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Babies & Bibles

At Glendale’s Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, women go in for a pregnancy test and come out fearing eternal damnation

By Tina Dupuy 04/16/2009

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I’m sitting in a generic-looking clinic waiting room. The space is clean. Empty. Quiet. The all-purpose art on the walls matches the neutral-colored couches. A receptionist at the office window, a 30-something brunette clad in scrubs and a sensible cardigan, sits at a desk and appears busy.

It looks like any doctor’s office. Totally normal.

I’m filling out a form. It’s only two pages long and doesn’t ask the usual personal and medical information. One page asks for my name, contact info, date of birth and date of my last period. The other is a disclosure form. It notifies me that the people I’m about to talk to do not have psychological degrees and have not gone to medical school. The volunteers, the form says, should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Oh, and the pregnancy test I’m about to take, the form tells me, should not be considered a clinical diagnosis.

I’m at Avenues in Glendale, which — despite all the above disclaimers — styles itself a “pregnancy clinic.”
I’ve come to Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, located on West Glenoaks Boulevard, to do some undercover investigating after hearing a bizarre story from a friend.

Maggie, as we’ll call her, is 23 years old. She’s what I call a yoga twinkie (not to her face): sweet, open-minded and sometimes naïve. Maggie just moved in with her new boyfriend. It’s the first time she’s lived with anyone. She’s elated, she’s in love, and now she’s late. Just by a couple of days, but she’s worried. Maggie is proudly paying her own way through college. There’s a sign in a medical office complex on the way home from her job touting “Free Pregnancy Test.”

So she goes. To her relief, her test comes back negative. To her surprise, she’s kept in what she describes as a backroom, where several women, dressed as nurses, want to speak with her about her life decisions. Maggie is far too polite to try to leave or question her detention.

The women talk to her about “living in sin.” They ask her if she believes in God. Yeah, sure, she tells them, she believes in God (and Allah and Buddha and the Master Cleanse). After two-and-a-half hours the nurses ask Maggie if she would like to give her life to Jesus Christ and pray with them. Maggie is blindsided. All she wanted was to know if she was pregnant.

She leaves with a Bible and an existential crisis. “They were so convincing; they said all this stuff,” Maggie tells me, in tears, after her ordeal. “I don’t know. Is it wrong that I’m living with Mike?”

Her voice seems earnestly stressed about the answer.

“Tina, do you think I’m going to hell?”

Avenues is a California primary clinic, fully licensed and accredited by the state. So exactly what kind of medical facility lures women with the promise of free pregnancy tests and leaves them fearing eternal damnation?

The mission statement on Avenues’ Web site reads, “Avenues Pregnancy Clinic is a Christ-centered ministry dedicated to affirming the value of life. Our mission is to provide a network of care to those experiencing pregnancy-related crisis and compassionately presenting Biblical truth resulting in changed lives to the glory of God.”

According to their site, Avenues has been “presenting Biblical truth” to women since 1988. And no, this is not Honduras. This is not even Arkansas. This is Los Angeles County.

A 2006 article in The New York Times says there are anywhere from 2,300 to 3,500 of these religious-themed clinics, often referred to as “crisis pregnancy centers,” nationwide, compared with around 1,800 abortion providers. Planned Parenthood has 15 clinics in the LA area. LifeCall.org, a pro-life resource Web site, mentions 25 or more centers in the same area.

Typically, as is the case with Avenues, the religious intentions of these clinics-in-name-only aren’t publicly displayed on their sign or even on their disclosure forms. They intentionally camouflage themselves to look like medical facilities, following the advice of Robert Pearson, who — after  Hawaii decriminalized abortion in 1967 — started the first crisis pregnancy center in Honolulu to combat it. The Pearson Foundation Manual, “How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center,” published in 1984, is still used today as a blueprint. Pearson writes, “Obviously, we’re fighting Satan. A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her kill her baby.”

The camouflage is still used, even today.

