with liberty and reproductive justice for all

Students Organize to Rebut I CARE Misinformation Campaign

In Prior to RW on August 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Originally written by the request of an RH Reality Check editor to recount and share my experience fighting anti-choice propaganda on campus, posted December 18, 2009.

Like every organizer and activist, I have often found myself wondering if what I’m doing really matters. Recently I’ve come up with my own personal litmus test for success: If each campaign I work on or cause I contribute my time and effort to helps to inform one person, open one mind, or expand access for just one more individual, then it has been worth it.

In my last semester at Stony Brook University, I was gearing up to begin an informational campaign and petition about local crisis pregnancy centers, which advertise weekly in our primary campus newspaper The Statesman. In the very same week that I was considering forgoing the campaign in the interest of my grades, the Human Life Alliance advertising pamphlet “icare” surfaced in every copy of The Statesman on October 8. It was an immediate and steadfast reminder that learning doesn’t end at a classroom door, and some things are more important than your GPA.

Featuring articles on such anti-choice myths as “post-abortive” stress disorder, the “link” between abortion and breast cancer, and “reproductive racism,” the pamphlet’s recyclable soy-ink paper and magazine-like style was specifically designed to appeal to and manipulate college age women.

Not surprisingly, it leaves no room for women who are satisfied or comfortable with their decision to terminate a pregnancy, and only pressures them to feel shame and regret. Over the next few weeks, with the help of my spectacular mentor and fellow Stony Brook feminists, I wrote a petitionand developed a fact sheet to help inform students of the dangerous misinformation in the supplement. Although I’m personally disturbed by any attempt to impede access to comprehensive reproductive health care, I felt the more important issue to focus on for my campus community was the junk science being disseminated by the newspaper of a world-renowned research university.

If women were to use this “advertisement” as a reliable source of information, they could be acting in ways harmful to their own health and well-being. I have taken several journalism courses, and this scenario is fundamentally against the most basic journalistic principles. The week that my friends and I began to circulate the petition, The Statesman printed a statement about their decision to run the ad, defending the separation between advertising and editorial staff in the interest of journalistic integrity. They did not make any attempt to address, however, that they had essentially endorsed blatant anti-choice propaganda lacking any consideration of the truth or integrity they were professing to uphold.

The ad had stirred up quite a bit of buzz and several other campus publications printed stories about the ad and the petition. A couple weeks ago, I was finally putting together the petition—with 165 signatures!—when I received a copy of a letter written by the Long Island Coalition for Life (LICL) to the editors of one of those publication, The Stony Brook Press. Instead of defending the pamphlet that they paid to have distributed, LICL attacked my own personal character and questioned my right to organize within my campus community. They even went as far as to find my MySpace page, using it to further attack my position as an intern with Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic. They went on to make outrageous accusations against Planned Parenthood, which—everything else aside—has nothing to do with their use of lies and manipulation to further their anti-choice agenda at the expense of Stony Brook students’ health. Thankfully, the editors of The Press allowed me to write a response, which they published alongside the LICL letter on December 9.

So far, we have heard nothing from The Statesman in reference to the petition. I’m about to graduate in a few days, but I’m confident that my Fabulous Fellow Feminists from the Stony Brook Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance will continue the campaign when they return in the spring, and I fully plan to come back to campus to meet with their editorial staff. At this point, I can only hope that this petition has lead at least one person to question anti-choice literature, informed one person about the health and counseling services available on campus, or inspired one person to start a campaign on their own campus. Get involved now, and make yourself proud—because women’s health matters.

A few tips on starting a campaign on your campus:

  • Make sure you’re petitioning the right people. Do some research on the administration and take issue with the person/people who have the authority to implement the change you seek. (Or become that person!)
  • Get online! Use tools like change.org to host your petition online and spread the word with Facebook events and Tweets. Almost half of our petition signatures were obtained online.
  • Offer an alternative to the information and services offered by CPCs and anti-choice propaganda. Include ways to access these alternatives on/near your campus community, including counseling services and religious perspectives.

Stony Brook Students Care, Too!

In Prior to RW on August 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Originally this was used as a petition circulated on the Stony Brook University campus in response to the disturbing anti-choice booklet “I CARE” that was advertised on our campus by the Long Island Coalition for Life (LICL). As you’ll notice, the same newspaper that printed the FMLA editorial in April 2009 highlighting the dangers of crisis pregnancy centers accepted the advertisement for LICL.

November 2009

To the Editorial Staff of The Statesman:

Recently The Statesman published an “advertising supplement” printed by the Human Life Alliance (Issue 10, Thursday Oct 8 2009). The supplement is a magazine-like booklet promoting their anti-choice, abstinence-only-until-marriage agenda. The Statesman has acknowledged some of the campus outrage prompted by the advertising staff’s decision to run the booklet. However, we the undersigned feel that further action is necessary. Upon examination, it is clear that a large portion of the information presented is false, sensational or misleading, and that the articles are almost completely void of scientific or medical facts. In addition, many of the statistics provided are skewed, misreported, and taken out of context. Not only is it dishonorable to disseminate such biased and sensational information, but it is potentially harmful to the health of its readers. It is particularly abhorrent to find a student newspaper promoting junk science as reliable at Stony Brook, a highly regarded research university. For this, and other reasons, the undersigned – as members of the campus community which funds The Statesman – request that The Statesman agree to discontinue further printing of sensational, misleading, and potentially harmful advertisements that fly in the face of scientific research.

