When I was little, I wanted to be Alice from Alice in Wonderland. I felt her life was magical- being able to escape to another world, down the rabbit hole and into a fantasy land where she could drink tea with the Mad Hatter, battle the Queen of Hearts and restore dignity to Wonderland. At the time, I was too young to understand Lewis Carroll’s tale had a darker subtext and that Wonderland wasn’t what it seemed. Years later, I have retained Alice’s sense of curiosity about the world around me and today, I had tea with my own Mad Hatter.
EMC Pregnancy Center aka Emergent Mother Care aka FrontLine Pregnancy Centers are crisis pregnancy centers run by President Chris Slattery in New York City. With 12 operating clinics, EMC boasts on its webpage that it is “on the front line for life in the abortion capital of America.” EMC, FrontLine, whatever you want to call it, has been operating for nearly three decades. President Chris Slattery, a man with no medical experience (as per his LinkedIn profile), brags that his clinics have “saved over 40,000 babies” and serve “over 8,000 clients per year.”
Slattery’s operation is now the focus of an FBI Joint Domestic Terrorism Task Force investigation on these types of clinics for their unsavory practices. The FBI has determined that it will meet with Slattery on a monthly basis, so as to maintain “a mutually beneficial relationship.” The New York Times reported in 2010 that Slattery’s clinics were on NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s radar, after a report from their organization claims that EMC/FrontLine/Emergent Mother Care provides medically false information about abortions and contraception.
Yesterday, I made an appointment at EMC’s South Bronx location. It’s not difficult to find information on their clinics- nearly every Google search I performed for the keywords “free alternatives to abortion nyc” included EMC. At 1:45, I stood on East 149th Street desperately searching for the entrance. I asked a man standing in the doorway of a t-shirt shop if he knew where the entrance to 344 East 149th Street was.
“Tattoo,” he said.
“Through the tattoo shop.” He pointed to a door two stores down.
Onward and upward I went- climbing one flight of stairs where I saw a big blue sign that read “FREE PREGNANCY TEST.”
“Do you have an appointment?” one woman asked, who could not have been older than me.
I followed them through two different rooms- both of which looked like living rooms- into a smaller room with a big table, a television, DVD player, and paintings of Noah’s Ark and parents holding their children. I sat down on the couch and noticed to the right of me, and directly in front of me, sat two giant boxes with model fetuses strewn about.
The young woman sat down and began asking me my personal information- name, age, address, phone number, whether I was baptized, who I lived with, if I had a boyfriend, my marital status, you know- the usual stuff.
“What’s his name?” she asked. After asking her to clarify exactly whom she was referring to, she said, “the man you had sex with.” I told her I didn’t want to tell her and she pressed on.
“You have to tell me. I need this information in case I want to follow up with you,” she pleaded. I gave her a fake name and asked that we move on. She began to ask more personal questions about the baby’s fictional father- what does the father want me to do with the baby, how long have I known him, what is our relationship like. When I told her that he wants me to get an abortion, her response was what I expected- frank and aligned with the clinic’s pro-life stance.
“Oh no. That’s not good,” she said, as she shook her head with wide eyes.
Another woman came into the room- the door remained open, as it had been the entire time, and neither of them ever told me their name. I was under the impression the woman that came in later was supervising the woman who was asking for my information, but it was hard to tell.
I was led into a dirty bathroom where the first woman asked for a urine sample. The bathroom was decorated with more images of mothers and their children, displayed on yellow walls that badly needed to be painted. Wires hung from what would have been a functioning light on the ceiling. So there I sat- peeing into a cup, knowing I wasn’t pregnant, jotting down notes as I sat on the toilet. I admit, I felt some shame and I felt violated- even though my whole story was a farce to determine what was really going on at this clinic. My self-worth was being compromised but at that time, I knew it was important to be there and share this story.
I left the bathroom after placing the cup on a shelf in the bathroom and began walking towards the room I had previously left. The same woman who asked for my personal information called me over and pointed to the cup with my urine in it as she handed me a dropper.
“Put 5 drops on here,” she ordered as she pointed to a pregnancy test. I proceeded to test my own urine, in an open hallway with two other women watching as they leaned on separate walls.
Before my pregnancy status was determined, I was brought back into the original room where I was told I would be watching a short movie about the consequences of abortion.
“It’s not graphic,” one of the women said on at least two occasions. I proceeded to sit there for about 25 minutes as an animated narration of an abortion took place, showing full dismemberment of a fetus.
“It’s not graphic, don’t worry,” she blindly repeated halfway through the film, as the narrator told viewers about the significant opportunities for death by abortion.
“Mistakes during abortions are not well tolerated,” the male voice bellowed. “Tissue and fetal parts are often left inside the uterus and this goes unnoticed.”
The narrator continued to describe how collateral damage from abortions can lead to my intestines being sucked through my vagina and that “most women” who experience ‘blood complications’ “will die.” Death was the main focus of this video and between the animated dismemberment of a full term fetus, there was no mention that abortions are a common and safe medical procedure. The video was produced by Life Dynamics, Inc., a self-described anti-abortion, pro-life organization with a site design similar to EMC. On their website, Life Dynamics states that “we fight to change the abortion picture – to end legal abortion and return the right to life to unborn babies from the moment of conception. Our motto is, “Pro-Life: without compromise, without exception, without apology.”
After the video ended, I was told I wasn’t pregnant, which obviously came as no surprise to me.
“OH PHEW!!” I exclaimed, as animated as possible.
“Yes, this is good news. How did this video make you feel?” the woman asked. I lied through my teeth as I told her it made me feel like abortion isn’t safe.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s very hard because this thing inside you is alive, and who are you to decide who gets to live and who gets to die?”
It was difficult to not be me for this time. I wanted to reach across the table and break the DVD in half, pin my A is For ‘A’ back onto my purse and liberate these women from their own ignorance. I felt myself coming out of character as I explained that sometimes I think it’s my own choice because it’s my body.
In response, the woman grabbed for a velvet box that would appear to hold a bracelet or necklace. She opened it and began to read from a card inside.
“This is a fetus at seven weeks. And this is a fetus at ten weeks. And they can feel pain,” she recited as she placed two model figures of fetuses on the table.
Just as I had begun to mentally and emotionally check out of my conversation with her, an older woman walked into the room. She introduced herself to me- the only employee to do so- and leaned on the table in front of me.
“I’m going to ask you a very personal question and I don’t want you to answer,” she said. I took this as her thinking she may offend me and therefore would not give me the opportunity to answer the question or participate in what I expected to be a one-sided conversation.
“You’re a beautiful, intelligent young woman. Why are you giving yourself up sexually?” she asked, cocking her head to one side. After proceeding to explain that sex is for love, not lust, she emphasized that she was only telling me all this because she did not want any harm to come to me.
I was provided with some pro-life literature as I left but with my stomach churning over the thought of women coming to this clinic and being scared into believing they don’t have the right to make decisions about their bodies, I stuffed the pamphlet in my bag and ran to catch the subway.
I don’t know whether it was the heat or my experience at EMC, but I felt nauseous as I got onto the downtown 4 train. With no seats open, I stood there, holding the railing and thinking about what I just witnessed. I glanced up and noticed an advertisement for Choices Clinic, the city’s first abortion clinic that provides safe access to abortions as well as gynecological and pre-natal care.
I smiled, pinned my A is For ‘A’ back onto my purse, and left Wonderland.