“I thought I was at a medical clinic,” recalls Judy, a gruff 43-year-old mother of one, who mistakenly went into Avenues because it’s adjacent to her general practitioner’s office. “I told them the same dialogue I was going to tell my doctor.”

Judy was pregnant. The volunteers at Avenues put her in the backroom and told her if she had an abortion she would have problems “getting into heaven.” Judy had already had an abortion 20 years ago. A recovering drug addict, Judy was afraid that if she had another child she could “revert back to addiction” as she did when her 9-year-old was born.

“I was vulnerable,” she says. “I was falling apart.”

Like Maggie, Judy was kept there for two hours. “I heard that I was going to hell and that I was fucked,” she remembers. They hooked her up to the ultrasound to “see the heartbeat,” a procedure that Chicago-based gynecologist and author Dr. Michael Applebaum describes as both unnecessary and even irresponsible. “It’s not an emergency to have an ultrasound immediately,” he says, adding that “medical tests shouldn’t be performed without a reason.”

Judy describes her visit to Avenues as a trip into “The Twilight Zone.” A week later she found an actual women’s clinic and terminated her pregnancy, a decision she says that she is happy with. But her detour to Avenues still haunts her.

“I don’t like what I went through,” she says. “Bizarre is putting it lightly. It’s like I slipped into hell for a minute.

[What they do in Avenues] just doesn’t go with the face of the physical place. It was a horrible experience — just manipulative. Deceptive! That’s what I feel — deceived.”

In the waiting room, I write my drag queen name (favorite pet plus street I grew up on), “Sasha Collins,” on the form. I’m/she is four days late.

A woman in scrubs calls out my name and leads me through the halls to the backroom that Maggie described. There’s a desk, more generic office artwork, some literature and a chair I plop down on. I appear to be the only client in the building that day.

A sturdy woman with shaggy blond hair who will later give me her card with the name Melissa Knox, RN, comes in. She sits down and shuffles through her official-looking paperwork.

“Have you given any thoughts to what you’re going to do if you’re pregnant?” she asks. I say I don’t know. I tell her I have no money, and my boyfriend I was living with just left me.

“Isn’t there, like, a pill or something I can take?” I ask.

“There is. It’s called RU486. But you can only take it if you are less than three weeks pregnant.”

From the information I gave her, I would be around three weeks pregnant, maybe less.

She grabs a chart and shows me. “Since your last period was on this date, if you’re pregnant, you’re at least five weeks along right now.”

“Really?” I ask, peering closer at the chart. “Oh my God!” I say, pretending to be shocked, but simultaneously actually shocked.

“Yeah, isn’t that weird how that works,” she offers.
Indeed.

“Plus,” she says matter-of-factly, “the FDA is under investigation for RU486. They’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”

“Wow! Really?” I play along. Just who investigates the FDA? I wonder, but never ask.

“OK, we’re going to give you a urine test to see if you’re pregnant. Now if you are …” she pauses dramatically, “we have to give you an ultrasound, kay? We do that, kay, to see if the fetus is viable. Thirty percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, so we need to know what’s going on, kay?”

She hands me another disclosure form, this one stating that the ultrasound is also not a clinical diagnosis. Basically contradicting what she just said.

Dr. Applebaum says that not as many pregnancies end in miscarriage as Melissa claimed. And RU486? It’s called Mifepristone in this country, and most guidelines state that a woman can take it up to two months after their last period.

I pee into a cup. In the room where I drop it off is the massive ultrasound machine. It is the only medical equipment in the place. I was expecting to see at least a tongue depressor.

A couple of minutes later Melissa enters the backroom I’m in. “OK, your pregnancy test came back negative.”

“Awesome!” I bleat. “What a relief!”

Melissa sits down at her desk and abruptly launches into her personal story. “I am a very sexual person,” she informs me, “but you know latex allows viruses to seep through.”

Latex? The same material surgical gloves are made out of? Viruses seeping through?!

Then Melissa announces she personally has forgone sex for the past eight years.

“My God! How do you do that?”

I ask.
“With God,” she responds. “I pray … a lot.”

