Congressman Ron Wyden

Abortion Clinics & Congressman Wyden & Abortion CPCs

Sometimes one person can make a difference.

Her name was Shannon Locke.  In 1991, she was living in Arkansas when she discovered she was pregnant.  She decided to have an abortion.  So, she picked up her Yellow Page book and under the “Abortion” category she saw an ad for the “Central Arkansas Crisis Pregnancy Center.”   What attracted her attention was that they offered “free pregnancy tests.”  She called the clinic and, when she asked how much the abortion cost, the receptionist said she wasn’t at her desk and couldn’t check the price.  Still, Shannon made the appointment.

When she arrived at the facility, Shannon was greeted by several people wearing white lab coats.  She filled out some paperwork and was escorted to a waiting room where she was told she had to watch a tape about abortion.  Shannon sat there for about ten minutes, watching a film replete with pictures of mangled fetuses.  At some point, Shannon realized she was not in an abortion clinic and left in an almost traumatized state.  Ultimately, she obtained her abortion in Little Rock.

Months later, in my capacity as a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I met Kim Farrell, the administrator of Little Rock Family Planning Services.  At one point, Kim told me about Shannon Locke’s story (without revealing her real name).  I had no idea there were such things as “phony abortion clinics” but Kim gave me a good education.    The next day, I started calling random clinics and discovered that these facilities were all over the country.  We soon discovered an actual manual published by the Pearson Foundation, an anti-abortion group, which gave instructions on how to set up a “crisis pregnancy center.”   Among some of the tips were: adopt a name similar to the real abortion clinic, get a building as close as you can to the real clinic, wear clothing that makes your office look like a medical facility.

About a week later, Congressman Ron Wyden of Oregon told me he had just become the chairman of a committee that had jurisdiction over consumer protection issues.  I immediately thought about how “consumers,” i.e., patients, were being defrauded by these anti-abortion clinics.  I told him about this national problem and we devised a plan to hold a congressional hearing to expose the existence of these facilities.  And, to get us as much national exposure as possible, I knew we needed a “star witness.”  That’s when I thought of the young woman in Little Rock.

Working with Kim, we convinced Shannon, who was 19 at the time, to fly to Washington to testify.  I met her at her hotel that morning and she was understandably very nervous.  I have to admit I felt like I was using her, but I kept thinking of the greater good.  That morning she was the lead witness at a packed hearing.  This is an excerpt from her testimony:

I thought it was an abortion clinic because the ad said “free pregnancy testing, abortion information.”…I was taken to a small room and the lady explained to me that I was about to watch a film on abortion and I would enjoy it. I felt forced to view the film in order to know the result of my pregnancy test. The film showed very pregnant women entering clinics and showed abortions in the late stages of pregnancy. The film said the abortions were on women who were 8 to 10 weeks pregnant, but all of the women had cantaloupe-size bellies. The films said that abortion caused women to bleed to death, never have children again, and many women had hysterectomies….the lady started telling me I was killing a life that is God-given and that a fetus is a baby at the time of conception. . .One week after I received my abortion, a person from the Central Arkansas Crisis Pregnancy Center called my mom’s home. I had listed her number as an emergency contact on the medical form (Shannon did not want her mother to know about her abortion).   I advocate against the businesses existing because women like me will continue to look in the Yellow Pages and be fooled.. .Women who look in the Yellow Pages for abortion want an abortion and not harassment.

There was not a dry eye in the house.

The hearings made national news.  Shannon Locke had told millions of women of the existence of these phony abortion clinics.  On a side note, she had also told the world that she had had an abortion and when she got back to Arkansas, being a national “celebrity,” she faced incessant harassment from the local anti-abortion movement.   It was an unbelievably courageous act.

A few days later, I got a call from the lobbyist who represented the Yellow Pages.  He said that they had no idea that these facilities were not real clinics and that they wanted to correct the situation.  About a month later, the Yellow Pages established a new category for these anti-abortion centers called “Abortion Alternatives.”  Under the heading, they put in language warning consumers that the facilities listed in that category did not perform abortions.

Over the years, these crisis pregnancy centers have continued to ply their trade (as evidence by the recent HBO documentary).  But, after all the publicity generated by this congressional hearing, the number of women who unwittingly went to the anti-abortion centers dropped dramatically.  Hundreds of thousands of women were now educated about these facilities.

Go pick up your Yellow Page book and see the “Abortion Alternatives” category.

Then, take a moment to thank Shannon Locke.