A chain of crisis pregnancy centers is shifting its strategy to focus on preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place by offering contraception services in cities across Texas.
Crisis pregnancy centers, also referred to as CPCs, are religious groups working to dissuade women from getting abortions. The Source plans to focus on providing health care to women who might not be ready to have a baby.
“We are doing full medical – everything from STI/STD testing, well-woman care," Andy Schoonover, The Source’s CEO, said. "So, you have your annual checkups. You can get contraception here.”
One of The Source’s clinics is in North Austin – north of 183, right off I-35. The offices are in a one-story building with a gravel path out front. It's a mostly residential area, surrounded by trees.
Inside, the clinic has modern and bright furnishings. There’s no clear identifier that this is a Christian organization. No crosses. No religious artwork. Schoonover says this is intentional.
“We are a faith-based organization, but we don’t push our faith down anybody’s throat,” he said. “We will ask you if we can pray for you. And if you say no, then we won’t."
Since kicking long-term providers like Planned Parenthood out of state programs, Texas health officials have increasingly been relying on religious groups and new providers to deliver family-planning services. Women’s health advocates say this shift hasn’t been going well.
Last year, for example, state officials announced the Heidi Group, a Christian anti-abortion company, wasn’t providing the services it was contracted to provide. State officials removed the organization from the program and recently forced it to repay $1.5 million.
Kami Geoffray, CEO of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, said there shouldn’t be untested providers in these kinds of programs in the first place.
“If we are funding unqualified health care providers in Texas, we are taking money away from qualified comprehensive health care providers,” she said.
The forced departure of Planned Parenthood has left a huge need in Texas, which was already struggling to provide contraception and screening services to low-income women. The loss of well-established providers has been tough to recover from.
But Schoonover said he thinks groups like his can fill that gap.
“We do substantially everything that Planned Parenthood does,” he said. “The only thing we don’t do is abortion. And you can go and Google and figure out where to do that.”
There is another way in which The Source is not like Planned Parenthood, though. The clinics won't offer the full spectrum of contraception. Specifically, it doesn't plan on offering IUDs, which are the most effective method of birth control. Schoonover said this decision is based on his religious belief that IUDs harm human life by not allowing a fertilized egg to attach to a uterus.
“As a faith-based organization, I believe that [when] sperm and egg come together it’s a new human life and so we want to protect that life,” he said. "And so IUDs is not something that we will do, but pretty much everything else we will do."
This is a common belief among anti-abortion organizations. And while IUDs often stop a fertilized egg from being implanted, they more often kill sperm before it fertilizes an egg.
Geoffray said this is one reason she's concerned about groups like The Source providing health care.
“It’s important that providers leave their bias at the door of the exam room door and that clients work together with providers to leave that exam room with everything they need in that visit,” she said.
When women visit family-planning clinics, Geoffray argues, it's often the only time they will see a medical provider that year.
“And if they leave without the contraception care they need and want, they may experience an unintended pregnancy because they were not seen and heard from the provider that day,” she said.
Geoffray said her biggest concern is that groups like The Source – instead of more established and comprehensive clinics – will eventually start getting federal funding through Title X.
"We, of course, need more providers," she said. "But those providers need to be offering client-centered, evidence-based care and the full range of contraceptive care."
For now, Schoonover said The Source is mostly funded by private donations.
He said he plans to open another 20 faith-based clinics in the next few years, which has angered members of the religious community.
“There is a stigma there within the faith community about contraception," he said. “We take a much more pragmatic approach on it.”
Schoonover said it makes more sense to focus on preventing an unwanted pregnancy than trying to dissuade a woman from getting an abortion. Some anti-abortion groups, though, have been resistant to funding contraception. In fact, he said, members of his community have complained to his pastor about his efforts to expand the center's services.
Schoonover said he plans to continue doing this work, though, because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.
“There is absolutely all kinds of pushback,” he said. “But it’s one of those things we are taught in the faith community: If you truly believe it is the right thing to do, you do it regardless of the pushback.”
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