As family planning is sidelined in Texas, church group steps in to provide contraception

A chain of pregnancy centers in crisis is changing its strategy to focus on preventing unintended pregnancies in the first place by offering contraceptive services in cities in Texas.

Pregnancy Crisis Centers, also known as CPCs, are religious groups that work to dissuade women from having abortions. The Source plans to focus on providing health care to women who may not be ready to have a baby.

“We perform comprehensive medical examinations – from STI / STD testing to care for healthy women,” said Andy Schoonover, CEO of The Source. “So you have your annual exams. You can get contraception here.

One of The Source clinics is located in North Austin, north of 183, just off I-35. The offices are in a one-story building with a gravel path at the front. It is a mainly residential area, surrounded by trees.

Inside, the clinic has modern and bright furniture. There is no clear identifier that this is a Christian organization. No cross. No religious artwork. Schoonover says it’s intentional.

“We’re a faith-based organization, but we don’t push our faith down anyone’s throat,” he said. “We will ask you if we can pray for you. And if you say no, we won’t. “

Since excluding long-term providers like Planned Parenthood from state programs, Texas health officials have increasingly relied on church groups and new providers to provide family planning services. Women’s health advocates say this change has not gone well.

Last year, for example, state officials announced the Heidi group, a Christian anti-abortion company, was not providing the services for which it had been hired. State officials withdrew the organization from the program and recently forced it to pay back $ 1.5 million.

Kami Geoffray, CEO of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, said there shouldn’t be any untested providers in these kinds of programs in the first place.

“If we fund unqualified health care providers in Texas, we are taking money away from qualified comprehensive health care providers,” she said.

The forced departure of Planned Parenthood left a huge need in Texas, which was already struggling to provide contraception and testing services to low-income women. The loss of established suppliers has been difficult to overcome.

Credit Julia Reihs / KUT

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Andy Schoonover, CEO of The Source, said he plans to open 20 more faith-based clinics over the next few years.

But Schoonover said he believes bands like his can fill that gap.

“We do pretty much everything that Planned Parenthood does,” he said. “The only thing we don’t do is abortion. And you can go to Google and find out where to do that.

There’s another way, however, that The Source isn’t like Planned Parenthood. Clinics will not offer the full range of contraception. Specifically, he does not plan to offer IUDs, which are the most effective method of birth control. Schoonover said the move is based on his religious belief that IUDs harm human life by not allowing a fertilized egg to attach to a uterus.

“As a faith-based organization, I believe that [when] sperm and egg come together, it’s new human life and so we want to protect that life, ”he said. “And so, IUDs are not something that we will do, but pretty much everything else that we will do. “

It is a common belief among anti-abortion organizations. And while IUDs often prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, they more often kill the sperm before it fertilizes an egg.

Geoffray said that was one of the reasons she was concerned about groups like The Source providing health care.

“It is important that providers leave their bias at the door of the examination room and that clients work with providers to leave this examination room with everything they need on this visit,” a- she declared.

According to Geoffray, when women visit family planning clinics, it is often the only time they see a caregiver that year.

“And if they leave without the contraceptive care they need and want, they may experience an unwanted pregnancy because they were not seen and heard by the provider that day,” a- she declared.

“There is a stigma within the faith community about contraception. We are taking a much more pragmatic approach to this. “

Geoffray said his biggest concern was that groups like The Source – instead of more established, comprehensive clinics – would end up getting federal funding through Title X.

“We of course need more suppliers,” she said. “But these providers must offer client-centered, evidence-based care and the full spectrum of contraceptive care.”

For now, Schoonover has said The Source is mostly funded by private donations.

He said he planned to open 20 more faith-based clinics over the next few years, which angered members of the religious community.

“There is a stigma within the faith community about contraception,” he said. “We’re taking a much more pragmatic approach to this. “

Schoonover said it made more sense to focus on preventing an unwanted pregnancy than trying to dissuade a woman from having an abortion. Some anti-abortion groups, however, have been reluctant to fund contraception. In fact, he said, members of his community have complained to his pastor about his efforts to expand the centre’s services.

Schoonover said he plans to continue doing this work because he believes it’s the right thing to do.

“There are absolutely all kinds of pushbacks,” he said. “But it’s one of those things we’re taught in the faith community: If you really believe it’s the right thing to do, you do it regardless of the reluctance. “

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