What is a "pro-woman" organization? That question was addressed this week by the organizers of Lilith Fair, the music festival featuring exclusively female artists, set to return this year after a decade-long hiatus. However, when fans of the festival were asked to vote online for the charities who would receive grants from Lilith Fair, many feminist fans were shocked to discover that, despite the inclusion of two pro-choice groups on the list of possible charities, several crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) with an explicitly anti-choice agenda were also part of the list.
Interviews with Terry McBride, co-founder of Lilith Fair, suggested that the festival was unaware of the anti-choice history behind the CPCs. In fact, McBride basically stated that a quick search for "woman-focused" or "pro-woman" organizations with federal tax ID numbers was what yielded the list of CPCs on the Choose Your Charity list, rather than an ideological agenda. After an outcry online, including a Facebook group that boasted more than 1,000 members, most of the CPCs were removed from the list, along with one of the pro-choice groups, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.
Once I heard that the inclusion of CPCs was likely due to a "pro-woman" web search, my first thought was that that mistake is a pretty easy one to make. After all, most CPCs frame their mission as supporting pregnant women or women facing unplanned pregnancies. Out of context, that’s a pretty pro-woman message. The problem is that their support is predicated on providing women with misleading and false information about abortion, birth control, and other critical sexual and reproductive health topics.
If all CPCs did was offer support and health care to women who had already made the choice to continue their pregnancies to term, it would probably be fair to term them "pro-woman." (For that matter, if all pro-lifers did was support women who had made the choice to continue a pregnancy and battle for more resources for pregnant women and adoption services, the "abortion issue" would not be nearly as contentious.) It’s the exclusion of information, which carries with it the suggestion that those who run the centers "know what’s best" for the women who come to them for support, that makes them quite explicitly anti-woman. (The fact that most CPCs do not clearly state that they do not provide abortion services or contraception makes it easy to assume that they lack an agenda. Alas, it’s a pretty successful marketing tactic.) Pro-choice reproductive health centers, such as the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta that remains on the charity list, offer a range of information and support systems to expectant mothers, and are only interested in ensuring that women have all the resources available to execute the best choice they can make for themselves, be it to carry the pregnancy to term or to terminate it.
That Lilith Fair is now lamenting the involvement of "politics" in the charity selection shows that the organizers need a much better grasp of the implications of anti-choice and pro-choice reproductive health agendas. Unfortunately, only one is actually "pro-woman."