Why not be candid? Why not give accurate medical facts? Why mask the religious intention? Why all the sneakiness? Isn’t this a classic bait and switch? Go in for a root canal and come out with fire insurance? Isn’t this fraud?

“I would be curious to know what kind of medical license allows a clinic to NOT offer health care,” says Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, D-NY.

In 2006, Maloney sponsored HR 5052, the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act. “We have to protect the First Amendment,” she tells me by email. “We can’t clamp down on the honest opinions of those who disagree with those of us who are pro-choice. What we CAN do is what my bill does, which is clamp down on those who advertise with intent to deceive, and empower the [Federal Trade Commission] to enforce such a provision.”

The bill would have outlawed these fake clinics. It was co-sponsored by 46 members of Congress, including Rahm Emanuel, now President Obama’s chief of staff, and Hilda Solis, now the Secretary of Labor. However, the bill died in committee.

“Marketing should be 100 percent truthful,” says Dan Steiner, president of Avenues, when reached by phone.
Is Avenues 100 percent truthful? Says Steiner, “Absolutely.”

Mission Pre-Born (MP), is Steiner’s broad nonprofit. Its stewardship guidelines read, “Full disclosure [walking in the light] is our practice.” His “vision” is to bring more “fully disclosed” crisis pregnancy centers to LA County in what he likes to call the “Miracle Campaign.”

However, when asked about the cryptic forms that state that none of the tests should be considered a clinical diagnosis, Steiner responds, “I’m not aware of the form.”

Steiner, who could be entered in a Ross Perot look-alike contest, explains Avenues tactics and hopes for a new clinic in Hollywood on a fundraising video on the MP Web site: “This is the front door of Los Angeles City College. All the students come out here and if they have a suspicion that they have an unplanned pregnancy, day after day they will see our sign, ‘Free Pregnancy Test,’ right across the street. They’ll see it before they see Planned Parenthood; they’ll see it before they see the abortion clinic. Then they walk out and there it will be and BANG!” He slaps his hands together. “We’ve captured that woman before the abortionist does!”
Bang? We’ve captured that woman?

“Capture their attention,” Steiner attempts to clarify. Minutes later the video is taken down from the Web.

“Captured is a good word,” says Joyce Schorr, president and founder of Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, or WRRAP. “They have to capture you because what they do is not aboveboard.

“To not say who you really are is to have an illegal front,” continues Schorr. “[Avenues and clinics like it] continue to be effective because there is no public outcry, because people don’t care.”

But that’s not the only reason.

This common kind of deceit in women’s health care has its allies. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D.

Antonovich, arguably one of the most powerful men in California, is listed on Avenues’ advisory board. He oddly omits the affiliation with the clinic from his bio on his Web site. When asked about this, Antonovich’s press secretary Tony Bell says curtly, “We certainly can add that.”

As to whether the supervisor is aware of the misleading practices done by an organization he’s advising, Bell simply states, “He supports the mission.”

In the backroom, Melissa tells me about all the reasons I should never have intercourse. “Every woman, when she has sex, gives away a little piece of her heart,” she says, then hands me a fistful of abstinence literature.

We chitchat a bit more before Melissa finally stands up, indicating I can go. She escorts me to the back door and hands me a flyer to see her band play the following week. I wonder why I didn’t get a Bible.

The receptionist in the office is there to see me off. 

“We had another clinic in Hollywood,” she informs me on my way out. “We’re trying to get back there again because we’re so badly needed there.” I nod and walk out the door.

What could possibly be so badly needed? I just spent nearly two hours of my time to get an admittedly unreliable pregnancy test, erroneous medical information and find out more than I ever wanted to know about the life of a sexless 35-year-old bass player.

This is a licensed medical clinic.

It’s usually safe to assume that medical clinics provide medical care. But if you have the capacity to bear children, those rules apparently don’t apply. If a cancer clinic were run as a Christian Scientist front there would be anger.

There would be disgust. It would be shut down. But the distraught woman in dire circumstances — “a killer who in this case is the girl” — being routinely defrauded because she “has no right to information” has gone unnoticed by the general public.

