Why Women In Need MUST Find Real Options Counseling First

by Jennifer Bedford, AWPC Receptionist

A co-worker came into the office with a question about Planned Parenthood that I could not answer: Did Planned Parenthood offer ultrasounds – and if so, at what cost? Rumor was Planned Parenthood charged $45 for an ultrasound.

After a failed attempt to find the answer online, I decided to call Planned Parenthood and ask the question directly. Besides, I really wanted to know what would happen if one of our clients at AWPC were to call Planned Parenthood. What would they be told?

I prepared myself to make the call. I imagined one of our clients walking into this center, unsure & scared. My heart grew in tenderness as I tried to find that woman inside me.  What are the questions she would ask? What would she be thinking? The following is a summarization of my call to Planned Parenthood in Livonia:

A woman named Cindy* answered the phone. She never outright asked if I was pregnant, but I explained that I was unsure of what I wanted to do.  I asked what services they could offer me if I made an appointment. 

“I’m sorry...could you please just tell me what you offer?”  I asked softly. “This whole thing is just overwhelming…”  

The first 5 minutes of the call were a blur of medical terms, procedures, and timetables.  At this stage in my life, I am very familiar with women’s reproductive health and even my head was spinning at this point of the call.  I struggled to imagine how a person with little to no medical background would be able to keep up with her.

“First, you’ll come in and take a blood test where we will test your HCG levels. You are eligible for medical if you’re between 5 weeks and 9 weeks, and you can ‘pass it’ at home until 9 weeks,”  I tried my best to listen as one word continued to slur into the next. “...after you’ll come back for more bloodwork to ensure your HCG levels went down. If you need a surgical procedure we will perform ultrasound before the procedure and we will schedule for you to meet with a...”  (Wait, wait! That was my word! Ultrasound!) 

“Ummm….excuse me?  How much would the ultrasound cost?”   

“$545. The ultrasound is included in the pricing of the procedure.” 

“Oh, I heard from someone you charged $45 for ultrasounds…” 

“No, we don’t schedule ultrasounds separately. It’s billed as part of the procedure. The ultrasound will help us determine gestational age, and then you would meet with a counselor and then there’s a 24-hour wait period and…”

“Um, excuse me...”  I quietly interrupted.  “So I can meet with someone to talk about this?  Again, this whole thing is really overwhelming and I’m just...will this be the person I can talk to?” 

“Yes, you’ll meet with the counselor and then there will be a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure.”  

“...but what if I change my mind?” 

“You can change your mind at any point during the process.  You can stop, and we will bill you for the work that’s been done up to that point.”    

“Ok, so at that point...how much would I owe?”
 
“The process is $545.00.”  

“No, I’m sorry, if I change my mind after meeting with the counselor...I will have had bloodwork and an ultrasound completed, right?  How much would that be?”

“We don’t give pricing for part of a procedure.”    

“Ummm...okay.  I’m sorry, but I’m really confused.  I’m really scared about this.  You said I could speak to someone...but I don’t get to speak to the counselor until after the bloodwork and the ultrasound, but you won’t tell me how much the bloodwork and the ultrasound will cost?”

“That’s right.  We don’t give pricing for part of a procedure.”  Then it came out… “We won’t even schedule you unless you’re sure you want the procedure done.  There’s a high demand for these appointments, so unless you’re sure...we won’t schedule you.”  
 

So that state-mandated counseling you’re supposed to receive in addition to a 24-hour waiting period?  It doesn’t come until you’re already locked in and paying out of pocket.  Paying how much out of pocket? Who knows?! They won’t tell you.  

AWPC staff consulted Right to Life of Michigan Legislative Director Ed Rivet, who confirmed abortion providers are not supposed to collect payment until after the 24-hour waiting period - and that they often avoid performing ultrasounds until after the waiting period to keep the cost combined with the abortion procedure so a woman will be unable to see the ultrasound until she’s paid the fee.

At no point in Cindy’s initial spiel did she talk about or offer up meeting with someone to discuss my options before the procedure.  I had to dig for options counseling myself.  In fact, I called 3 times and received different information depending on who I talked to.

The first two calls were made to the Livonia Planned Parenthood, where I got the impression from Cindy that their “options counseling” consisted of merely coming in and picking up some informational brochures and packets.  It wasn’t until my third call to a number on Planned Parenthood’s website listed under Options Counseling that I was directed to a call center where they actually offered to set up an appointment for me when I told them I didn’t know what to do.  

Granted, it’s possible if I pushed further, the Livonia center would have scheduled me for an appointment to meet and talk with a real options counselor, but should it be so hard to get to that point?  It became glaringly obvious to me during this process that making sure women are well-informed about their options and about the procedure is not a priority to Planned Parenthood.  

We know that women get abortions every day who wish to remain uninformed and don’t want to know anything about it.  But women calling Planned Parenthood are not even given an opportunity to access information they need to make an informed decision until they are a paying customer. With the emphasis on “no appointment unless you’re sure," we have to question what kind of "counseling" these women receive.

Disclaimer: Jennifer made the calls out of her own curiosity and concern for women having real options concerning pregnancy.  She agreed to write the story only after our urging her to do so. The purpose of sharing this story with you is simply to demonstrate how important our services are for women who really don’t know what to do regarding an unintended pregnancy.

The story accurately reflects one caller’s experience with one Planned Parenthood facility and one 800 phone line. No other calls were made beyond those reported here. 

*Name has been changed.