Inside The Pro-Life Centers That Say They Offer Women "Choice" During Pregnancies

by Alexandra Svokos
Hartford GYN

Imagine for a moment that you're a woman seeking an abortion.

Chances are, you're at least a little nervous -- of the stigma, the protesters heckling you outside of the medical office, and the fact that you're getting a medical procedure, even an extremely safe one.

You get to the courtyard of the complex where the clinic is located. There are a handful of buildings around you.

To your right is "Hartford Women's Center" with a sign on the window saying they help pregnant women. To your left is "Hartford GYN Center."

You can't remember the exact name of the clinic you called for an appointment. Where do you go?

This is the situation now facing women in Hartford, Connecticut -- and in many other places around the country.

Hartford GYN Center is an abortion clinic that has been open since 1981.

Hartford Women's Center was opened by St. Gerard's Center for Life on Saturday.

The St. Gerard's facility is a crisis pregnancy center (CPC).

According to pro-life organizations, CPCs are places where pregnant women can get economic, medical, and emotional support to carry through with a pregnancy.

According to a report by NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, CPCs are "a threat to public safety," providing inaccurate medical information "with deceptive advertising that implies they are comprehensive women's health centers" to stop women from having abortions.

Almost everywhere you find an abortion clinic, you can find a CPC nearby. They have vague names referring to women and health and advertise that they can help pregnant women.

"[CPCs] often do not actually have a licensed physician on site, and they do not offer or provide abortions or contraception referrals but may initially represent themselves as if they do," according to the National Organization for Women, NYC.

Eighty seven percent of CPCs gave "false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion," according to a 2006 Congressional report.

St. Gerard's Center for Life, a Catholic organization, believes they are providing a "choice" by being located so close to Hartford GYN.

Leticia Velasquez, the executive director of St. Gerard's, told Elite Daily that many women "are feeling under pressure" when walking to Hartford GYN for abortions.

"We feel very strongly that women deserve true choice, and we need to offer it to them right where they are," she said.

She explained that women are often "coerced" into abortion -- whether that coercion comes in the form of economic restrictions, relationships with family, or dedication to work or school.

"If you're thinking you have to do this because of economics and lack of support, us being there gives them an out," she said about the move to Hartford GYN's complex.

Counter to Velasquez's belief, women are more certain about their decision to get an abortion than men are about prostate cancer treatment, according to a fall 2016 study.

Getty Images

Moreover, 95 percent of women do not regret their decision to get an abortion, a 2015 study found.

According to Velasquez, St. Gerard's offers women help until a child is 2 years old. This includes donations, classes about childbirth and infant care, and counseling on relationships and finances. She said they've helped women get into rehab and driver's education courses.

Velasquez sees abortion as a quick fix to an immediate problem, whereas St. Gerard's is there to help women with "whatever it takes to make them their best themselves."

Hartford GYN sees a different story -- one that's all about preventing women from getting abortions and accurate medical information.

"They don't provide health services that women are looking for," Jamie Beers, administrator for Hartford GYN, told Elite Daily. "Instead, they shame and stigmatize in an attempt to limit options."

By setting up next door to Hartford GYN and using a similar name and signage, Beers believes they are trying to "deceive patients and to lure them into their clinic."

Beers has been with Hartford GYN for 19 years and has heard from patients about St. Gerard's, which also protests outside of their clinic (although they'll say they're just "sidewalk advocates for life").

Some years ago, one patient accepted St. Gerard's services for her first pregnancy, Beers said. The patient was promised money, baby clothes, and furniture.

Once she got to her 24th week of pregnancy, the point at which abortion is illegal in Connecticut, St. Gerard's discontinued contact with her, according to Beers.

"I wish I could tell you that was a rare occasion," Beers said.

According to Velasquez, all that Hartford GYN provides is abortions.

"If that were true, I would say so," Amanda Kifferly, director of patient advocacy for The Women's Centers, told Elite Daily. "I'm very proud of the abortion care that we are able to provide, because the reality is that women do need legitimate health care."

But, Kifferly said, the GYN also offers STI testing, pap smears, colposcopies and other gynecological care.

Hartford GYN

Velasquez says the new St. Gerard's facility has three registered nurses and possibly two more coming onboard, all volunteer. They will be offering sonograms and referrals to the hospital around the corner for other medical care.

"We are not a full-service clinic at this time. That is a possibility for us in the future with all our medical staff," she said.

Velasquez speaks about choosing to carry a pregnancy to term as a form of empowerment.


"We tell women there's nothing you can't do," Velasquez said about women who consider abortions because of work or school.

It's persuasive language.

"We're not there to be enemies," she said about St. Gerard's relationship with Hartford GYN.

In the same breath, she said that her "dream" is that Hartford GYN turns into a "prenatal clinic" not providing any abortions.

"I believe we fail women when they feel they have to sacrifice their own nature as women," Velasquez said.

"They give false information," Beers said about St. Gerard's. "They get them to delay abortion care, which increases their barriers. They manipulate women by promising support that never materializes and isn't enough."

For their part, Hartford GYN plans to continue doing their work for women, regardless of what's happening across the courtyard.

"We're just going to be here providing the same care we always do every single day," Beers said. "We're just going to make sure that [women] know that they are cared for by licensed medical providers and that they are getting top quality medical care without lies or shame."

Citations: Major Complication Rate After Abortion Is Extremely Low, Study Shows (University of California San Francisco), Pro-Choice Connecticut, Don't Be Fooled by Crisis Pregnancy Centers! (National Organization for Women NYC), Abortion Restrictions in States (New York Times), Hardly Any Women Regret Having an Abortion, a New Study Finds (Time)