As I walk down the street back to my car, I glance at one of the abstinence flyers Melissa gave me during her oversharing session.

“True love,” it says, “protects 100 percent of the time.”

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Comments

Excellent investigative journalism!

posted by abbytaylor on 4/16/09 @ 03:13 p.m.

What techniques did they use that Planned Parenthood doesn't use?..... Except that when someone leaves Planned Parenthood there is a good chance a child has been killed

posted by bserius on 4/16/09 @ 03:15 p.m.

Thank you for exposing this joint that calls itself a health clinic and has set itself up to do the work of pure propoganda!. Shame on them for the level of manipulative schemes they stooped to telling the woman she was further along in her pregnancy then she was!. Lieing is such a sin! Good Lord!
Good thing they didn't see me come in the door as I would have given them a real healthy dose of 're-education' they would never forget to shut them down!

posted by featherorboard on 4/16/09 @ 03:50 p.m.

Wow great article, shocking! To be fair to the "RN" or whatever she may really have been, when you calculate how many weeks pregnant you are, from conception you are already two weeks along because you start from your last period. She still could have been lying to you if that is what you meant or maybe that explains the miscommunication.

posted by skipperdee on 4/16/09 @ 04:20 p.m.

BSeius, your disgusting. You failed to have any compassion for lives that you disagreed with.

I bet you a pro death, pro war, pro hate everybody who is not a born again, BUsh lover.

posted by Palin2012 on 4/16/09 @ 05:39 p.m.

Bserius, the key difference between Planned Parenthood and this practice is that Planned Parenthood, whatever else you may think of them, are at least honest and upfront about what they're doing. They provide abortions, and if you go into Planned Parenthood, that's what you'll get. They don't lure women in.

This, on the other hand, is devious, sneaky and manipulative. The women who go in these places go in with the reasonable expectation of receiving healthcare (which is supposed to be given in as neutral and objective a fashion as possible -- your doctor is supposed to treat you, not judge you), and are instead subject to pious lectures about how they're going to hell unless they make the right decision. It's religious propaganda disguised as healthcare, preying on those in an emotionally vulnerable state. It is, in short, insidious and disgusting.

It also ultimately works to weaken their position -- if these people are so righteous, then why the deception? Why the talk of 'capturing' people? Why the slimy ways it's supporters and founders try to wriggle around the subject of the forms and misleading practices (and why doesn't that supporter mentioned in the article mention his support on his website, if he's proud of it)? Why not just come out with it and admit that they're pro-lifers trying to discourage women from getting abortions? That at least would be honest.

posted by cyberperson53 on 4/16/09 @ 06:15 p.m.

"Except that when someone leaves Planned Parenthood there is a good chance a child has been killed"

What????!!!! They kill children????!!!! No one calls the police? How can such an atrocity be allowed to be committed.... oh wait....

posted by warmlight on 4/16/09 @ 10:15 p.m.

Why don't people start letting men know that masturbation kills, too? I think that men need to be forced to wear male chastity belts (yes, they exist). Masturbation kills potential life - life that God might have wanted you to plant into a loving wife and let grow into the next President of the U.S.A., the person who cures cancer, or the next Messiah. By masturbating, you are directly going against God's wishes for your selfish purposes. Male Masturbation is murder!

posted by masturbationismurder on 4/17/09 @ 05:16 a.m.

Yes, masturbationismurder, you're right! But even those religious followers who believe masturbation is a sin, how can they prevent a woman for OVULATING (aka, releasing a potential life) every month? So, are we women supposed to be knocked up every month of our lives in order to save this potential human?

Also, I am truly curious where these pro-life nuts are planning to put these extra 42 million extra people per year. Perhaps they could reduce every person's livable area into a few square inches? I don't think I can fathom sharing my Bible with someone else!!

posted by ovulationismurder on 4/17/09 @ 06:05 a.m.

