Note: This story was written by Arcata High School journalism students Jacquelyn Opalach, Caledonia Davey, and Jazmine Fiedler and originally published in the Pepperbox, AHS’s student newspaper. Republished with permission. To support the Pepperbox, email Business Manager Hannah Pereira at email@example.com to buy an add or subscription or donate to the cause of student journalism.
It might happen like this:
A girl, maybe 16 or 17 years old, has sex and misses her period two weeks later. Worried about an unwanted pregnancy, she rushes out of her fourth-period class the next Tuesday to visit the Purple Van that offers confidential pregnancy testing, conveniently parked 369 feet away from Arcata High School.
When the test comes out positive, the nurse in the van is comforting and offers the girl some informational pamphlets about the side effects of abortion and its alternatives. The girl is told that her baby’s life began at conception. As she steps out of the van, the nurse wishes her well before asking, “Do you have any spiritual beliefs?” The girl says “I guess so.” The nurse replies, “Can we pray with you?”
Parked across the street from Arcata High on Tuesdays, “The Van” is the mobile extension of the J. Rophe Medical clinic in Eureka, which offers free and confidential pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, prenatal vitamins, medical and social referrals, and abortion recovery information, according to their website.
J. Rophe Medical also helps connect new parents to the Pregnancy Care Center, which provides food, formula, baby clothes, and maternity clothes until the baby is 2 years old. J. Rophe Medical does not provide information about birth control or safe sex but instead focuses on navigating newly pregnant women toward following through with their pregnancy.
The Pepperbox set out to learn more about the organization and the services it provides given its close proximity to the teenagers of Arcata High School. (Readers should know that the writers of this story identify as pro-choice.)
J. Rophe Medical is a pro-life organization with religious ties. While some of the information provided by J. Rophe is accurate, other information is false or skewed. As a medical institution, J. Rophe operates with questionable medical ethics. Considering all of these factors, Pepperbox was left with this question: Should the J. Rophe Medical mobile unit be parked so close to a high school?
J. Rophe Medical: A Religious Organization
Two Pepperbox reporters went to the van in early November for an interview with its nurse manager.
“J. Rophe means Jehovah Rophe, and Jehovah Rophe means ‘God our Healer,’ so that’s where that came from,” said Annette, nurse manager of the J. Rophe Medical mobile unit. (Annette asked not to have her last name printed.)
The only indication of the evangelical-Christian practices that J. Rophe Medical is affiliated with is in their name: J. Rophe. The clinic does not mention these religious connections on their website.
“Our volunteers and our staff have to sign a statement of faith that they believe in certain things — pretty much evangelical-Christian principles — and those are basically that we believe that life starts at conception … and that we believe that there is a God in heaven. It’s just something we do to make sure that we are all on the same page,” Annette said.
An un-introduced woman who works in the van interjected during an interview between the Pepperbox and Annette to add that J. Rophe Medical has a prayer network.
“And we have a prayer network,” she chimed in. “Is that alright to say?”
Annette paused. “Yeah,” she said to the woman.
J. Rophe sends out a prayer request to about 250 people — sometimes without the knowledge of their clients — to pray for the women who seek their services. Those involved in this “prayer chain” receive a notification via their email or phone.
“As soon as we get someone who we think might be abortion vulnerable or someone who’s planning on getting an abortion, we firmly believe in the power of prayer,” Annette said.
Facts Should Be Facts
“Once you’re pregnant you have three choices. You either parent or you get an abortion, or you place an adoption … and we have information on all those things,” Annette explained.
However, the information that they do have frequently differs from medical facts and include evangelical-Christian ideals. “We don’t advocate for abortion which is why we like to show women pictures of what they’re carrying in their bodies — because we’re all about education,” Annette said.
J. Rophe provides a pamphlet entitled “Before You Decide”, which is distributed to clinics like J. Rophe Medical nationwide, originating at Care Net, a “crisis pregnancy center.” Care Net identifies as a Christian pro-life organization. The homepage of their website states: “Nearly one million babies die every single year from abortion … .That is why it is so important that believers in Christ stand up for the right to life.”
