I run a women’s health clinic. Polarizing abortion politics undermine our life-changing work
At 19, I faced an unintended pregnancy. The fear of letting people down and losing a college scholarship, among other things, led me to choose abortion. I spent the next several years regretting that decision and secretly punishing myself for that choice. One day, I learned about a pregnancy loss support group at what is now Claris Health. Joining that group changed my life. I realized that I wasn’t alone and that my life wasn’t defined by that one decision. They helped me believe a bright future was still possible, and as a result a passion ignited in me to help others in similar situations.
For the last 21 years, I have served as the chief executive officer of Claris Health, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit women’s health clinic licensed by the State of California and accredited by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. During my tenure, we have adopted a philosophy that transcends labels and identifies common ground principles that exist between pro-life and pro-choice groups. While labels may help some people capture and explain their political ideology, they are too divisive and unhelpful when it comes to caring for vulnerable people. We want to do something different: create a community better equipped to serve those at-risk of or facing unintended pregnancies, so that they come to a deep understanding of all the options available to them.
We are passionate about caring for people during their critical pregnancy decisions and in the months and years that follow. In this post-Roe world, as our society becomes more divided, the need for organizations like Claris is even more important for women and families facing unintended pregnancy.
In this post-Roe world, as our society becomes more divided, the need for organizations like Claris is even more important for women and families facing unintended pregnancy.
Unfortunately, in the weeks since the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, organizations like ours have been maligned by politicians and pundits who claim that proper care for women facing pregnancies must include direct and unrestricted access to abortion. Organizations that don’t provide abortion services are then falsely accused of blocking abortion access and being anti-woman. They are often labeled “crisis pregnancy centers.” It is insinuated that these “centers” share misleading marketing information, provide deceptive, unsafe health care and limited services, and use other manipulative tactics.
These misrepresentations are neither new nor without consequence. Over the years, the Claris mobile medical unit has been uninvited to health events where we were scheduled as the only medical providers to offer women’s health screenings and care. We have lost funding opportunities, and there have been repeated attempts to distort the excellent community reputation that Claris has held for 46 years.
Claris Health is a primary care clinic that offers integrated medical, mental health and support services including prenatal care, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, well-woman exams, professional therapy, pregnancy loss groups, parenting classes and much more. Our medical services are performed by a team of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants. Our medical director is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine. Our prenatal care program is praised for lowering rates of infant and maternal mortality. Our mobile medical unit provides health screenings to people in under-resourced communities and was critical in offering innovative services during the pandemic. We are transparent with patients, donors and the public about which services we do and do not provide.
While there are organizations that work with pregnant women that are guilty of unethical practices, there are many others that operate according to the highest medical and ethical standards and have dedicated decades to serving people in need. They are now facing threats of legislation to shut them down from members of Congress. Local politicians are issuing notices to steer women away from these clinics, and abortion activists are encouraging vandalism at their facilities.
Organizations that don’t provide abortion services are then falsely accused of blocking abortion access and being anti-woman. They are often labeled “crisis pregnancy centers.”
It is not only pro-choice groups that threaten the work we do at Claris; both sides have contributed to the politicization of this issue. For example, Reproaction, an abortion activist organization, created a database of agencies nationwide that they consider “anti-abortion fake clinics.” Their list largely originated from published online directories created by Heartbeat International, a network of pro-life pregnancy resource centers, and others. Heartbeat International claims the directory is intended to provide resources to pregnant women, and they include Heartbeat-affiliated agencies as well as unaffiliated agencies, like Claris Health. That registry is then used by abortion rights groups to identify and discourage women from visiting so-called crisis pregnancy centers. We contacted both Reproaction and Heartbeat International after learning about these unauthorized listings. Despite our requests and evidence that we do not fit these the pro-choice or pro-life labels, they both refuse to remove us. We therefore continue to be targeted and misrepresented to the public.
None of the accusations hurled at Claris come from those who have genuinely experienced the care that we provide for free or at low-cost to the community. I recently had the privilege of hosting a panel of former and current Claris patients. Some had experienced abortion, others were single moms, and some had made adoption plans. I was blown away by the shared experience in their stories. They all came to Claris desperately needing support and the space to process all their thoughts. I repeatedly heard two phrases: “When I came to Claris I knew I wasn’t alone anymore, and I wouldn’t be judged,” and “Claris became and is still family to me.” Patients regularly share that Claris is the most nonjudgmental clinic they have ever visited. Thousands of exit surveys indicate that patients feel heard and accepted, no matter what they choose.
Extreme groups will focus on their divisive political issues; we will focus on individual lives caught between both sides.
Leaders in California have said it will become a sanctuary state for women across the nation seeking unrestricted access to abortion. This definition of sanctuary refers to one option—abortion access for all. Meanwhile, Claris Health has been known for more than four decades as a true sanctuary and a safe haven for people who are wrestling with tough pregnancy decisions and need to know they have more than just one option.
Abortion is a big decision. It is a decision that I have personally faced, and it is what initially led me to Claris as a patient who witnessed their life-changing care firsthand. These pregnancy decisions are not to be rushed or made in desperation. I pray this Supreme Court ruling challenges people across all political lines to join together, focus on the lives directly affected and provide care and resources so no one feels trapped or alone.
I challenge everyone to consider: How can you help people overcome social and economic pressures to see potential through their circumstances? And if abortions decrease in your area, do you have adequate support services to help with prenatal care, paid maternity leave, material assistance or other critical needs? If abortions increase in your area, can you guarantee that this isn’t because of a lack of support or resources? How are you prepared to help people process these decisions?
Claris means clarity, and that’s what we will continue to provide care to those we are privileged to serve. Extreme groups will focus on their divisive political issues; we will focus on individual lives caught between both sides. We will fight for those lives, and we will always provide comprehensive, nonjudgmental care, regardless of the laws or agendas in place. People deserve to know that they have options and, most importantly, that they are not alone.