Gov. Rick Perry showed up last night for a photo op in a poor part of Houston expensively made up to conceal its poverty. The Source for Women was opening a new crisis pregnancy center in Spring Branch, and Perry sailed in, crowed a little, and cut a fat pink ribbon with an actual pair of oversized scissors.
Though the new clinic sat in a strip mall bracketed by empty lots, pawnshops, and a Five Star Liquor, the opening looked like a pretty nice wedding reception. The broken black asphalt of the parking lot was swaddled in a white tent and set with round tables featuring squat floral centerpieces, the tablecloths gathered at the bottom to keep from tangling with the high and frankly sexy heels of the church-suited women in dense attendance. They were there to bear witness to this godly ribbon cutting and also potentially pledge a recurring donation. A skinny young man in a crisp white shirt stood bored behind a guacamole station with a tall, multi-tier basket of ripe, dark avocados. A five-piece band called “Life Band Seven” had brought their own pink lights to sit at their feet and shine up on their closed eyes as they sang “Choose Life” and other non-death-oriented slow jams.
Pro-life events follow a format. Some woman, often a leader in the host organization, gets up and tells a third-person story about a lost, unnamed, abortion-happy girl, while a guitar strums thoughtfully beneath her voice, filling meaningful pauses. Then she reveals, “That girl was me.” She pauses to let the audience’s eyes adjust to their new view of her, stands there with her microphone in front of her chest and her chin up, taking on the mantle of shame and concomitant redemption. Her sin is transmuted into moral authority. In this case, the speaker was Cynthia Wenz, president and CEO of The Source for Women, which has two other branches in Houston. Wenz is the survivor, in the parlance of these crowds, of two successful abortions and one unsuccessful abortion attempt that yielded her now-16-year-old son Roman. At the story’s zenith, she called him up to stand hand-in-hand with his penitent mother, as any soft-bodied, acned 16-year-old boy would want to do.
Wenz was joined by an even more elite speaker: Carol Everett, self-described ex-abortionist and author of the 1992 exposé, Blood Money: Getting Rich Off a Woman’s Right to Choose. I had heard talk of “abortion mills” before, and the abortion industry, and abortionists pushing the procedure on unwitting women. But I’d never heard the things Everett asserted: that, operating on a commission of $25 per abortion, she’d planned to become a millionaire; that the abortion industry wants to get three to five abortions out of every 13 to 18-year old; and that such facilities distribute faulty condoms and low-dose hormonal birth control to “make sure” their patients get pregnant again and come back for another lucrative abortion.
Prior to the speeches, Tiffany Pardue, The Source’s Media Coordinator, took me on a quick tour of the facilities. They were stylish and lovely, with indirect lighting, sepia flower photographs printed on canvas, and pink, olive and brown painted accent stripes on the wall. One could see why Wenz had claimed when women first walk into The Source they’d breathe a sigh of relief. Pardue showed me the counseling suites, exam rooms, and ultrasound rooms, called “Window to the Womb.” These each featured or will feature a 46-inch flat-screen plasma TV mounted directly in front of the exam bed. I said not a thing about “A Clockwork Orange.”
What distinguishes this clinic from other crisis pregnancy centers, Pardue said, is that it will provide “holistic, life-affirming care,” nurturing the body through well-woman exams and STD tests as well as pregnancy tests and sonograms, the mind through counseling, including “pre-abortion counseling and post-abortion recovery,” and the spirit, methods undisclosed. I observed that medical care anywhere is generally not “death-affirming” and asked her to clarify the term. She referred me to Wenz, who specified that “life-affirming” meant no abortion or abortifacient birth control. As for whether they would distribute birth control at all, Wenz said she had asked for a number of things and that her board was still determining what would be available.
I asked Pardue if The Source would refer women to facilities where they could get an abortion. She looked at me sideways. “I think women know where they can get an abortion,” she said. In her remarks, Wenz also declined ever to utter “Planned Parenthood,” reminding me of the raunchy yet ultimately conservative film “Knocked Up,” in which abortion is so unacceptable an option that it’s literally unutterable, referred to as “shma-smortion.”
When Rick Perry finally appeared, though, he was all about the PP. He stood on a long swath of pink carpet, at the clear plastic podium, and told the crowd about his jihad against Planned Parenthood. It went pretty darn well last legislative session, he said, cutting PP out of the Women’s Health Program and defying Washington’s “assault,” plus passing the sonogram law. “That important law ensured that a woman also understands the devastating impact of this life-ending decision,” Perry said. He claimed that 20 percent of Texas pregnancies end in abortion (the Guttmacher Institute says 15) and that places like The Source would ensure that “each child is born healthy and happy into a loving family,” which seems like a pretty tall order. He noted that The Source would be part of the new, PP-free, Texas-funded Women’s Health Program, and the audience cheered. It seemed an unfair time to point out that there are only three (3) locations of The Source. Planned Parenthood has ten in Houston alone. While women’s clinics across the state shut down, Perry seemed excited by the possibility that new clinics run by anti-choice groups could open up to meet the demand. But nevermind.
There’s no denying that The Source will help the women of Spring Branch. The services are all free, and any place that provides free STD testing and well-woman exams to an underserved minority community is doing real good. Does this outweigh the harm done by denying legal services and providing misinformation about abortion and birth control?
I don’t know. I just know that most of the women who need help with an unplanned pregnancy won’t be choosing a facility based on a full spread of information about their options. They’ll go where they know, wherever’s close, where they can afford what they need. And as Planned Parenthood’s funding is throttled down, and it and other women’s health clinics close locations or cut hours or raise fees, places like The Source will grow. And whenever a frightened woman comes into the warmly lit waiting room and sits in one of the tufted floral chairs, she can breathe a sigh of relief. Some choices have already been made for her.