2 weeks ago I was on NPR's 1A show, sharing my story about Grace Pearl and ending our wanted pregnancy (I start off the show). Barbara Chisko, the executive director of Birth Choice Oklahoma (a Crisis Pregnancy Center) was asked to comment on my story (her comments start at the 13 minute mark). Because I was not live on air and therefore unable to respond to her comments, I asked to publish a rebuttal. You can read that halfway down the page here, or in full text right here:
A Rebuttal From Robin Utz
This show presented three stories, each on their own, as a way of representing the state of abortion in America today. One was the story of Robin in Missouri, one was the story of a clinic escort in Kentucky, and the third was the owner of a crisis pregnancy center in Ohio.
We didn’t want the show to be a debate on abortion, but rather an examination of the legal challenges and limited access women face across the country. There are restraints on how much detail and debate can fit into any live show like 1A, but Barbara Chisko — the owner of the pregnancy center — was asked to comment on Robin’s situation, and whether she would advise a woman who came to her center to get an abortion.
“I had the same option, and I chose to have my baby,” Barbara said. “It’s a decision she had to make, and I understand her grief.” (Hear the full exchange here)
Robin, who is now a reproductive rights advocate and author of Defending Grace, a website dedicated to sharing her daughter’s story and the story of ending her wanted pregnancy, was not on the show at the same time and therefore not able to respond on-air to this statement. She reached out afterward and asked for the chance to write a rebuttal. Here’s what she had to say:
This episode featured our story about ending our very wanted pregnancy with our daughter, Grace Pearl, after learning she had a fatal fetal anomaly. Barbara Chishko, who serves as Executive Director of Birth Choice Oklahoma, was also a guest on the show for the segment. We did not appear on air together. Our story starts the show, and you can hear her segment starting at the 13-minute mark. Barbara was asked to comment on my story and situation, and my response to her is captured here. But first, a little context:
Barbara’s organization, Birth Choice Oklahoma, is what is known as a crisis pregnancy center. Crisis Pregnancy Centers are unregulated anti-choice organizations, often affiliated with Christian organizations, that advise women against getting abortions, but sometimes appear from the outside to be legitimate reproductive health care providers. While posing as legitimate reproductive health providers, these organizations are known to not want women to have abortions, use birth control, or for unmarried women to have sex. Yet many are not upfront about this agenda.
Despite Barbara saying that Birth Choice Oklahoma is not connected to a church or ministry, the website reveals that it was started (by her) in a Methodist church. Barbara said that Birth Choice Oklahoma verifies pregnancy, provides ultrasounds, and offers prenatal care, and offers alternatives to abortion services. In fact, centers like Birth Choice Oklahoma are known for luring women in with these promises and posing as regulated and unbiased, while instead sharing physical and psychological lies aimed at persuading women to avoid abortions. Barbara doesn’t mention that these centers are very rarely run by trained and licensed medical staff, but instead are run by volunteers in lab coats, imitating doctors. Yes, really.
If all of that wasn’t outrageous enough, crisis pregnancy centers are as legally protected as they are unregulated. They receive sizable tax credits (over $4.3 million dollars in Missouri in 2017, taken from TANF, a federal block grant that should be used to feed hungry children), while licensed medical facilities that provide abortions like Planned Parenthood are being subjected to threats of defunding (despite the Hyde Amendment making federal funding going towards abortions illegal) and now, President Trump’s gag rule. It’s truly stunning and infuriating. These crisis pregnancy centers exaggerate and lie to women, endanger their health and don’t provide women with all the facts as they make their own healthcare decisions, yet they go unregulated and incentivized.
When asked about my story specifically (in other words, how would a crisis pregnancy center handle a woman learning that her very wanted pregnancy will end in the child suffering immense pain and death), Barbara said she feels all women should be required to talk to women in crisis pregnancy centers when deciding what to do with reproductive care, and that she’d have advised me not to have an abortion. I was disappointed, and it revealed how untrustworthy her opinion and perspective is.