I've seen these crisis pregnancy centers' propaganda online, they even lie to their own investors about their "clinics". I can only imagine what their finances are like... I guarantee their board members don't go hungry. No vow of poverty for the President of Avenues.
Thank you for doing this piece and being willing to sit in that backroom for the story.

posted by blottdada on 4/17/09 @ 08:36 a.m.

My sister took me to a place like this when I thought I might be pregnant. The deceitfulness and outright lies were appalling. Since I'm not a naive thirteen year old who hasn't had a biology class yet, and they couldn't scare me with all the medical mis-information, they resorted to telling me that my body does not belong to me. I'm a vessel for Christ and shouldn't defile myself with premarital sex. My bf and I don't believe in marriage but had been in a loving committed relationship for several years. These people didn't care that we'd been together for years and were happy, only that I'd had sex. They all looked at me like I said Id been having a one night stand every night since puberty. It was degrading and humiliating and that was exactly what they intended.

Turns out I was pregnant and though I firmly believe that it's my body and therefore my right to choose, my bf and I were thrilled to be expecting. They dampened a beautiful moment by looking at me sadly and telling me all about how I was damning my child for all eternity because he was conceived out of wedlock and the blood of his soul was on my hands forever.

You know, if they have to resort to scare tactics and deceit, perhaps its because the message is flawed in the first place.

posted by chocolatezen79 on 4/17/09 @ 10:30 a.m.

Planned Parenthood doesn't "just kill babies". They provide reproductive health services for women and men such as std testing, pap smears, birth control and abortions if the patient chooses. It doesn't sound like this 'clinic' is doing anything other than promoting a particular world view with complete disregard towards the welfare of their patients.

posted by firefly on 4/17/09 @ 03:59 p.m.

Outstanding article!

There's a book available on the subject of stigma, which is also well-worth reading. It goes even more in-depth into many of the issues raised in this excellent piece of article journalism.

Link: http://www.iyares.com:80/books/d/?id=B00...

The book is also listed on amazon.com. It's called:
Abortion Rhetoric: The Silence of Experience. Author is: Diane Walsh. If I'm remembering correctly.

posted by Chel on 4/18/09 @ 08:08 a.m.

ovulationismurder - You know, you could give up your spot. I'm sure no one would mind. Besides, 42 million people? A little extreme don't you think? What makes you so special that you think this planet is for you? The planet is for EVERYONE, deary. Not just you. So don't be so selfish.

And, I actually wanted to check this story out, I went to my local Crisis Pregnancy center, and lo-and-behold! It wasn't at all like this article stated. Some people are so overly sensitive. They didn't offer me their beliefs until I asked who funded them, and they weren't forcing me to do anything or make any commitments. They even offered me pamphlets to the Planned Parenthood in town, if I sought that route.

(P.S. I found out I wasn't pregnant)

Some people will do anything for a story. Even blowing things out of proportion.

Have a nice day.

posted by heythatsmyname on 4/20/09 @ 10:52 a.m.

First, heythatsmyname, in your little diatribe to the author you mistakenly belittle her for selfishness, when in fact over-population is a global issue effecting everyone and therefore anything but selfish.

Additionally, this article does not get its poignancy from assuming this experience happens to everyone but by the fact that it happens to anyone. The relation to a Christian Scientist "Cancer Clinic" is a prime example. Not every cancer clinic has to be a front for this kind of fraud to be an outrage.

I am glad you had a good experience at whatever clinic you went to, good for you. Maybe now you can stop being so selfish and think about all those other vulnerable women who weren't so lucky.

Lastly, to everyone else, what can we do about this type of fraud other than be appalled by it? Is it actually illegal? Now that Tina has brought it to our attention, can we do anything about it? Ideas?

posted by Whatarewegonnadoaboutit on 4/20/09 @ 03:19 p.m.

