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CCSD trustee defends donation to anti-abortion pregnancy center

Updated July 7, 2022 - 8:20 pm

Clark County School District Board Trustee Katie Williams donated her $2,000 quarterly board stipend to an anti-abortion pregnancy center Thursday as the organizations have come under increased scrutiny in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade last month.

A conservative who has served on the School Board since January 2021, Williams said she had been planning on donating to the Las Vegas Women’s Resource Medical Center after she received a private tour of the facility in December.

She said she was asked if she wanted to postpone her donation to the pregnancy center in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s reversal, which gives authority to regulate abortion back to the states and could see abortion bans in roughly half of states across the country.

“I said no,” she said. “To me, personally, as a person, I’m pro-life.”

The Women’s Resource Medical Center provides pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and prenatal care, but doesn’t perform abortions or provide abortion referrals. Instead, it counsels pregnant people against choosing abortion and encourages them to opt for parenting or adoption.

“If there is any reason why a woman feels that she has to have an abortion because she doesn’t have a support, our care model will support her,” CEO Esther Golleher said.

The center is just one in a network of centers across the country, many of which are affiliated with national Christian organizations like Care Net or Birthright International. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, some centers in Virginia and Massachusetts have been vandalized.

But abortion providers and abortion-rights advocates say the centers use deceptive tactics and don’t paint a full picture of all the reproductive health options available to pregnant people.

Dr. Kristina Tocce, medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said that, while Planned Parenthood strives to have community partnerships with several entities, it is challenging to have relationships with crisis pregnancy centers that steer patients away from comprehensive counseling regarding pregnancy options.

Tocce said Planned Parenthood has had several patients who have gone to a crisis pregnancy center, unaware of the fact that they cannot obtain abortion services, referrals or even discuss abortion services there.

“I hope that if at all possible, patients … if they’re considering abortion as part of their plan, that they can access a known abortion provider, either remotely or in person to discuss options,” she said.

How many pregnancy centers?

Nevada codified the right to an abortion into state law more than three decades ago, but anti-abortion pregnancy centers have operated around the state in the years since.

Nevada had seven crisis pregnancy centers, three in Southern Nevada and four in Northern Nevada, according to a map of the centers compiled by researchers from the University of Georgia. There are currently nine providers who offer abortions in Nevada, seven in Southern Nevada and two in Northern Nevada, according to the Wild West Access Fund of Nevada.

Golleher said that the Women’s Resource Medical Center has more than 8,000 visits each year. About a fourth of those visits are new patients seeking a pregnancy test, she said.

But in the city of Fallon, an hour east of Reno with fewer than 10,000 residents, many people aren’t even aware of the existence of Care Net Pregnancy Center of Churchill County despite it opening roughly 30 years ago, according to Executive Director Monica Miller.

“For me I thought, how many people have no idea that we’re even here to help them,” she said.

Care Net is one of the many nonprofit, religious organizations that operates a network of pregnancy centers around the country. But because abortion is easy to access in Nevada, Miller says there aren’t many people reaching out to Care Net to weigh their options when it comes to pregnancy.

“It becomes more our job to be proactive and not wait for these women to reach out to us,” she said. “If you’re facing an unexpected pregnancy, we want you to know that even if that’s your choice, let’s counsel through this.”

But for Tocce, with Planned Parenthood, the experience that some patients have had at crisis pregnancy centers is one she called challenging and “quite disturbing.”

She encouraged patients to consult their OB-GYN or primary care physicians to seek comprehensive counseling. Planned Parenthood will also address all comprehensive options with a patient, including continuing the pregnancy and abortion, Tocce said. If patients need additional resources, such as counseling, to help them with their decision-making, Planned Parenthood will also connect them with those local resources, as well as global hotlines.

“We really individualize those conversations and figure out what the patient needs and what we can support them with that day,” she said.

Williams, the School Board member, has been donating her quarterly stipends to local organizations like the Down Syndrome Organization of Southern Nevada and the 32nd Street Theater since she took office in 2021 and says she doesn’t consider their political leanings.

“Whether it’s left-leaning or right-leaning … I want to help kids,” she said. “If I’m helping kids, then I’m doing my job.”

Contact Lorraine Longhi at 480-243-4086 or llonghi@reviewjournal.com. Follow her @lolonghi on Twitter.

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