The first reason is that we simply didn’t have time. Missouri has a 72-hour waiting period to get an abortion once the consents have been signed. We had the abortion one day before we legally couldn’t any longer (at 21 weeks 6 days) because of this. Had I talked to a crisis pregnancy center, we would have run out of time to give our daughter a peaceful passing. Indeed, delaying decisions to make abortions harder to obtain is a key tactic used by these centers.
Barbara empathized with my husband’s and my situation of learning that our pregnancy was not viable at 21 weeks. She noted that she herself had a pregnancy end in the fetus’s death at 7.5 months and had to continue carrying the pregnancy until birth. While Barbara’s circumstances are absolutely a terrible tragedy and something I cringe to even consider, they are absolutely not the same circumstances as what my husband and I faced, and to say so is a false equivalency.
In sharing her story, Barbara did not disclose the circumstances surrounding the loss of her unborn child except to say that she was seven and a half months pregnant at the time the child died. In contrast, my husband and I learned about our greatly anticipated daughter’s unavoidable demise while we still could do something to avoid her immense pain. We couldn’t save her life, but we could keep her from needlessly suffering. This is a critical difference that Barbara doesn’t acknowledge, perhaps because it would force her to acknowledge that abortion has a valid place in compassionate medical care where she has found ways to abolish abortion from acceptability in every other scenario she has ever considered.
When we were presented with the information that our daughter was still alive, but that allowing her to continue growing and developing would lead to a painful death upon birth, fully developed except with no lungs or kidneys, we felt it would be utterly cruel to continue the pregnancy and put our daughter through that. We were devastated, but grateful to have an avenue to pursue a peaceful passing for her. And that’s what she got. Our caring and compassionate doctors assured us that they’d cut the umbilical cord prior to Grace’s procedure to ensure she’d pass knowing only the love and warmth of my body, and I listened to the playlist my husband made just for her just in case she could hear it.
This is what was right for us. Barbara Chisko says that they see a lot of women that regret their abortions, but in widely sharing my story over the past year and a half, I have yet to meet one myself I certainly don’t regret the choice we made — losing Grace is the heartbreak of my life — but I would have an abortion again in a heartbeat to save her from unnecessary pain and suffering. My Catholic-raised husband feels the same way.
In contrast to the care the crisis medical centers provide, the doctors we worked with in diagnosing and aborting Grace (the same doctors that serve Planned Parenthood of St. Louis) were everything you’d want out of medical professionals and advisors. We received comprehensive, compassionate, attentive medical care and advice. All of our questions were answered. We were given all of the resources we requested (including grief counselors, options for our daughter’s remains, and medical facts around risks and experience not just to Grace, but me as well). They discussed not just the risks of the abortion (low), but the risks I’d incur if I continued the pregnancy (sevenfold — something a crisis pregnancy center wouldn’t likely cover, but is very real). We were treated with great care, expertise and sympathy. Yet Planned Parenthood is the organization that people want to defund.
It’s irresponsible and truly dangerous to give Barbara Chisko and crisis pregnancy centers the same platform and audience as those that provide care without judgment, falsehoods and bias. While I appreciate Barbara’s kind words regarding our loss, she’d still choose to expose us to her faith-based propaganda rather than truly supporting us, and Grace would have been the ultimate victim. While others in our situation might not do what we did, I struggle to find anyone that truly disagrees with our decision even if it makes them uncomfortable. Abortion was the best choice we had out of truly terrible options. The reality of this, including the fact that pregnancy complications don’t happen on a prescribed timeline during pregnancy and are unavoidable, helps expose just how biased and dangerous crisis pregnancy centers are. If they wouldn’t give us the appropriate advice and care for our situation, how can they for anyone? Women and families deserve facts, credentialed medical professionals, safe reproductive health care and unbiased support while making decisions. That is the exact opposite of what Barbara Chisko, Birth Choice Oklahoma, and any of the 2,700 crisis pregnancy centers in this country provide.