The Human Life Alliance is similar to a local organization—Life Center of Long Island—whose ads are also printed on a weekly basis in The Statesman. Life Center is one of a vast network of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) which are largely funded through the heterosexist, unrealistic abstinence-only funding authorized by Congress in 2000 through the Community-Based Abstinence Education program. Life Center provides “counseling” based on the same biased and misleading information provided in the “I Care” pamphlet. Recognizing the harm of these programs, New York State has rejected abstinence-only federal funding for its public schools.

In addition, all of the services offered by CPCs are offered already on our campus – and on campus they are available without religious proselytizing. Life Center advertises weekly that it offers “pregnancy testing, information, counseling and assistance.” Within our campus community, we as students and faculty have access to a range of health and counseling services. As part of the comprehensive medical care offered at the Student Health Center, the Women’s Center offers a range of women’s health services including pregnancy testing and counseling. Both the University Counseling Center and the Center for Prevention and Outreach provide an open and free counseling resource for a variety of issues including sexual health, pregnancy and relationships. The Interfaith Center provides a spiritual resource for campus, representing the major religious perspectives in our community, and students can receive religious counseling from clergy representing the faith of their choice, as opposed to the volunteers that staff CPCs.

As members of the campus community, we reject propaganda masquerading as evidence-based research and respectfully request that as our campus newspaper, The Statesman refuse to run potentially harmful advertisements that don’t stand up to the rigors of scientific standards in the future. If you have any questions or would like to meet with us, please feel free to contacts us at sbstudentscaretoo@gmail.com.


The Undersigned

April Fooled

In Prior to RW on August 17, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Originally printed as a guest editorial under the byline of Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance in the Stony Brook Statesman, April 2, 2009

Ever seen those ads asking if you’re “pregnant and scared?” Imagine for a moment that you were pregnant and scared; this might seem like the perfect place to turn to. With little money or resources, you would go to this clinic where they could provide you with assistance navigating the options you’re considering. Unfortunately, the chances are you’d be fooled.

In reality, many of these centers attempt to coerce and intimidate women out of considering abortion as an option, and prevent women from receiving neutral and comprehensive medical advice. They are Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), sometimes operating under names like The Women’s Health Center or Pregnancy Resource Center. Unlike comprehensive women’s health centers, these clinics are typically operated by anti-choice or faith-based organizations, staffed only by untrained volunteers, and commonly disseminate medically inaccurate information tainted by their strong opposition to abortion and birth control.

CPCs tend to target their advertising on college campuses across the country, and often misrepresent their services to make young women believe the CPCs offer professional counseling, pre-natal care and other options. The anti-choice organizations running these clinics commonly offer free pregnancy tests and counseling, but rarely offer medical care or have actual medical personnel on staff. In addition to the fact that the volunteers do not offer comprehensive options as a part of their counseling, the time and resources it would take for a young woman to go to this clinic could risk her health, and potentially compromise her pregnancy.

According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Feminist Majority Foundation, 48% of responding Campus Health Centers include CPCs on their referral lists for students facing unintended pregnancies. Generally, the referrals do not specify the services offered, and thousands of women each year are referred to these clinics under false pretenses.

The deception doesn’t end there though. A 2006 Congressional investigation of CPCs receiving funding through President Bush’s faith-based Compassion Capital Fund revealed that 87% provided false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion. Some of the medically inaccurate information included claims that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer, result in sterility, and lead to suicide and “post-abortion syndrome.” After visiting CPCs, many women report they’ve been told that condoms and other contraceptives are ineffective and there are reports of false results from pregnancy tests, putting the health of these women at great risk.

Over the last ten years, Congress has funneled over $1.1 billion in federal dollars to failed abstinence-only education programs and so-called crisis pregnancy centers. These clinics received a boom in funding through the 1996 welfare reform act (Title V), which allocated $50 million a year in state block grants to fund abstinence-only programs. Under the Bush Administration, there was another dramatic increase in abstinence-only funding; in 2008, over $176 million was appropriated to these organizations, including CPCs, despite studies commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showing abstinence-only programs to be ineffective. Beyond our borders, President Bush mandated that at least 1/3 of the $15 billion initiative to combat HIV/AIDS globally in 2003 be spent on abstinence-only and faith-based programs.

More recently however, Congress passed the 2009 Omnibus spending bill which reduced federal funding for domestic abstinence-only education, some of which goes to “fake” clinics, by $14 million. However there is still plenty of work to be done. Regardless of ideology, we must work together to expose these so-called health centers that are putting young women’s lives and health at risk. Several states are considering bills that would specify that these centers are not medical centers, and these legislative efforts would further establish a set of standards that must be met in order for any facility to represent itself as a medical center. The ultimate goal, however, is to allow the scientific and medical facts to speak for themselves – that these clinics are dangerous and ineffective, and the stream of federal funding to all abstinence-only programs must be stopped. Have you been fooled? Share your story and help protect our community! The Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance meets every Tuesday at 8:15pm in the Stony Brook Union, room 223.