WELLFLEET — The mobile anti-abortion van that made its way to Cape Cod earlier this summer spent last weekend parked at Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic church on Route 6 in Wellfleet. The mobile unit is not yet operational, but Your Options Medical, which manages it, is training staff and moving toward providing services, Director Teresa Larkin told the Independent on Tuesday.
Laurie Veninger of Truro, who leads the Indivisible Mass. Coalition’s Feminist Action Team, went on a tour of the unit on Sunday between morning Masses.
The tour was led by a member of the Cape Cod Pro-Life Alliance, Veninger said. That Harwich-based group, “a new faith-based ministry” that comprises 17 Cape Cod churches, according to its printed materials, raised funds to bring the mobile unit to Cape Cod. The tour guide gave Veninger a brochure, which she forwarded to the Independent.
The brochure puts out a call for staff and volunteers, including registered nurses, mobile clinic drivers, and a “prayer team.”
Your Options Medical, which operated the mobile unit in Western Massachusetts before relocating it to Cape Cod, runs a network of centers it says offer “free pregnancy confirmation services.” The centers provide “options counseling” to pregnant women, according to Larkin and the organization’s website. Those options do not include abortion services or referrals for abortion care.
Larkin described CCPLA as “the boots on the ground” on Cape Cod and said she was not sure where the unit would go next.
Veninger said that the man who gave the tour repeatedly asked her to pray for the “right Christian people” to apply for jobs there.
Medical or Religious?
Larkin confirmed that Your Options Medical hires Christians only. “All of the staff have to agree with our statement of faith,” she said. That’s part of the interview and onboarding process, along with signing a confidentiality agreement. Larkin declined to provide the Independent with a copy of the statement of faith.
“Our faith shapes why we do it, but we don’t force it on anyone else,” Larkin said. Among those guiding beliefs, she said, are that “life begins at conception.”
Faith-based hiring is not out of the ordinary for anti-abortion centers. “The vast majority of volunteers at CPCs are evangelical women, not medical professionals,” said Carly Thomsen, a professor at Middlebury College who researches centers like this one that are also known as crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asking potential employees about their religious beliefs is “generally viewed as non job-related and problematic under federal law.” To be able to ask those questions, Your Options Medical veers from the secular medical arena into the denominational. Under federal law, “an employer whose purpose and character is primarily religious is permitted to lean towards hiring persons of the same religion,” according to the EEOC website.
The mobile unit roaming the Cape has a woman’s face, painted in swaths of pink, adorning its exterior. Below that image, the van advertises free pregnancy testing and ultrasounds with “immediate results.”
The Independent previously reported Larkin’s claim that all ultrasounds would be read by a registered obstetrician or radiologist. While her claim is technically true, it turns out that step does not occur right away.
“When we say immediate results, we usually mean preliminary findings,” Larkin said.
Your Options Medical has not yet found a physician affiliate for the Cape Cod mobile unit, Larkin said, which is part of why it hasn’t begun operating. The doctor, once recruited, will not be onsite because “they don’t need to be,” she said.
Larkin said that ultrasound images get sent digitally to a physician. She estimated that it takes 24 to 48 hours for a doctor to read the scanned images.
Patients who come to Your Options Medical undergo an ultrasound if they receive a positive pregnancy test and have been pregnant for at least six weeks and four days, Larkin said. She said one reason to conduct pre-abortion ultrasounds is in case the pregnancy is not viable: “You may not need any medical intervention,” she said.
At that early stage, “Your miscarriage may just naturally end the pregnancy,” she said.
Dr. Nicola Moore, an abortion provider who lives in Truro, confirmed that most women who have in-clinic abortions have ultrasounds first. But she said that, in her experience, a nonviable pregnancy does not necessarily preclude medical intervention. At Planned Parenthood, she said, providers usually offer the option of waiting to miscarry. But most people want medical supervision.
Your Options Medical is one of the six listed members of the Pregnancy Care Alliance, a statewide network affiliated with Mass. Citizens for Life Inc. “Members are independent nonprofit organizations who voluntarily join in order to benefit from shared resources and broad network of support,” according to its website. Another partner in that alliance is Abundant Hope Pregnancy Resource Center in Attleboro.
Abundant Hope has a different website than Attleboro Women’s Health Center, although an online search reveals that the two share a physical address. According to a report from Alliance State Advocates, “many CPCs maintain dual websites: a secular site to appeal to pregnant people, and a religious one to appeal to donors and supporters.”
The Attleboro center does not provide abortions but does link to Surrendering the Secret: “A Ministry Dedicated to Healing the Heartbreak of Abortion.”
Julie Hull, a physician who lives in Mashpee, attended an open house at the Attleboro facility in June. “The waiting room setup, check-in window, and examination table looked exactly like a doctor’s office,” Hull said. “The only thing that gives away that it’s not an actual clinic is there are no certificates hanging on the wall.”
The state does not require any credentials or training for sonographers — even ones employed at licensed clinics. Larkin previously told the Independent that Your Options sonographers receive training from organizations like Sparrow Solutions Group, which describes itself as a “Christian business.”
The Your Options Medical mobile unit is state-licensed, but many of the state’s requirements have to do with the space, such as building codes and air circulation, not the services provided within it. The state Dept. of Public Health does not prevent licensed clinics from referring patients for abortion pill reversal, for example, even though that procedure lacks scientific backing.
Larkin declined to provide the Independent with the names of any of the registered physicians — all of whom had to sign a statement of faith — affiliated with Your Options Medical’s three brick-and-mortar locations in Brookline, Fall River, and Revere, citing concerns about “hate messages and attacks.”
Your Options Medical’s arrival on the Cape closely follows the arrival of medication abortions in Hyannis — the first time in 15 years that such care has been available here.
Larkin said that Your Options is motivated by “injustice that’s happening to women.” What is unjust, she said, is that “abortion is the only option and that women are being forced to have abortions that they don’t want, by boyfriends or sex traffickers.”
Health Imperatives, the Hyannis clinic now offering medication abortions, also offers pregnancy testing, counseling, and contraception.