Lies, Threats and Near-Death Experiences: Iowans Share Stories About Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Ray Garbers almost died at 19 when an anti-abortion center failed to detect his ectopic pregnancy.

After getting a positive pregnancy test, Garbers, who is a transgender man, was directed to Bridgehaven Pregnancy Support Center in Cedar Rapids, and he had an ultrasound during his second appointment.

“The person doing the ultrasound told me they were having trouble finding the pregnancy, so they basically said that I was either beginning to miscarry or I wasn’t as far along as they had initially thought,” he said during a Wednesday press conference hosted by Planned Parenthood. “I asked if they were sure that’s all it could be and there were no other possibilities, and they reassured me multiple times and sent me home with a one-sided sheet for miscarriage precautions.”

Two days later, Garbers was in the emergency room with extreme abdominal pain. Within 15 minutes, he was being rushed into emergency surgery.

“They (doctors) said that if I had come in even five minutes later, there was a really good chance that I would have been dead because of how much blood I was losing,” Garbers said.

An ectopic pregnancy is one in which the egg implants outside of the uterus, and treatment requires ending the pregnancy.

Bridgehaven is an anti-abortion center, also known as a crisis pregnancy center. It provides free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds and it counsels against abortion.

But Bridgehaven is not a medical clinic.

The state of Iowa last year approved $500,000 in taxpayer money be diverted to anti-abortion centers through the More Options for Maternal Support (MOMS) Act. This year, both the House and the Senate have passed bills to increase that investment to $2 million, even though the program hasn’t yet started or produced results.

Garbers’ recovery took six months and four more hospital visits to deal with complications.

“I called the anti-abortion center while I was at the hospital one of the times, angry that I was misdiagnosed,” he said. “They took no responsibility and instead shifted the blame onto me, saying that they had no way of knowing that that was happening, even though they literally use the same exact technology as the hospital had used.”

Elizabeth Feldman used to volunteer at an anti-abortion center after her mom signed her up for it.

“The so-called crisis pregnancy center used deceit and shame to manipulate vulnerable people looking for health care. Many people who walked into its doors were completely unaware of the center’s mission,” she said.

For six months, Feldman said she listened to staff say anything to talk women out of getting abortions. If they didn’t listen, staff turned to threats.

“Staff would threaten their privacy by saying they would call family members or partners to make them aware of the person’s pregnancy and that they were considering abortion.”

Anti-abortion centers don’t have licensed medical providers on staff, frequently cause delays in health care, and are not regulated by the state. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called them a danger to public health.

“For now, abortion remains safe and legal in Iowa, but it is hanging by a thread,” said Mazie Stilwell, the director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood in Iowa. “Politicians in power are working hard to take away our rights, health care, and power over our bodies and futures. And then they want to peddle anti-abortion centers as a solution.”

Stilwell also called out Iowa Republicans’ plans to ban abortion pills and to introduce a bill to completely ban abortion.

“We will fight every step of the way to keep abortion safe and legal in Iowa,” Stilwell said. “It’s imperative that Iowans get engaged during this legislative session to protect their right to choose whether, when and how to grow their family.”


Nikoel Hytrek

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