46 Wednesday Apri 2, 2C4 /The Statement
Aledresdav. April 2, 2014// The Statement
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" W e can see, currently, several hundred
visitors a year - something like 300
or more, and me only being here 18
months, I personally think we're a well-kept
secret," responded Iris Proctor when asked
about Arbor Vitae, a pregnancy counseling cen-
ter, and its relatively low level of notoriety.
Arbor Vitae is tucked away - almost hidden
- in plain sight, down a flight of stairs in the
basement of the building shared by the Star-
bucks on East Liberty. The center has been in its
current location since 2008, starting off as the
Problem Pregnancy Help, Inc. - PPH - in 1972
and working out of Ann Arbor's Father Pat Jack-
son House, a still-active Catholic social-services
establishment that supports pregnant teens.
The assistance that Arbor Vitae offers doesn't
include contraception or a morning-after pill.
Instead, the center acts as an outlet to those
seekingadvice, and advocates taking a pregnan-
cy to term before deciding to move forward with
other options, like an abortion. At the outset,
PPH doesn't profess to offer any medical assis-
tance, opting only for counseling sessions and
free material goods.
"We were started by a mom (Patricia Kay)
with five kids who had never worked outside
her home," said Proctor, Arbor Vitae's execu-
tive director. "She wanted to be able to support
women who she knew were going tobe making a
difficult choice, and she wanted to help women
who were going to choose to parent knowing
that they may be on their own."
Gradually, PPH expanded into a newer loca-
tion on Packard Road and became known as the
Pregnancy Help Center. On Packard, the organi-
zation began to see a gradual increase in visitors
until, finally, its board of directors decided to
move to its current location, closer to the Uni-
versity's campus, in order to respond to the need
for crisis pregnancy intervention. In the new
space, the center adopted its current name.
"We started out primarily giving out free
material goods, and before we moved here, we
realized women needed medical information to
make that decision," Proctor said, referring to
the decision to terminate a pregnancy. "So we
became a medical-based women's health orga-
nization, hence having medical professionals on
staff and offering ultrasound for all the hours
that we're open."
However, many groups who advocate for the
access to abortion believe these ultrasound ser-
vices exist to convince women not to terminate
Proctor went on to clarify that Arbor Vitae
exists to empower women.
"We simply think having more information
before you make such a significant choice is real-
ly important," she said. "Being in a safe environ-
ment with qualified counselors and being able to
come to your own, mindful decision is empower-
The staff of nurses at the center are trained to
use the sonogram, and must have received medi-
cal training in order to be hired as volunteers.
However, the center is not allowed to refer its
patients for an abortion.
"We really do believe, as an organization, one
of the healthiest things you can do for a woman
who has a positive pregnancy test, is she can
carry a child to term," Proctor said. She added
that clinics that provide abortions have "excel-
or not the
or takes a
to point out
such as "debate" and "argument" doesn't enter
Arbor Vitae's office space.
"Every woman has her own journey, and poli-
tics has no place in it," Proctor said.
The abortion debate has been in the national
spotlight ever since the beginning of the 20th
century, coming to a boiling point near the
1960s. By the end of that decade, consensus
emerged that many of the health concerns asso-
ciated with the procedure were exaggerated. All
the while, the women's rights movement grew,
with the right to choice becoming a rallying
point for those who believed women should not
be bound by government regulation in questions
concerning their own bodies.
The landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme court deci-
sion in Roe v. Wade mandated that women, under
the protection of their due process rights, were
able to get an abortion under certain guidelines.
An added clause required that all abortion prac-
tices are balanced against the state's respon-
sibilities to protect the life of the baby and the
Activists who advocate against access and the
legality of abortion, often with the backing of
various religious organizations, saw the ruling
as an infringement upon the sanctity of human
"It is in God's name that we must strive for-
ward to protect the lives of those too young to
protect their own," read a 1974 memo drafted
by Right to Life of Michigan - accessible at the
Proctor was quick to point out Arbor Vitae
doesn't endorse any religious or political agen-
das when offering counseling services to its
patients, stating that there is absolutely no reli-
gious context to the information they provide.
"It's about her. This is not a debate. It's not
political. It's about her," she said.'
"That's just not true," said Public Policy
junior Carly Manes, former president of the Uni-
versity's Students For Choice chapter, of Proc-
Manes said that while there are around 2,000
abortion clinics in the nation, there are more
than 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers, like Arbor
Vitae. In many cases, these CPCs started with
religious backing and continue to staunchly
adhere to those religious beliefs.
"They market themselves as a place where
they have free services for women who are sexu-
ally active and who might be pregnant," Manes
said. "And yes, they have these free services and
they have pregnancy tests and ultrasound test-
ing, but the whole point is to get you in there to
convince you to not have an abortion."
Manes described how the pregnancy tests
used at the center are no different than ones
available at a local CVS. The staff of nurses at the
center are trained to use the sonogram, and have
to have received medical training in order to be
hired as volunteers - but there's a catch.
Though Proctor described how Arbor Vitae
strives hard to look past the "debate" raging
outside the doors of its office space, religion has
a history within the counseling center. On its
website, Arbor Vitae links to a story specifying
the struggles of a mother who faced pressure
from a doctor to carry out an abortion when the
procedure wasn't warranted.