Several of the facts provided in “Before you Decide” contradict the facts provided by both Planned Parenthood and other medical organizations. The Pepperbox analyzed several factual topics presented in this pamphlet, including when pregnancy begins, emergency contraception, the alleged association between abortion and breast cancer, and the alleged association between abortion and compromised mental and physical health.
No Exceptions in Ethics
Arcata High’s Nurse and past Planned Parenthood employee Johnny Kell said he feels that the presence of the religious beliefs associated with J. Rophe Medical is inappropriate in a medical setting. “It’s an ethical boundary that medical professionals try not to breach,” he said.
Kell reflects the standards that have been set by the medical community. “[P]rofessional ethics requires physicians to not impinge their beliefs on patients who are particularly vulnerable when seeking health care,” wrote Thomas R. McCormick, a doctor of ministry, in a 2014 paper titled “Spirituality and Medicine.”
In conformity with these medical ethics, the language in a medical setting is meant to be professional. But emotionally charged language and hypothetical questions appear in some of the materials provided by J. Rophe.
“Starting Over: Your Negative Pregnancy Test — A Chance for Renewal” is one such pamphlet. It extols abstinence, which is entirely separate from pregnancy and motherhood (which are the areas that J. Rophe Medical claims to attend to). It encourages the reader to question their choices. The pamphlet posits: “Now is the time to look at your life and ask yourself, ‘Is this the life I really wanted?’ When you came into the clinic, you were worried and concerned about the possibility of being pregnant. Is this how you imagined yourself reacting to your first pregnancy?”
The pamphlet also makes unsupported generalizations about sex. “Outside of marriage, sex is often something the guy wants, something to make him stay, or something done without commitment, love, and concern,” it says. Furthermore, the pamphlet attempts to provide dating advice: “You need a boyfriend who will become a good father. If your current boyfriend can’t fill that need, it’s time to get out of the relationship.”
Considering that J. Rophe Medical is a medical center, “Starting Over” lacks a surprising amount of medical information. “I feel like maybe somebody, instead of writing a pamphlet, was writing in their diary,” Kell said in response to the language.
With this in mind, is J. Rophe Medical conforming to the precedent set by the medical community? J. Rophe denies any real intent.
“A lot of times people think that we coerce people into making decisions that they don’t want and we don’t do that. I don’t have the power within me to do that. People do what they want to do,” Annette said.
When the van first arrived a few years ago, Arcata High Crisis Counselor Eileen Klima visited the mobile clinic to learn their purpose. “I went and introduced myself and they were really nice to me. They showed me the van and they said they weren’t going to force anybody, that they were just there to be accessible,” she said.
Arcata High Principal Dave Navarre also went to meet the nurses and had an experience similar to Klima’s. “I thought they were very polite, gave me a lot of good information,” he said.
Nita, a student at Arcata High School, has visited the J. Rophe Medical van. “They did not push God on me in any way, shape, or form,” she said. (This student’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.)
Nita said that going in the van was “scary” but she ultimately had a positive experience. “It was really supportive,” she said. “They were comforting.” She was given a pregnancy test, which came out negative. The nurses did not give Nita any of the pamphlets that are normally on display in the mobile unit.
The biggest ethical point of interest is the proximity of the J. Rophe Medical Van in relation to Arcata High School. Was this intentional?
Annette explained that the city of Arcata requires the van to be parked on private property. In addition to parking across from Arcata High, the J. Rophe mobile unit parks at Rite Aid and the Trinity Baptist Church.
“We cannot park on the street because we are a little bit oversized, people getting in and out, [and the city is] just a little apprehensive about liability,” she said. “One of the first things I had to do as nurse manager was to look for places to park, and this place came up and I have to honestly tell you, I had no idea where Arcata High School was. I had just moved here. We got permission from the owner to park in this parking lot and so we park here.”
The landlord of the property, despite two attempts to contact, failed to return calls.
Navarre said that he has “no opinion” about having J. Rophe Medical park across the street from Arcata High.
Nurse Kell also shared his opinion about the van’s proximity to the school. “Their proximity plus their misinformation … it super bugs me,” he said.
According to Annette, only “four or five” high school students visit the van each year.