According to these comments, 1/5 of people evidently waited until marriage to have sex, and believe anyone who hasn't is going to rot in hell. The other 80% of us are the ones who are going to rot. I thought living in the bible belt of the South was bad, but California? I don't know if this is more false advertising or outright fraud, but how would the bible thumpers feel if they went to a new grocery store to buy some steaks, only to be thrust into a back room, held against their will, and be drummed for 2 hours about how their eating meat kills animals? Then when they are finally allowed to leave, they are handed a bunch of pamphlets with pictures of slaughtered cows and pigs on them? See, you have to put it in perspective for the other 20% sometimes.

posted by weshouldfeargod? on 4/21/09 @ 06:30 a.m.

I wish people would start realizing that Planned Parenthood does way more than provide abortions. There aren't a lot of other places where a woman with no insurance can get birth control and unbiased, straightforward medical information to PREVENT herself from having to make that decision about abortion (or to have to endure the judgment of people who work in places like Glendale Avenue's Pregnancy Clinic--YOU DON'T THINK A WOMAN IN THAT SITUATION AGONIZES ENOUGH??!!!). I,for one, am very fortunate that Planned Parenthood is around.

posted by pasreader on 4/23/09 @ 09:34 a.m.

Ms Dupuy's article is not news and it is definitely not the product of investigative journalism. She says so herself at paragraph 11: "The mission statement on Avenues’ Web site reads, “Avenues Pregnancy Clinic is a Christ-centered ministry dedicated to affirming the value of life..."

Normally, a quote that direct would be considered self-explanatory, but....

Ms Dupuy has spent a lot of time being indignant on behalf of her "yoga twinkie" who didn't have the good sense to spend two minutes at the computer to come up with that crystal clear mission statement BEFORE seeking a free pregnancy test.

Did Ms Dupuy have the good sense to do HER research before going "undercover"?

I doubt it - she had a story to tell.

This article reads like a shocking expose - which it isn't really. The only embarrassing exposure in this article is that Ms. Dupuy can write but she certainly can't read.

posted by hollisbrowne on 4/29/09 @ 02:03 p.m.

Nowhere on Avenues’ website does it claim to provide abortions. In fact, its mission statement clearly states that it is a Christ-centered ministry. Anyone who peruses the website can ascertain that it is primarily a counseling-based ministry that offers basic pregnancy testing.

Ms. Dupuy has effectively lumped all crisis pregnancy centers into a category of “Bible-thumping religious fanatics” based upon one biased undercover investigation. Perhaps she should limit her judgment of such clinics to her own experience (and imagination).

At Avenues you can receive a free pregnancy test and an ultrasound. You forgot to mention that they will also provide you with free clothing, supplies, and diapers for your new little one should you need them.

At Avenues you will not be locked in a back closet for two hours of interrogation, as her article forewarns. No one is held against their will or forced into ‘religious’ conversation. When the counselors see that a woman is upset and hurting, they will naturally fall into their job: to counsel. Sometimes that may include –horrors!- actually talking about the woman’s life and may turn toward spiritual issues. Let’s not forget that the website says counseling is offered!

If I thought that I had a cure for a deadly disease, I’d be nuts and selfish to keep it to myself. The Christian volunteers that staff free clinics like Avenues believe that they have a cure for life’s helplessness and despair: Jesus Christ. They share their faith because they care about people, and yes, they care about babies. What’s that? I said babies, because these Christian folk believe that human life begins at conception. Call them crazy, they actually want to preserve life (both the mother’s and the baby’s). Remember that all of this is free, so they are not gaining any profit by what they do.
In today’s day and age where ‘wanted’ is a completely subjective word, it takes a brave soul to speak out for the defenseless. Kinda makes you think that they might actually care for the sake of caring.

Just as Planned Parenthood does not have a sign plastered on it’s front “Pro-Abortion”, Avenues does not blatantly advertise “Pro-Life”. Why is that a crime? It’s website is completely up-front, as well as its list of services provided. In a time when personal service and caring is rare, it is refreshing to know that Avenues is there with a listening ear for women going through a crisis pregnancy. If you want your inconvenient baby “terminated”, you know where to go. If you want to hear all of your options and talk with someone who actually cares, Avenues is a great place to start.

posted by rachelh on 5/11/09 @ 08:14 p.m.
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