1A Rebuttal: A Crisis Pregnancy Center Director's Advice for Me Was Biased, Deceitful and Dangerous

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.

Could Abortion Become Illegal In The U.S.? Our Story on 1A - Listen Here and Ask Me Anything

Grace's story including learning about her fetal anomaly, our decision to abort, and how it felt navigating Missouri's restrictive abortion laws was included on NPR's 1A show this morning. You can listen here:

Could Abortion Become Illegal In The U.S.? - 1A

New restrictions in some conservative states are urging a high court battle over a woman's right to an abortion.

I wanted to offer up to anyone visiting for this reason: if you have ANY questions, please feel free to ask! I am a pretty open book. This really happened to us, this really is the decision we felt 100% was right for us, and it absolutely continues to happen to women and families around the country. I know you might be coming here as a person against abortion and very uncomfortable with it, and I get that. I really do. But it also is true that our story really happened, and the laws need to acknowledge people like us. 

 

Please feel free to ask me any questions, or send any comments here, on our Facebook, or Twitter

 

Thanks for listening, considering our story, and for really considering this very, very nuanced and difficult topic. 

NPR 1A: Our Story Will Be Featured Tomorrow, Thursday, May 17

Our story of learning about Grace Pearl's fatal fetal anomaly, our decision to terminate the pregnancy, and how it felt to be put through Missouri's abortion laws will be featured on NPR's 1A program tomorrow, Thursday, May 17th. You can learn more about the program here: 

Could Abortion Become Illegal In The U.S.? - 1A

New restrictions in some conservative states are urging a high court battle over a woman's right to an abortion.

1A is broadcast live at 10 am ET. Check with your local affiliate for when it will air there. In St. Louis, I believe it airs live.

NIAW Day 6: The Latest In Our Journey

Today wraps up this year's National Infertility Awareness Week. 

We said a little over a year ago that we had used our last embryo (Grace's sister - we knew both were girls before trying to implant either one thanks to genetic testing that was performed in the hopes of assuring a positive outcome and avoiding a miscarriage or issue like Grace had). Unfortunately Grace's sister didn't result in a pregnancy.

And then we evaluated what to do for a long time.

We grieved. We stalled out. We confronted our fears that we might have another situation like Grace's happen, and all the while, more and more restrictive abortion laws are being proposed and passed all over the country and certainly in Missouri. None of these laws take situations like Grace's into consideration. The only thought that made the thought of facing what we did with Grace all over again WORSE was the idea that we'd no longer have the option to pursue a peaceful experience for her. We stalled some more. We inquired each other, friends, family, trusted advisers, multiple doctors and our spirituality. We grieved some more too.

We looked into adoption with renewed interest but not renewed energy. We realized again there are many, many hurdles that people don't often talk about. Age limits (our combined age is above what many places will allow) and long time periods for biological parents to change minds, and the idea that if we're pursuing infertility treatments we can't concurrently try to adopt. And most of all we observed our exhaustion. We've already been through so much. We want to be parents to a living child, but we weren't sure we had it in us to go through a whole new type of roller coaster. Infertility and loss, for better or for worse, is the ride we already know. That's certainly not to say it can't take my breath away with it's sharp surprises, like crushing ultrasounds proving life we were excited about was now gone or non-viable, or something reminding me of being pregnant and prompting a funk. But I've come to at least feel familiar with all of that. Adoption presents scary scenarios that I'm not sure I'd recover emotionally from.

We decided to give IVF one more shot. One more round of to be able to say we'd given it our all, which is such an odd thing to say because we already had for four years when we decided that. I already am a mom, just not to a living child. No one would blame us for giving up and moving on, and many gently suggested just that. Just about everyone suggested we not put ourselves through IVF again, whether suggesting adoption, living childless, or in one spectacular offer of generosity that will bring gratitude and love to my heart until the day I die, the offer of donor embryos that would link our family to another through shared siblings. But we felt like we wanted to try one more time. The idea made me feel like vomiting, but I also felt restless with moving forward in any other direction.

 The Iv in preparation for the egg retrieval

The Iv in preparation for the egg retrieval

In November of 2017, we tried to do another egg retrieval. It was a hard time as that was Grace's loss anniversary. It was canceled because my body didn't respond as expected, and I found my laugh over how this area of life, which I know so well and find so sadly comforting, could still find ways to surprise me. Having a cycle canceled was a first.