Throughout the account, the author referenc-
es God and Christianity, including verses from
the Bible. Ultimately, the doctor in the story
informs the mother she will have to deal with a
lifetime of health complications if she decides to
go to term with the pregnancy.
The 1,000-something words show how both
religion and medicine have an influence on
women across America.
Arbor Vitae's dissociation with abortion can
be partly explainedby the makeup of its board of
directors. The two licensed doctors Arbor Vitae
has on its board, Dr. Phillip Fleming and Dr. Wil-
liam "Rusty"Chavey,both have many ties to reli-
gious and medical groups that oppose abortion.
The pair served on the board of directors of the
Catholic Medical Association, with Chavey run-
ning a call-in radio program called Vital Signs
where listeners could call in to discuss the sci-
ence surrounding the Catholic Church's position
on various medical practices including abortion.
"I think it's great they give out free pregnancy
tests and what not, but they're never really tell-
ing the women that they're a religious organiza-
tion," said Sydney Gallup, a recent LSA graduate
who was a former president of the University's
Students For Choice chapter and currently over-
sees interns for South-East Planned Parenthood.
From a historical perspective, the number of
abortions in Michigan has been dropping ever
since the introduction of the practice in the early
1970s. The year-to-year drop-off rate peaked in
the '80s, and continued to increase rapidly until
2000, before stabilizing around 23,000 abor-
tions per year. Though theories about why this
rapid fall occurred over this 20-year period are
widespread, the obvious answer is the increase
in quality and availability of contraceptive tech-
"There's no question about it - birth control
played a major role in the fall," said Ed Gold-
man, an associate professor in the Department
of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Within the OB/GYN Department, Goldman
oversees the program on sexual rights and
reproductive justice, and in May 2013, hosted
an interdisciplinary conference on international
Goldman believes birth control, which Arbor
Vitae does not provide access to, is the single
most important point of the reproductive rights
Around the early 1970s and '80s, doctors
started developing "morning-after" pills that
allowed women to avoid the risk of unwanted
pregnancy after unprotected sex. Usually, the
pill or "regimen" requires women to take small
doses of estrogen over the course of a few days
in order to delay ovulation.
Studies conducted overseas found these new
techniques - namely the Yuzpe regimen - to be
highly effective, but the FDA stalled approval.
The delays occurredbecause of pushback mainly
from advocates against the legalization of abor-
tion - factions that claimed using a morning-
after pill was equivalent to getting an abortion,
or in worst-case scenarios, the regimen could be
abused to harm pregnancies in their later stages.
In a 2012 study published in Obtetrics &
Gynecology and carried out near the St. Louis
metropolitan area, 9,000 women, ages ranging
between 15 and 45, were provided free birth con-
trol. Researchers then monitored the number of
women who chose to terminate their pregnan-
cies over the course of two years and saw a dras-
tic decrease in abortions inside the city. Nearby
Kansas City, where contraception wasn't hand-
ed out, showed no significant changes. Critics
of the study have suggested the free availabil-
ity of contraceptives can cause riskier sexual
behavior. In the long run, it may even lead to an
increase in unplanned pregnancies and abortion
because of access to the contraceptives the study
identifies as not very effective.
Despite numerous reports showing a clear
difference between morning-after pills and
ingestible abortion pills, many advocates against
access and legality of abortion still consider
emergency contraception to be a diluted or indi-
rect form of abortion.
Rather, the availability of regimens such as
Yuzpe, has been shown to reduce the need of
induced abortions in traditional clinics.
In the case of women who have already gotten
an abortion, Proctor said Arbor Vitae is willing
to provide free counseling services for women
struggling with after-effects. In fact, while
looking for volunteer counselors, Arbor Vitae
only hires candidates who self-identify as peo-
ple advocating for access and legality of abortion
- "pro-abortion to the degree that they would
have an opinion on the subject should a woman
walk through the door," Proctor said.
According to Proctor, people vehemently
against access to abortion would be unable
to provide proper guidance due to the risk of
patient interactions getting too political.
Goldman explained how, over the last few
decades, the proponents against the legality of
abortion have modified their stance to become
more effective in accomplishing their goals. He
noted how closely these modifications follow the
principles of economics.
"At first, they tried to work with the demand
side of the equation, adding mandatory wait-
ing periods before getting the abortion, forcing
patients to look at ultrasounds - a lot like what
Arbor Vitae does," Goldman said. "That didn't
work. The number of abortions didn't really
change because women still wanted them."
"So now, they're trying to pass new laws that
mess with the supply side," he continued. "Clin-
ics in Texas are closing because of these policies
that require them to be a certain size or be a cer-
tain distance from hospitals."
In Michigan, new policies - namely a bill
passed in 2014 - now require women to buy an
additional insurance rider to be protected from
the costs of abortion. The law, in many cases,
goes as far as to nullify already existing policies,
making it increasingly difficult for women in
poverty to get the services they need.
"It's the type of system that always sees the
poorest people suffering," Goldman said. "No
one looks after the women sleeping under bridg-
Proctor emphasized that her role at Arbor
Vitae is to prioritize people through such coun-
seling, rather than external debate.
"It's a big topic in our culture ... this question
about abortion," she said. "Often, my questions
revolve around (focusing) on people. A lot of
people come through those doors. Each story is
different. Each woman is different. And as you
draw her out - and again, not every woman
- but there are some that need the support to
know their own strength."
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