Annette explained that most of the young women who visit just need a pregnancy test, which often come out negative. “Just girls who are kind of nervous, they made a choice that maybe they’re regretting on Monday and so they’ll come in and get a test,” she said.
Nita, whose friend urged her to go to Planned Parenthood when she had a pregnancy scare, instead chose to visit the J. Rophe mobile unit because of its convenient accessibility. “This was like right there, right at the school, so it was easy access,” she said.
“I do have to say that they’ve been here for 5 years and we have had absolutely no concerns, no issues with them whatsoever,” Navarre said. “They’re really thoughtful, caring people.”
SIDEBAR: When Pregnancy (and Personality) Begins
The debate over when a pregnancy begins has existed for centuries.
Ultimately, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says pregnancy “is established only at the conclusion of implantation of a fertilized egg. This scientific definition of pregnancy is also the legal definition of pregnancy, accepted by governmental agencies and all major U.S. medical organizations.”
Planned Parenthood agrees: “Pregnancy officially starts when a fertilized egg implants in the lining of the uterus,” their website states.
In contrast, “Before You Decide” argues that “Pregnancy, and life itself, begins at the time of fertilization and not when the embryo implants in the uterus.”
Piggybacking off this belief is the claim that “when the sperm and egg unite and fertilization occurs, the genetic makeup of a unique human is established, including gender, and hair and eye color, and to some extent, personality and intelligence,” which is written in “Before You Decide”.
This is not entirely correct. When conception occurs, the brain has not yet developed, meaning the embryo has not yet formulated a personality or developed intelligence.
Registered nurse Maureen Mulligan LaRossa and Dr. Sheena L. Carter from Emory University School of Medicine wrote, “On day 18 the developing embryo (still only a small clump of cells) folds back on itself to form what is called the neural tube. The neural tube will eventually develop into the brain and the spinal cord,” but has not yet at the point of conception.
Annette disagrees. “Back when I was a young girl … they just told us it was a clump of cells, a blob of tissue. I’m sure you’ve heard all that. It’s not. You can see on the screen right there that that is a moving, growing human being with a heartbeat and a developing brain. It’s not anything less,” she said.
Emergency Contraception = Abortion?
The pamphlet “Before You Decide” equates emergency contraception with abortion. It states, “All forms of emergency contraception have the potential to prevent the new life from implanting. This is not a contraceptive effect, but abortive, resulting in the embryo’s death.”
In contrast, Planned Parenthood says emergency contraception prevents pregnancy and is therefore not abortion. Their website explains, “Emergency contraception pills work by keeping a woman’s ovary from releasing an egg for longer than usual. Pregnancy cannot happen if there is no egg to join with sperm.”
The Alleged Association between Abortion and Breast Cancer
“Before You Decide” also says that “Carrying a pregnancy to full term gives a measure of protection against breast cancer.” The pamphlet goes on to claim that there is, therefore, a “positive association (increased risk) between induced abortion and later development of breast cancer.”
In stark contrast, the American Cancer Society notes that “scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.”
The American Cancer Society supported that women who have a full-term pregnancies before the age of 20 are at lower risk of breast cancer than other women; however, they also mention that “a full-term pregnancy after age 30 is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer than never giving birth.”
The Alleged Association between Abortion and Risk of Compromised Mental Health
“Before You Decide” claims that “There is evidence that induced abortion can be associated with significant loss of both emotional and physical health long term.” In support of this claim, the pamphlet references a 2003 study that surveyed fewer than 100 people over the course of about 60 days.
The results of the study concluded that: “induced abortion increased the risks for both a subsequent preterm delivery and mood disorders substantial enough to provoke attempts of self-harm. Preterm delivery and depression are important conditions in women’s health and avoidance of induced abortion has potential as a strategy to reduce their prevalence.”
Planned Parenthood cites studies with the same question but different outcomes. They credit a 1989 panel assembled by the American Psychological Association, which concluded that “legal abortion does not create psychological hazards for most women undergoing the procedure.”
Furthermore, the panel argued that since about 21 percent of all U.S. women had had an abortion at the time, there would be substantial waves of women seeking psychological treatment if it were true that abortion regularly resulted in compromised mental health; however, this was not the case.