When I was little, I wanted to be Alice from Alice in Wonderland and escape to another world – long down the rabbit hole and into a fantasy land where I could battle the Queen of Hearts to restore dignity to Wonderland. I was too young to understand Lewis Carroll’s tale had a darker subtext and that Wonderland wasn’t what it seemed. Years later, I have retained Alice’s sense of curiosity about the world around me and decided to investigate a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) that is currently the focus of an FBI investigation. What I found was more disturbing than I imagined.
The CPC I visited called EMC FrontLine, currently operates in 12 locations throughout New York City and boasts to be "on the front line for life in the abortion capital of America." President Chris Slattery and his clinics, accused of providing medically false information to clients about abortions and contraception, are now the focus of an FBI Joint Domestic Terrorism Task Force investigation.
I decided to make an appointment at FrontLine's South Bronx location to learn more about their operations. I entered the clinic, which neighbors a tattoo shop (gross), and was ushered by two women (who never introduced themselves) into a small room with a TV, DVD player, paintings of Noah's Ark and two giant boxes of model fetuses. Big fetuses, small fetuses- something for everyone!
One woman sat down and began asking my personal information– name, age, address, whether I was baptized, who I lived with, if I had a boyfriend, my marital status, you know- the usual stuff.
"What’s his name?" she asked. After asking her to clarify exactly whom she was referring to, she said, "the man you had sex with." I told her I didn't want to tell her and she pressed on.
"You have to tell me. I need this information in case I want to follow up with you," she pleaded. I gave her a fake name and we moved on. She began to ask more personal questions about the baby’s fictional father– what does the he want me to do with the baby, how long have I known him, what is our relationship like. When I told her that he wants me to get an abortion, her response was what I expected– frank and aligned with the clinic’s pro-life stance.
"Oh no. That’s not good," she said, shaking her head with wide eyes.
I was led into a dirty bathroom decorated with more images of women and children where I was instructed to provide a urine sample. So there I was– peeing into a cup, knowing I wasn't pregnant, jotting down notes as I sat on the toilet and cringing at the thought of my purse resting on a floor that looked like it had never seen a mop.
I left the bathroom after placing the cup on a shelf and began walking towards the room I had previously left. The same woman who asked for my personal information called me over and pointed to the cup with my urine in it as she handed me a dropper.
"Put 5 drops on here," she ordered as she pointed to a pregnancy test. I proceeded to test my own urine, in an open hallway with two other women watching as they leaned on separate walls.
Before my pregnancy status was determined, I viewed a 25 minute film about the consequences of abortion. The male narrator described possible adverse events, including how collateral damage from abortions can lead to my intestines being sucked through my vagina and that "most women" who experience "blood complications" "will die." Between the redundant insinuations about death and the animated dismemberment of a full term fetus, there was no mention that abortions are a common and safe medical procedure that rarely produce serious complications.
After the video ended and the woman told me I wasn't pregnant, she asked how the video made me feel and lying through my teeth, I told her it seems like abortion isn't safe.
"Yes. It’s very hard because this thing inside you is alive, and who are you to decide who gets to live and who gets to die?" she said, reaching for a velvet box. She opened it and began to read from a card inside.
"This is a fetus at seven weeks. And this is a fetus at ten weeks. And they can feel pain," she recited as she placed two model figures of fetuses on the table.
Just then, an older woman walked into the room. She introduced herself to me– the only employee to do so– and leaned on the table in front of me.
"I’m going to ask you a very personal question and I don’t want you to answer. You’re a beautiful, intelligent young woman. Why are you giving yourself up sexually?" she asked, cocking her head to one side.
Um, because sex is fun? The slut-shaming was really the icing on the cake. She didn't want me to respond, but rather to sit there and be admonished for having premarital sex.
As I left the clinic, the women provided me with pro-life literature that implored me to question "the easy way out". I don’t know whether it was the heat or my experience at EMC, but I felt nauseous as I got onto the downtown 4 train. With no seats open, I stood there, holding the railing and thinking about what I just witnessed. I glanced up and noticed an advertisement for Choices Clinic, the city’s first abortion clinic that provides safe access to abortions as well as gynecological and pre-natal care.
"When I get home, I shall write a book about this place- if I ever do get home," says Alice as she wanders through Wonderland. While my story certainly isn't novel-worthy, it is important for young girls and women to know the truth about this crisis pregnancy center. Wonderland was never as it seemed– and neither is FrontLine.
Have you ever visited a crisis pregnancy center? What did you see? Let me know on Twitter: @OnwardnFword.