Amidst recent protests and backlash against the Pregnancy Support Center of Ulster County, or the Bravo Center, Director Elaine Skibiki and Catholic Campus Minister Hank Grimsland are determined to maintain their presence at SUNY New Paltz.
On their site, the Bravo Center describes itself as a free, confidential counseling center for pregnant women. They “provide accurate, up-to-date information regarding pregnancy, abortion and adoption.” The Center is affiliated with CareNet, a non-partisan and Christian organization. According to Skibiki, the crisis pregnancy center first came to New Paltz in ’86.
In order to reach the student body, Grimsland gained permission from the Office of Student Activities and Union Services to bring Skibiki as a guest once a week for eight hours. Skibiki will be at the Student Union Building room 416 every Wednesday if students should want to seek her assistance. Pregnancy tests will also be available.
Concerns have been raised by students, primarily the International Socialist Organization who have voiced their frustration about how information regarding abortion and sex is given. On a Oct. 19 protest against the Center, a case was made that they spread misinformation regarding abortion and uses scare tactics in order to perpetuate myths regarding abortions.
Skibiki and Grimsland claim that the accusations made against the Bravo Center as being a fake clinic are not true, as they have mentioned that they are not a clinic since they do not offer any medical assistance or advice.
In a recent Bravo Center newsletter, Executive Director of the Bravo Center Diane Caliendo plans to bring in an ultrasound machine and other medical practices to their two locations. Primary goals include having an ultrasound machine, a medical director for the center that is “Christian and pro-life, must be a licensed MD or DO with obstetrics experience,” as well as a Christian nurse who is willing to be trained to do scans.
According to the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Journal of Ethics, centers under an umbrella organization such as CareNet “strive to give the impression that they are clinical centers, offering legitimate medical services and advice, yet they are exempt from regulatory, licensure and credentialing oversight that apply to health care facilities.”
“Because the religious ideology of these centers’ owners and employees takes priority… women do not receive comprehensive, accurate, evidence-based clinical information about all available options,” the journal states.
Questionable information would include the argument that “there may be a link between abortion and later development of breast cancer,” when this assumption has been debunked by the American Cancer Society (ACS).
“I do not believe our information is incorrect, as there are most likely studies to support this,” said Skibiki. “There’s nothing that’s hidden, no one is coerced or manipulated. These accusations are based on fallacy.”
Planned Parenthood has been on the SUNY New Paltz campus before as a guest for another student organization, with their last visit being the Spring 2018 semester.
Because the public university must follow a procedure of neutrality with respect to the missions of student organizations, the Campus Ministries’ request for Skibiki was also taken into consideration.
“We must remain viewpoint neutral and even handed when we make determinations [regarding guests],” said Student Activities and Union Services Director Mike Patterson.
“If we had a Planned Parenthood, then it is only fair to have The Bravo Center,” Patterson said. “It protects the interests of those students that might want this. That means you’re going to have different viewpoints and ideologies.”
Just as the school remains neutral in the content that student organizations share and are even handed, centers such as the Bravo Center are legally protected under First Amendment rights.
According to AMA, pregnancy centers outnumber the amount of abortion clinics in the U.S. and are usually located near hospitals and abortion clinics or where there is no Planned Parenthood or other licensed reproductive health care centers, such as New Paltz.
Although the Student Health Service (SHS) at SUNY New Paltz does not display information supporting any particular choice regarding pregnancy, pamphlets promoting the Pregnancy Support Center has been found in the waiting room. Skibiki and Grimsland however stated that this was not their doing.
“On occasion we have found that pamphlets for many topics have been left in our waiting room without our knowledge,” said Beverly O’Brian, a registered nurse at SHS. These are removed periodically.”
As for reproductive services offered in the health center, conventional contraception such condoms are available. Oral contraceptive pills and Depo-Provera shots are options when appropriate and when a student has been seen by a provider. Emergency contraception is available for a 20 to 40 dollar exact change cash payment.
O’Brien affirmed that it is the policy and practice of the health center to discuss all options when counseling a pregnant student. These include maintaining the pregnancy and keeping the child, adoption and termination of the pregnancy.
“It is our goal to assist our students in managing their sexual health without bias and to empower them to make their best decisions with appropriate information,” O’Brien said.