Students and community members protest Birthright

By Michelle Williams

Across the globe, women celebrated March 8 as International Women’s Day. In Amherst, a group of students and community members celebrated with a protest.

Michelle Williams/Collegian
Michelle Williams/Collegian

Approximately three dozen people gathered on the Amherst Commons to protest Birthright International, a crisis pregnancy center located on North Pleasant Street.

The protest was organized by six students and community members.

One organizer, Madeline Burrows, a second-year at Hampshire College, said the protest was about giving women the right to choose if they want to carry their pregnancy to full-term or not.

“I think this is about human rights, basic equality and a woman cannot have equality if she can’t control her body,” said Burrows.

She said the protest was also to seek more transparency about what a crisis pregnancy center is.

“Birthright does a very good job of being deceptive. On their website they say they don’t want to engage in the debate about abortion, but [they are] very clearly not in support of abortion,” said Burrows.

“They target women, just like all other crisis pregnancy centers do, who are in unwanted pregnancies, women who they refer to as ‘abortion-minded individuals,’ which is such a dehumanizing branding, and they lie to women,” said Burrow. “They claim to offer unbiased pregnancy services and counseling but what they really do is use scare tactics to guilt women into not having abortions, and to make them feel bad about their decisions, and there is no place for lies in reproductive health.”

Calls made to the Birthright International clinic in Amherst for a response were not returned.

Critics of crisis pregnancy centers often say the centers offer only pregnancy tests and counseling intended to persuade women to not have abortions.

There are more than 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the United States, according to the report, “Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health” by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, compared to less than 750 abortion clinics across the country.

According to a 2006 Washington Post review of federal records, “anti-abortion and crisis pregnancy centers have received well over $60 million in grants for abstinence education and other programs” from the federal government.

The Birthright International clinic on N. Pleasant Street is the only crisis pregnancy center in Amherst.

On the homepage of Birthright’s website they ask, “Are you pregnant and in need of help?” Below the question the homepage reads, “we can offer you free pregnancy testing, completely confidential help, non-judgmental and caring advice, friendship and emotional support, legal, medical and educational referrals, prenatal information, maternity and baby clothes, housing referrals, social agency referrals, information on other community services, adoption information.”

Protesters marched from the Amherst Commons at 3 p.m. down N. Pleasant Street towards the clinic. As they began to march, organizers lead the protesters in the chant, “abortion is health care, health care is a right!”

While the protesters were marching and chanting, several drivers honked as they drove past.

Participants in the march chanted “pro-life men have got to go, when you get pregnant let us know!” as they arrived at the Birthright International clinic. The clinic, that has office hours from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, was closed when protesters arrived.

While outside of the clinic, organizers offered the megaphone to participants who wished to speak.

One protester, Carolyn Gutierrez, spoke about her experience with abortion clinics, and expressed a need for federal funding.

“The reason why I’m here today is because five or six years ago, I was pregnant and needed an abortion. The guy that I was with and [I] were cashing our paychecks in order to be able to afford it,” said Gutierrez.

Gutierrez added that while she was happy with her decision to have an abortion, she wished more resources were available for women to explore their options in a safe environment.

Burrows agreed that there needs to be a safe environment for women to make their choice about an unplanned pregnancy.

“I’ve seen first-hand how inaccessible it is to get an abortion is post-Roe v. Wade America,” said Burrows.

She spoke of an experience in high school where a friend seeking an abortion asked her to come to the clinic for moral support, and they were heckled by male protesters.

“There were two male anti-choice protesters outside who were calling us out as we went in,” said Burrows. “Walking into the clinic we had to go through security and metal detectors. There was a security guard who searched our bags … It was so powerful to see that first hand what women experience everyday for electing to have a choice over their bodies.”

Near the end of Tuesday’s protest, Natalia Tylim, another protest organizer, presented a petition to the group and asked for everyone to sign.

The petition called for crisis pregnancy centers, such as Birthright International, to be more transparent about the services they offer and their agenda. The opening line read, “Crisis pregnancy centers often pass themselves off as comprehensive reproductive health clinics, when in reality they refuse to offer abortion, birth control services, information or referrals, tricking women into entering an agenda-driven, anti-choice center.”

The petition asks for Amherst town representatives to pass a bill that would require centers to disclose if they provide abortions or emergency contraception and if they have a licensed medical professional on site. A similar bill was recently passed in New York City by the city council.

Tylim said the petition will be given to town representatives soon.

Rally-goers ended the event by leaving signs and protest materials on Birthright International’s doorstep.

Michelle Williams can be reached at [email protected]