116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
At age 10, I found myself volunteering at an anti-abortion center after my mom signed me up as part of my home-school curriculum. It happened after she found me reading ahead in my school materials about how our bodies develop and puberty.
This so-called “crisis pregnancy center” used deceit and shame to manipulate vulnerable people looking for health care. Many people who walked into its doors were completely unaware of the center’s mission. For six months, I listened to medically untrained staff say everything and anything to keep women from having abortions.
If they wouldn’t listen to the center's religiously laced propaganda, staff threatened to violate their privacy by calling family members or partners to expose the person’s pregnancy and that they were considering abortion. These women were only seeking information and possibly help. The staff considered themselves to be heroic soldiers in the army of Christ.
For months, I saw firsthand the misleading tactics and intentional manipulation of pregnant people by the crisis pregnancy center. No one should be tricked, coerced, shamed, or forced into giving birth if they don’t want to. Not then, and certainly not now.
Currently, I’m worried more Iowans are going to be fooled by these anti-abortion centers. Iowa politicians in power want to ban abortion. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned federal protections for abortion and the Iowa Supreme Court erased Iowa’s constitutional protections for abortion, we are on the fast track to an abortion ban. It could happen, through the Legislature or through the courts, but our protections will be gone.
As politicians work diligently to outlaw abortion, they tell Iowans that they are funding sexual and reproductive health care. That’s not true. They are funding crisis pregnancy centers. Earlier this year, politicians approved $500,000 in taxpayer money to fund these anti-abortion centers. They sold it to their constituents, as their answer to supposedly help struggling families. Now, the governor is asking for another $1.5 million.
Iowa’s More Options for Maternal Support, or MOMS program, mirrors a Texas program called Alternatives to Abortion. It was created under the leadership of then Deputy Executive Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission Kelly Garcia, who now oversees the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services.
Texas lawmakers provided $5 million in start up funding its first year. Almost two decades later, it now receives $100 million a year, despite being riddled with fraud. It has yet to show results because it lacks any oversight. Iowa politicians liked the program so much, they invited Texas officials here to replicate it.
Iowa elected officials are now leveraging the program in their march to ban abortion, saying it will help provide Iowans with necessities like formula and diapers and other support. Just to be clear, these anti-abortion centers are not licensed or subject to any kind of government oversight.
My personal experiences at the center had an effect on my view of sexuality and abortion, leaving me terrified of sex and men because of the misleading and inaccurate information they spewed at both me and the unknowing people who came to them seeking help. I made rules for myself out of fear. I had to dress a certain way. I couldn’t be friendly with men because it could be mistaken for flirting. And there had to be at least one other person in the room with me if I was talking to a man.
It wasn’t until I was older and exposed to more diverse people that I started to question the values that had been ingrained in me by both my family and the anti-abortion center.
Things changed when I fell in love. He was 18, a year older than me. We were friends for two years before falling in love and eventually lived together. It took me more than two years to get over the guilt of having sex outside of marriage.
Four years later, shortly after we broke up, I found out I was pregnant. As they would tell me at the crisis pregnancy center, unwanted pregnancy was a punishment from God for sinful behavior. I literally stayed up at night agonizing over the fact I might go to hell. I carried a lot of shame and releasing myself from it was something that I had to put effort into overcoming.
I prayed a lot. I slowly but steadily came to terms with the fact that the religion I had deeply committed myself to didn’t make sense to me. Nor did the false ideals that the anti-abortion center had ingrained in me. They weren’t loving or accepting, and I didn’t want to be a part of it.
I chose to have an abortion. After having an ultrasound, I was told my pregnancy was ectopic. In layman’s terms, the fertilized egg had attached to the outside of my uterus, which can be life-threatening. There was no chance of survival for the embryo. I had already made the decision to have an abortion. This news just cemented it. It also helped ease some of the guilt I felt.
I have come to realize with time how traumatic and unnecessary that guilt was in the first place. Whether medically necessary or not, my decision to seek an abortion was a personal choice, made for personal reasons. No one else had any business shaming or guilting me.
My family, church, and entire upbringing pressured me. Doing what was best for me was a painful decision, one not made lightly. But what if I hadn’t had any options? What if I had been forced to carry my non-viable pregnancy to the point that I died just to uphold the religious beliefs of others? Does that sound extreme?
If we continue to treat people’s right to reproductive health care as an issue of morality or politics, healthy young women will lose control over their bodies and futures. It is critical that Iowa does not become the next Texas by banning abortion and rapidly growing an expensive program that financially and publicly props up these anti-abortion centers.
Iowans, join me this spring by telling our elected officials- those elected to represent us- that we need to keep abortion legal in Iowa, not fake health centers that feed people misinformation that is often medically inaccurate.
Elizabeth Feldman lives in Des Moines.
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