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Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013

Issue of the Week: Women, Beware

Plus: Hero of the Week

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We’ve seen the ads everywhere—on buses and bus shelters, on billboards and on the Internet. They usually feature a woman in soft-focus, worried about her pregnancy, and will refer that woman to a 24/7 help line, often with offers of free pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, parenting classes, baby clothing and supplies and more.

Who wouldn’t pick up the phone and call to get help?

Women who want comprehensive, fact-based information about pregnancy, that’s who.

Last week, NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin released its investigation into the state’s crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), with damning results. Although CPCs promote themselves as full-range medical facilities for pregnant women, in reality they are fronts for anti-abortion counseling that shames and manipulates women into not terminating their pregnancies, if the woman had been open to that option. The CPCs do so by giving their clients misleading and incorrect information about abortion, such as saying that abortion causes breast cancer, will lead to complications in future pregnancies, and can result in “post-abortion syndrome.” NARAL describes the latter as a “deliberately scientific-sounding name for a mental health phenomenon that has been consistently proven not to exist,” and which is not recognized by the American Psychological Association or the World Health Organization. Yet CPC counselors and literature swear that the syndrome poses a real danger for a woman who chooses an abortion.

The strategies CPCs use to lure in women are stealthy. They target low-income women and students with offers of free tests and ultrasounds and set up shop near or even next to a comprehensive women’s clinic, such as Planned Parenthood, to confuse women. They use misleading names and terms that make them seem like full-range clinics, such as “access,” “women’s care” and “women’s center.” And in NARAL’s Google search for abortion clinics in Madison, only one of seven results on the first page was for a legitimate abortion provider; none of the other six clinics listed provided referrals for abortion. NARAL noted that national pro-life groups spend more than $18,000 per month on pay-for-click ads for crisis pregnancy centers.

NARAL is calling for regulation of the crisis pregnancy centers’ false claims through truth-in-advertising laws or requiring them to place disclaimers in their ads. Until then, it’s “Women Beware.” The decision you make about your pregnancy is yours. Do not let anyone, including an allegedly well-meaning counselor with a hidden agenda, try to guilt-trip or shame you into making that decision, no matter what it may be.


Heroes of the Week: Vets Journey Home Wisconsin Volunteers

Founded in Milwaukee as The Bamboo Bridge in 1989, this nonprofit was committed to giving Vietnam veterans the welcome home they deserved and healing their many emotional wounds. In 2004, the program was renamed Vets Journey Home (VJH) and now encompasses veterans from all wars. Today, this entirely volunteer-run nonprofit has branches throughout the U.S. with its headquarters in Milwaukee (8989 N. Port Washington Road) and offers weekend retreats for veterans.

The three-day program helps veterans understand how military service can contribute to depression, alcohol and drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other traumas. The volunteer facilitators, who include both veterans and civilians, offer a variety of activities and tools to help vets release some of the trauma they are holding. The weekend ends with an Honor Guard to salute the veterans and allow them to feel the respect they deserve for serving our country.

“The key to successful healing weekends is to gather a group of volunteers who are able—through offering unconditional love—to create a safe space for veterans to heal,” says VJH board member and instructor Penney Johns. “Volunteers give of their time, talent, financial gifts and love. They are the thread that heals the unseen wounds of our veterans.”

VJH retreats are free of charge for veterans and volunteers, so monetary donations are always needed to help VJH cover the almost $3,000 cost per weekend to accommodate the participants and volunteer staff members. VJH is also seeking volunteers to help with fundraising activities, marketing, community outreach and grant writing. Those interested in participating or volunteering can contact Johns at 414-531-7575 or penney@vetsjourneyhome.org. For more information about the program or other branch locations, visit vetsjourneyhome.org.

Upcoming VJH Wisconsin weekend retreats: Chicago, March 22-24; Madison, April 12-14; Crivitz, May 17-19; and a summertime Women’s Vets Journey Home in southeastern Wisconsin.