The HerChoice pregnancy center in Bowling Green sparked controversy over whether it provides unbiased care to the people who utilize its services. Its annual “Life Changes Everything Walk” was met with a counter-protest put on by the Feminist Organization Raising Consciousness and Empowerment.
FORCE believes that HerChoice, despite the name, does not provide women with a choice. Specifically, the choice to have an abortion. HerChoice’s website states that it is a faith-based organization, and it does not provide abortions or refer clients to organizations that do provide abortions.
However, HerChoice executive director Shelly Burkhart does believe HerChoice provides clients with a choice. She said staff provides factual information on abortions and other options available to people with an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy. She said she wants everyone to know all of their options, including carrying the pregnancy to term and adoption.
When asked if the name “HerChoice” may give the wrong impression about what services they provide, Burkhart replied, “I certainly hope not. It clearly states on our entrance form and website that we don’t provide abortion.”
Public relations chair for FORCE, Morgan Gale, said HerChoice has two websites and they give slightly different information, that their donor page much more clearly states they are anti-abortion.
Gale refrenced screenshots of bgpcfriends.org where the organization said they wanted to “end abortion” and “take a stand against abortion.” Their website now says “providing hope” in the place of ending abortion. They also say they are “looking for women considering abortion before they make the decision to end their pregnancies.”
Bob Koenigbauer, HerChoice board president, said, “for organizations, it’s pretty normal to have two websites. You have a website for who you are trying to reach and a website for volunteers or donors.”
FORCE and the protesters do not believe HerChoice is giving women a choice, but that they push their religious agenda on their clients. They cite the center’s website for proof, as it states abortion is “a tragedy and heartbreaking to God.”
Gale said HerChoice uses other misleading and loaded language, such as a line in a pamphlet that states when women choose abortion, their pregnancy “ends with death.”
Taylor Harrison, Ohio state organizer for Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, does not believe an organization that is anti-abortion can provide unbiased care.
“Health care should be personalized and not backed by an agenda. It seems to me that they only care about their agenda. . . . They have an ulterior motive of ending abortion. They (HerChoice clients) are not being offered all options,” Harrison said.
HerChoice board member Shelli Sellick said, “HerChoice offers a safe place for people to come and get hope. We do not share our own opinion of what we would do.”
Hannah Wadsworth, a HerChoice volunteer, believes that people are not told about the possible repercussions of abortion. She said, “There are misunderstandings about abortion and how it affects people. People believe they can go on the rest of their life without thinking about it, but that’s not always the case.”
Shelly Burkhart, executive director of HerChoice, shared she underwent an abortion procedure herself after she survived an assault, and she felt she was not given a choice on what to do about her pregnancy. She said she was affected very badly by her decision, and she said she wanted to provide her clients with more of a choice than what she was given.
HerChoice provides “post-abortion healing classes” for people who come in after having an abortion and regret it.
Kylee Gregg, Planned Parenthood educator and protester, said, “It’s your own choice, not your religion’s. Women are more than their wombs. Abortion is actually safer in the first trimester than childbirth.”
This is corroborated by a study reported on by Reuters. It was found that women are about 14 times more likely to die from childbirth than problems from abortion procedures.
Other services HerChoice provides include free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. It also offers free supplies like diapers, formula, strollers, clothes and parenting classes. It does not receive any government funding, and it raises funds through donations.
But the protesters believe they are misleading women. They provided a pamphlet from the HerChoice Campus Fest table on condoms. The pamphlet pushes for abstinence and says that condoms “reduce” the risk of pregnancy and STDs. While condoms can never be considered 100 percent effective, Harrison believes that this language is meant to steer college students away from condoms, and that it will not help solve unwanted pregnancy problems. She said abstinence-only education is not effective, and condoms are always safer than unprotected sex.
Koenigbauer said HerChoice does not take a stance on contraceptives and they have no mission to get involved. They do not provide condoms.
The protesters believe that HerChoice is misinforming its clients about abortion because HerChoice believes abortion is morally wrong. HerChoice employees said they can step outside of their own beliefs and provide unbiased care to women, though they do provide religious council and do not provide abortions.