Netflix recently published the third season of 13 Reasons Why, a show whose first two seasons were criticized for aiming graphic, mature content at a young intended audience. In the second episode of the third season, there is an abortion subplot that misrepresents the pro-life movement and sidewalk counseling so severely that it can only be described as propaganda. The character seeking an abortion first goes to a deceptive pregnancy resource center she believes is an abortion facility and then in another scene goes to the abortion facility and is met by a group of deceptive anti-abortion protestors.
The primary scene we want to comment on is the scene at the abortion facility. It depicts a harmful caricature of the reality of sidewalk counseling and could be no further from what ERI teaches in the Sidewalk Counseling Masterclass. The abortion-minded woman is met by a group of Christians when she arrives at the clinic. They call out to her asking her to pray with them and telling her God loves her and her baby. Then a woman approaches her wearing an orange vest labeled “Clinic Escort” and she says, “Come on, let’s walk past the crazies,” and clearly acts like she is with the abortion clinic, not the Christian group. The pregnant woman’s boyfriend says to her, “This day is hard enough” to which the woman in the vest responds, “It should be hard. Killing is a sin.” In this moment the pregnant woman realizes that she has been deceived by the woman in the vest, who is actually one of the protestors in disguise. Then, the fake escort says “Take this” and puts a bloody fetal model in the abortion-minded woman’s hand and pleads with her to not go through with the abortion.
This is not at all representative of sidewalk counseling. We have worked with many sidewalk counselors across the United States as well as pro-life organizations who train sidewalk counselors, and we can say with confidence that deception of abortion-minded women is openly condemned. In our own training course, we instruct sidewalk counselors who wear vests for their safety because of incoming traffic to always try to choose a vest that is a different color of any escorts who are at the clinic. The vests that we will be selling online for the safety of pro-life advocates say “Pregnancy Resource Advocate” with the purpose of distinguishing them from the abortion facility because we believe it is wrong and harmful to deceive the abortion-minded person into thinking we are a clinic escort.
Sidewalk counseling is not about protesting abortion or shaming women coming to the clinic. It is about offering information and resources to those who would like to make a different choice.
Furthermore, the scene at the pregnancy resource center depicts a center that intentionally misrepresents what it does until the last minute. The pregnant character has had an ultrasound and is well into a counseling session before she finally figures out that this is not an abortion clinic. That’s partially because the pregnancy “counselor” the show depicts is very evasive about what they do and don’t do. This is not good practice for a PRC and is not how national PRC organizations train their centers. At many of the pregnancy centers that we have served at ERI, they have told us about how they immediately tell clients that they don’t perform or refer for abortions, and then explain what they do offer. Women know that it isn’t an abortion clinic before they book their appointment. They’re not being deceptive in the way 13 Reasons Why represented in the show.
Our Director of Training, Rachel Crawford, worked at a Pregnancy Medical Center before she came on at ERI. Here is what she said about her experience: “I was a receptionist that booked appointments for clients at a pregnancy medical center which frequently served abortion-minded women. It was clearly stated on our website, and I told them on the phone while scheduling their appointment, ‘we do not refer or perform abortions at our center.’ This narrative of ‘fake abortion clinics’ is so different from my experience. I never saw a client that seemed like she felt deceived, pressured, or uncomfortable. I consistently witnessed clients thanking us and telling us they felt cared for by our staff and empowered by the resources and information they were given. I was trained to be honest and upfront with the women we served and never witnessed anything deceptive or inaccurate.”