We tried again in this winter. We were luckier this time, and were able to do egg retrieval. 15 eggs resulted in multiple embryos, which stunned and delighted us. It was our best egg retrieval yet, at clearly my oldest age.

And we tried to get pregnant again later in the winter with one of these embryos. It failed again. There is only a 12% chance of this. Yet again, we're hitting terribly low odds. I've been pregnant twice before. Why can't I get pregnant now?

My doctors (and we have three now, including one out of state) are scratching their heads. Over the past few months I have done painful tests. I have had my Fallopian Tubes removed as they are a suspected culprit. We have looked high and low for the reason and found next to nothing. We are running out of ideas. I have laughed when telling people that have told me 'it'll happen!' that no, no it won't. Not without Fallopian tubes. But who can blame people for their cheerful optimism, especially when they don't know all of the nuances of our story?

And now we're not sure what to do. Again. 

This is yet another example of what infertility looks like. We're not there yet, but we may not get to be parents. Ever. Sometimes that's what happens, because it's difficult, and stunningly expensive (only 15 states require infertility coverage), and sometimes our bodies just won't allow it. 

I hope we can get some answers and make the dream of being parents to a living child a reality, but there's just not telling right now. I hope you'll stick with us as we try to figure this out.

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Announcement: Planned Parenthood's National Speaker Bureau

Hi friends. I'm sorry that I have been missing in action. I keep coming back to update Defending Grace, but it has already been a hell of a year.

I'm going to make a post about that later this week. I'll tell you what we've been up to, what's coming next, and so on. We're not light on updates, fortunately or unfortunately. It depends on which day you ask me.

But for today, I have an announcement that I am extremely proud of. I am have been selected to be a member of Planned Parenthood's inaugural National Speaker's Bureau, and additionally I am serving as the Vice President of the Leadership subcommittee. 

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This is a huge validation of the work I am doing and want to do in the future: encouraging people to share their stories and dispel incorrect assumptions and stigma. I am also utterly thrilled to be part of a cohort of other women sharing their stories about how Planned Parenthood has helped provide the fundamental health care we need and deserve, without the intervention of politicians, and to spend time working with others like me and with perspectives like mine. I didn't ask for Grace's pregnancy to happen the way it did, and I don't believe that we made the wrong decision when we were presented with our worst nightmare. There is no going back in who I am now and why I am this way. My story is not up for interpretation or dispute: it is my LIFE. This reality creates some lonely times for me, and having my perspective and the validity of it be validated, honored and respected feels wonderful. Being able to do this for others, and to greet their experiences and stories with curiosity and learning is a gift I can give in return.

You can watch the announcement, and see many of my cohort members surrounding the speakers, here.

 

 

How the Holidays Feel, One Year Later

Tonight we are getting to see The 14th Annual Rough Shop Holiday Extravaganza: Night 2, which is one of my very favorite holiday things to do each year.

 

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As I've mentioned before, I'm currently learning that the holidays are a tough time for grief because there are so many repeating events and themes that make it impossible to forget what you were doing the year before, and well, a year ago we were a mere few weeks out from ending our very wanted pregnancy at 22 weeks. My hormones alone were a disaster. Tonight's concert is setting up to be a particularly acute memory - it was the first time we saw some friends last year after losing Grace, having to share the news to some that didn't yet know. We're eating dinner at the same place with the same friend before the show. I didn't even realize how similar it was until just a few minutes ago. 

I'm glad to be in a generally more stable, calmer place this year. I'm sadder in general, and angrier (which I have mixed feelings on), but also more peaceful and noticeably more capable of feelings joy at this point too.

To anyone else reliving hard experiences and memories with every holiday decoration and Christmas song (I especially remember singing along to 'It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year' last year while driving all over my therapist's parking lot in search of a spot, but adding expletives and revisions to the song), I validate you and am with you. I'm especially holding you close in thought and care when when you're searching for a quiet, private space to have a much needed cry, or wanting to blurt out to everyone that no, it Christmas ISN'T holly and jolly, damnit. I hope you're with me in feeling like you're having to hold it all together by a thread a little less than you've had to in the past, and it's ok if you don't, too (though it's easier for me to say that other people that to myself). Hopefully if you're feeling a little better, you're feeling less guilty about that than I am. That's the thing about grief - everyone experiences it, yet it still feels so isolating and confusing. I don't know why that is, but I can say for sure that you're not alone, and thanks to the love of my friends and family, I know I'm not either.

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