A dark gloom had cast itself over us. No one was surprised. It was early January and the winters here are as grey as they are cold: disturbingly so. It had been a few days, maybe a week, since Athena had broken the news to me. I don't remember exactly how long it was and I'm pretty sure I couldn't have told you then. Days had been melting into one another. Morning and afternoon smearing themselves over into the evening darkness. That can happen when you don't see the sun for a week. More so when what little light there is disappears at 4:30 in the afternoon. When you haven't left your apartment for days, are dehydrated, and so stressed out that the thought of washing dishes makes you burst into tears, remembering the date seems trite.
Around the corner from my parents' house there was and is a Pregnancy Counseling Center. Since neither of us had any idea what to do next Athena and I decided to head there. It was a house that had been converted into a little waiting room and a couple of offices. The girl who was interning as the receptionist was quite nice. Soft spoken and with kindness in her eyes she handed Athena some paperwork to fill out after asking what brought us there. I was amazed at how confident Athena sounded when she replied "I think I'm pregnant." The word still caught in my throat. Every time I thought it I went blank. Every time I said it I felt like it was a guillotine blade rushing down toward me. But there stood Athena, bold as life, saying "pregnant" as though it were any other word. I was amazed.
The counselor came out of her office and introduced herself. She was clearly surprised to see facial hair in the waiting room and commented on how nice it was to see a man there. She asked if we would be comfortable with the intern sitting in on our session to observe. I think we said yes, but I honestly have no memory of her presence. It's possible she did an excellent job disappearing. It's also possible that we said "no." In any case, before proceeding the counselor asked Athena to take another pregnancy test. She explained how it worked ("It doesn't matter if the line is pale, or crooked, or dark, or broken") and sent Athena off to the restroom. Once again the test showed positive in less than half the time allotted. That was a sight we'd grow accustomed to in the future. We sat in a couple chairs and the counselor closed the door to her office. She started giving us papers and flyers with information on them. She talked with us about how it's Athena's choice and she can do whatever she wants to do. I started noticing the way she was phrasing things. I grew suspicious of her reasons for being there. She asked Athena when her last period had been. Neither of us recalled exactly so the woman estimated from the earliest possible date. "So you're seven weeks pregnant."
Here's where the foley artist plays the scratching record.
I won't get into all the gory details of our sex life, but I knew that was incorrect. I knew without doubt that conception couldn't have occurred for another two weeks after that date. So I mentioned this. The counselor replied "well we go by the beginning of the previous period because that's when conception was possible." "So you're ignoring factual information in favor of rough estimates?" I thought to myself. My suspicion of this woman doubled.
More papers were handed to us with phone numbers of organizations to call to get Athena and Festus prenatal care. We were about to leave when the woman asked us "do you want to see what your baby looks like?" My first instinct was to break her jaw right then and there. "NO!" I screamed in my head. "That's not going to represent what our 'baby' looks like! You don't even know how long she's been pregnant!"
"Sure," Athena said. Clearly I wore a look of horror because Athena added "I'm curious." Out came the plastic case with models of fetuses at various stages of development. This was a tactic so brazen I couldn't even respond. I knew there wouldn't be an isolated fetus model. It was a full series. We couldn't see just one. We had to see all of them. Models for everything from one week (which, based on my research since, looked more like one month) to six months. I tried to look away. I tried not to pay attention. I knew this was manipulative horse shit and I would not be taken by it. Despite my efforts I couldn't help but see. I couldn't help notice the woman place her left hand along the edge of the plastic tray that notes the age of the fetus. I couldn't help but see her point to the "Week 11" model.
My outrage was expressed to Athena on the drive home. We looked at the paperwork the counselor gave us. Included was the dark red flyer entitled "Why aren't Women being Told?" It claimed abortion was the number one cause of breast cancer. I wanted to burn the counseling center down. "I know the study they're referencing" I said to Athena, "but this is total crap."
I thought of the college age girl I saw in the waiting room on our way out. I thought of the lies she was about to be told. She would be told that if she was pregnant her choices were delivery or death. She would be told how easy adoptions are now days. The scare tactics would be poured on by a "loving" motherly figure until the girl's mind had been made for her.
This wasn't a pregnancy counseling center. It was an anti-abortion ministry.
I don't much care where one stands on the moral issues of abortion and birthing. It doesn't matter to me when a fetus becomes a human. I do, however, care a great deal for anyone in a vulnerable position who's brave enough to ask for help. When people are lying to frightened, overwhelmed, and confused young girls and women to further their own moral agenda I consider it evil. In my book respecting human life begins with respecting humans.