – confirm a live, intrauterine pregnancy if that is the case.
  2. How far along are you?  Depending on how far along a woman is in her pregnancy, the type of abortion she is eligible for, and the cost, may vary.  Lifeline’s confirmation ultrasound will confirm EDC (the approximate due date) and gestational age.  Sometimes, especially when a woman is using hormonal contraceptives or emergency contraception, ovulation may not occur at a “typical” time.  Using the first day of the last menstrual period may not be accurate in determining gestational age.  A licensed medical professional will explain the abortion procedure available to the client, including possible risks and their likelihood.  It is important for a woman to be informed, especially at a time when political officials suspend the practice of good medicine by allowing women to receive drugs over the internet without the necessity of an office visit.  A medication abortion is not something that should be done in secret.  There are risks (see the PA Department of Health’s most recent document on abortion statistics) that may be infrequent, but must be explained to a woman so she can prepare for them.
  3. Do you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?  Lifeline currently tests for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, as they are common and (for the present) treatable.  If a woman has an abortion with an active STI, she has an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.  Lifeline is committed to making sure that women have the information they need to protect their future reproductive health.

Princess A came to Lifeline and received the information that we provided.  Because our medical staff takes a health history, we were also able to highlight some other areas of concern that she may want to consider in making her decision.  Princess A was also able to see the ultrasound and know that she did have a live, intrauterine pregnancy.  Had the Lifeline RDMS not been able to confirm the pregnancy, the client would have been given miscarriage and ectopic precautions, as well as medical referrals if the client does not have a doctor, to ensure that she would be able to seek appropriate and timely care.  Lifeline explained to Princess A that our goal is for all women to get timely care from an OB/Gyn, no matter what she decides, to protect her future reproductive health.

There is more to Lifeline’s services, but it is important for you to know that, at Lifeline, medical professionals provide medical services.  While non-medical personnel can and do provide many services, at Lifeline, we believe it is important to provide evidence-based medical education to our clients.  Therefore, we have a medical director who, while not being physically present at the center, visits several times a year to review charts in person and provide guidance for our medical policies.  She also reviews and signs ultrasounds via a cloud-based service that provides privacy protections.  Finally, she is available to answer any questions we have in atypical situations so we never practice outside the scope of our licensing.  We also have medical professionals who work inside the center to accurately explain medical information, take health histories to help us provide appropriate precautions and physician referrals, and provide education of a variety of topics to protect future reproductive health.

We look forward to debunking more false claims in our next blog.  Enjoy your pumpkin spiced coffees as we journey into autumn!