As Kansans prepare to vote Tuesday on a constitutional amendment to allow regulation of abortion, pregnancy resource centers are coming under fire for community services they have provided for over 50 years.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts (pictured above), recently claimed these centers “are there to fool people” coming to get abortions, adding, “You should not be able to torture a pregnant person like that.”
But Bernadette Sanders, executive director of Birthline Inc., disagrees. Centers such as her own provide extensive medical and psychological services for women – from free pregnancy testing and counseling to educational parenting programs and material assistance.
“We have been in operation in Wichita for more than 50 years,” she said, adding that her nonprofit started as a Birthright center. “We started before Roe v. Wade. We started in 1971.”
Kansas’ ‘Value Them Both’ amendment
The slanders against pregnancy centers come at a time of heightened tensions in Kansas, as many people and some churches supporting the “Value Them Both” constitutional amendment have reported their property stolen or vandalized.
The amendment would require any laws regulating abortion to be passed through elected state representatives and state senators.
“This is the opportunity to exercise what the Supreme Court decided on June 24,” said Ruth Tisdale, executive director of Advice & Aid Pregnancy Centers.
“They decided the people of the state need to decide on this issue. And so here we are, Kansas at the forefront, about to put into practice what the court said back in June.”
Because a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling declared abortion to be an inherent right in the state’s constitution, current laws regulating abortion are now presumed to be unconstitutional and could be struck down by any court ruling. In fact, several already have been.
Tisdale argued that if the amendment passes, the Legislature can work to confirm existing regulations such as parental notification, clinic and abortionist licensing, and restrictions on live dismemberment abortions.
“We can all agree that any person deserves clean clinics, and wherever we go and get a procedure, that particular location is held to the same standard that another clinic is held to,” she said.
Tisdale also explained that the amendment could help safeguard informed consent, meaning that patients should have the right to know all potential side effects and long-term consequences of any medical procedure.
“Why would we not want to do that for a woman who’s going to have an abortion?” she said.
While every pregnancy center is different, many people don’t know they exist or don’t understand the variety of community benefits they can provide – including healthcare, financial aid and social services.
“People are misinformed and don’t know that many pregnancy centers actually have licensed nurses, or sometimes registered sonographers, on staff,” Tisdale said. “They run under the medical license of a physician in their city or area. So that is a huge misconception, that we don’t have any medical people doing medical services.”
For example, Advice & Aid offers free pregnancy testing and limited obstetrical ultrasounds. It also provides STD and STI testing and treatment. Patients can schedule appointments with licensed social workers for additional assistance and get adoption referrals as needed.
The clinic also provides abortion pill reversals and post-abortion assessments for women who have already terminated their pregnancies but are seeking help afterward.
Some critics claim that centers are only “pro-birth” and will not help women after their babies are born. However, Birthline Inc. provides ongoing material aid in the form of formula, diapers and clothing – sizes from newborn up to 2 years. Bulkier items include car seats, Pack ’n Plays and highchairs.
“I wish I had a tally of the infant car seats we have given, no strings attached,” Sanders said, reflecting on half a century of service. “By now we’ve seen tens of thousands of women come through our doors.”
In addition, pregnancy resource centers often provide free educational classes and programs for new parents up to two years after their children are born.
“Our desire is to provide information on all options, and [we] do speak to them about the potential long-term effects and how it may affect their lives, but we cannot make anybody make a decision on their pregnancy,” Tisdale said. “That is totally up to them.”
Sanders agrees, disputing Sen. Warren’s claim that centers intentionally mislead people by claiming to provide abortions just to get them through their doors.
“Our volunteers know that if a woman thinks we’re going to help with an abortion, we’re going to tell her that on the phone,” Sanders said. “We are not an abortion clinic.”
As for the nonsensical claim that centers are torturing women, Tisdale said she hears all the time from patients who are grateful for their help.
“I hear women come and say, ‘You saved my life,’” she said. Even when women choose to have an abortion elsewhere but then come back, she said, “that tells me we loved her well and she felt comfortable enough to return to our clinic.”
As for Sanders, the commitment of her team of 15-20 volunteers who keep the center running six days a week – including Saturdays – speaks for itself.
“We are a totally volunteer organization,” she said. “All of our money and all of our support is from private donations. We get no government money of any kind.”
Tisdale’s nonprofit also has the same philosophy, saying it has never charged for any of its services.
“We’ve been around 39 years and have never charged a patient a dollar once,” Tisdale said. “At the end of the day, we’re all trying to help women the best we can.”