The ensuing dynamic between both organizations has, in some ways, reflected the national dialogue concerning abortion rights: cordial barbs exchanged by figureheads, total warfare among rank-and-file activists on both sides, and the silent passage of unseen women, their corporal rights a bizarre political football, caught in the middle.
On Tuesday, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Fatlip spoke with representatives of these two very different clinics: Monica Henderson, executive director of A Woman’s Choice Resource Center, and Anne, counseling director for EMW Women’s Surgical Center, who declined to have her last name printed. Despite being next door neighbors, these women — and the ideologies they represent — couldn’t be any further apart.
Three years ago, A Woman’s Choice opened it’s second Market Street location at 140 W. Market, reflecting the nascent national growth of faith-based, pro-life counseling services in urban areas. Just down the street at 101 West Market is another A Woman’s Choice resource center, opened a decade ago. The two effectively flank the nondescript, cracked concrete facade of the EMW like a glacial military maneuver conducted with real estate, not bombs, as the primary weapon. Across the street, a Subway franchise conducts it business as if it were any other day of the week.
The sheer physical presence of two A Woman’s Choice locations on one city block alone has provided a steady pool of willing pro-life participants to the regular street protests, which normally occur on Saturday mornings when the vast majority of abortions are performed at EMW. Henderson adds that A Woman’s Choice does not organize or officially support such ideological demonstrations on the sidewalk
She says the two locations’ proximity to the EMW clinic has effectively allowed a Woman’s Choice to siphon off potential abortion-seekers, who are attracted by the Christian organization’s offers of free ultrasound services and counseling, and vice versa.
“All of our services are free,” Henderson says. “(A woman) can get a pregnancy test and an ultrasound here free of charge…I would say on a weekly basis, we have women that have either come out of EMW and then come into A Woman’s Choice, or come into A Woman’s Choice first before they go into EMW, and so on. It goes both ways.”
She describes the relationship with nearby EMW as “a peaceful coexistence” despite the regularly occurring protests, and both she and Anne describe their working relationship as “cordial,” despite what Anne calls underhanded tactics taken by her next-door neighbors.
“I have called them and told them about their protesters (being too extreme),” Anne says. “Telling them, ‘You need to lay off of people, they’re just girls some of them.’ They’re lying to these people, deceiving them.”
She says that many patients who have walked into the clinic after initially visiting with A Woman’s Choice are confused, telling stories of how the pro-life organization pretended to be an abortion clinic at first blush, led them to believe that A Women’s Choice was part of the same organization as EMW, and that the free ultrasound provided by A Woman’s Choice was the prelude to the abortion they’d receive at EMW.
“And these women would think that they had received a free ultrasound when they come in here,” Anne says. “But we have to perform our own (ultrasound), and we have to charge them for it.”
Henderson says that whenever they are asked by a patient, they admit to being a pro-life organization. “We make it clear that we are not (an abortion provider),” she says. “When they find out we’re not, sometimes they leave, sometimes they stay. It just depends on the individual and where they are in the decision-making process.”
Henderson says that before, during and after an ultrasound, they will try to steer women away from abortions, to keep the baby or give it up for adoption. However, she says they never judge women if they decide to go next door and obtain an abortion from EMW, even if she, her organization and the sign-waving foot-soldiers they inspire disagree.
“We have people on our staff who are post-abortive or have family members who have had abortions,” Henderson says. “We are not here to judge anyone.”
But on this day, the protesters were light, which Anne attributes to the timing (Tuesday) and the cold weather, which laps at the branches of a hibernating tree before the reflective EMW front doors in great, frosty jets. She says last Saturday’s protest was heavier due to the Roe v. Wade anniversary, but not as big as she feared.
After 13 years providing abortions in a state that has tried its best to restrict access to that procedure whenever and wherever it can, Anne believes the next generation of Americans will prove integral to the preservation of what now remains a controversial right.
“I can’t see that we’re going backwards in the world,” Anne says. “Even though some will of course try to teach their young kids (the opposite), those poor kids are scared to death at these protests because they don’t know what’s going on. The younger generation is growing up to be more accepting. It’s just a matter of time.”