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Protect reproductive rights; stop Adirondack Pregnancy Center

“You have a big mouth,” Saranac Lake Development Board member Elias Pelletieri spat at me during last week’s Development Board meeting. The comment came at the end of my public comment opposing the proposal for the Adirondack Pregnancy Center, which is seeking establishment at 20 Academy St. in downtown Saranac Lake. During the comment period, I voiced my concerns, to a majority male board, about the devastating impact that the establishment of such a center could have on reproductive rights. I’m choosing to take Pelletieri’s comment as a compliment and continue using this “big mouth” to bring awareness to the project and detail my concerns about it.

Many may wonder why a reproductive rights advocate is fighting the establishment of a pregnancy center. At first glance, facilities like the Adirondack Pregnancy Center could seem like a good resource for a community, but in reality, facilities like these are commonly known as Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) and are run by anti-choice organizations. CPCs missions are to eliminate choice by coercing women into not to having abortions. Rather than being accredited medical institutions, they are run and funded by religious and anti-choice organizations.

So, what really is the Adirondack Pregnancy Center?

The Adirondack Pregnancy Center, despite having a board of representatives and a clear plan for establishing in Saranac Lake, has no publicly available information beyond what was presented to the Development Board last week. If established, representatives from the center say that they would be providing free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes and counseling options. There was no mention of providing the community with birth control options to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place or resources for support once a baby is born. They are partnering with local religious institutions for funding and to recruit religious leaders to provide faith-based counseling at the center. Lastly, the center stated that they are affiliated with Heartbeat International.

What is Heartbeat International?

Formerly known as “Alternatives to Abortion,” they are an international CPC organization whose mission is to advance “life-affirming pregnancy help” and to make abortion “unthinkable for future generations.” Their informational “medical” pamphlets cite Bible quotes as the source of medical information. They bombard online search engines to make their links pop to the top and obscure the links of real health facilities. They adamantly support legislation that blocks women’s access to health care. They’ve been sued numerous times for spreading misleading and outright false information. They are a danger to women and a danger to our community.

Saranac Lake is just one of many communities across the U.S. and the world that is facing the onslaught of CPCs. Currently in the U.S., CPCs outnumber abortion providers 2 to 1, with that ratio jumping as high as 10 to 1 in some states. If established, the Adirondack Pregnancy Center would be the first within the Blue Line.

The tactics used by CPCs to coerce women are numerous.

They lie to scare women. Numerous studies have disputed the “facts” used by CPCs and documented the continued use of this false information by the centers. CPCs warn about the “dangers” of abortion, when in reality carrying a pregnancy to full term is far more dangerous than having an abortion, which is a very safe and common procedure, with complications being extremely rare. In contrast, the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world and is the only developed country that is continuing to see that rate increase. This maternal mortality rate increases dangerously higher for women of color.

CPCs trick women into thinking that they are medical facilities which provide abortion services. They market themselves as facilities which do provide abortions to lure people into their doors through misleading names, advertising, evasive answers to phone calls, and having staff wear medical attire such as scrubs and white lab coats. It can be nearly impossible for those on the outside to distinguish these fake facilities from real ones. This misleading presentation of these facilities is so ubiquitous that there is currently a bill working its way through the state Senate that would require more transparent disclosure from CPCs about the services that they do and do not provide; New York City has already passed similar legislation. CPCs themselves stop just short of being designated medical facilities, and thus masquerade as medical institutions while not being subject to regulatory, licensure and credentialing oversight. This presents a dangerous situation of those seeking pregnancy help believing that these centers are licensed medical facilities while in reality these unregulated centers can legally say whatever they want. Many CPCs also perform ultrasounds; however, in many states, including New York, they are not required to have trained technicians performing the scans and often use sonograms as a tool of emotional manipulation rather than as an actual medical test.

They locate themselves close to legitimate women’s health centers in an attempt to confuse patients of the real centers into entering the CPC. The proposed location of this center? Five hundred feet from Saranac Lake’s Planned Parenthood.

CPCs stop providing aid to the women visiting their facilities once a baby is born, meaning they don’t help women with the financial burden of becoming a parent. One of the most cited reasons for having an abortion is inability to afford a child. The majority of women who seek abortions are already mothers, and thus are well aware of the impact having another child would have on their lives. Women who don’t have wanted abortions experience economic hardships that can last years and are more likely to enroll in public assistance programs.

Women deserve access to accurate, comprehensive and unbiased medical information to help them make their own decisions. The establishment of the Adirondack Pregnancy Center will severely impact their ability to do so.

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A few days after the Development Board meeting, I was told during a routine dental exam that I, in fact, have a small mouth. It’s amazing how different information can be when it is provided by a real, unbiased professional.

Carolyn Koestner lives in Saranac Lake.