Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2017 / 03:24 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion chain — but rather than dismissing it, pregnancy help centers may be able to learn from its strengths as a brand, said one research analyst.
“The brand of Planned Parenthood is, unfortunately, pretty solid in the minds of these women,” said Dr. Jeff Pauls of the Vitae Foundation. Yet many women admitted that they “still weren’t totally comfortable with the experience of having to go there.” Planned Parenthood may have a “solid” reputation in the minds of its customers, yet pro-life pregnancy centers could serve more of these women if they emulated its strengths, he told CNA.
The Vitae Foundation partnered with Dr. Charles Kenny, an industry leader in “right-brain research” on customers’ loyalty to brands like Coca-Cola and American Express, to investigate what Planned Parenthood’s clients thought of the organization and discover what pro-life pregnancy centers could learn from the abortion giant.
They conducted in-depth interviews of over 70 women, many of them from metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles and who “had no idea who did the interview,” Pauls noted. Questions asked included when and how women had first heard about Planned Parenthood, why they decided to go there, what they thought about the organization’s brand and health care, and if they had ever heard of a “pregnancy help center.” The questions were meant to “have them go into their mind’s eye and really relive their experience at Planned Parenthood,” Pauls said.
There were two types of customers they found, “active” women who were currently customers of Planned Parenthood, and “legacy customers,” or women who used to go to Planned Parenthood and had stopped going, but had referred someone else there in the last year. They found that Planned Parenthood has a “solid” reputation with these women, but along their brand’s strengths there were significant weaknesses, as the women interviewed acknowledged negative experiences at clinics.
The “strengths” of the Planned Parenthood brand are a “non-judgmental” appearance of staff workers who help women think they are in “control,” providing them feelings of “acceptance” and “freedom,” Pauls explained. They also promote an atmosphere of “confidentiality” which is really “secrecy,” Pauls said, “the way that Planned Parenthood helps them engage in risky sexual activity without their parents knowing.”
However, women also complained of “long waits” at clinics as well as an “unpleasant gauntlet of fear, anxiety, nervousness, and anger that they had to deal with in the waiting room,” he continued. “Try as they might to develop this kind of warm, comfortable waiting room experience, it’s nearly impossible, according to the women, because of what’s going on there,” he explained, noting that women recalled thinking, “I just don’t feel like I belong here with these people.”
And there were violations of HIPAA — of the privacy of one’s confidential medical information — at clinics. “We did hear some women talking about Planned Parenthood staff talking about procedures out in the waiting room, in front of everybody,” Pauls noted. These public conversations included “what their health history was.” While such instances were not frequent, “we did hear that from enough women that that’s not rare,” he said.
Another brand “weakness” was that women who frequented Planned Parenthood clinics when they were younger had moved on to other health care providers as they grew older, even though they still referred younger clients to clinics. There might be several reasons for this, Pauls explained.
Older women may have stopped the “risky sexual activity” of their former years, or they might have better health insurance and be “in a position to afford and get good health care at a doctor or an OBGYN,” he said. “They say that they still believe that Planned Parenthood is as good or better than” other providers, Pauls said.
Women appreciated what Planned Parenthood did for them — providing them with birth control and performing abortions — but they “still weren’t totally comfortable with the experience of having to go there.” Planned Parenthood has recently insisted that it is an important provider of women’s health care. Yet it is not holistic health care, Pauls insisted. “It’s a place to get, in their words, to ‘fix a mistake’” and “solve a problem.”
For instance, clinics did not offer “real counseling” for women considering abortion, “because if they did, it would be an admission that abortion harms women,” Pauls said. Rather, clinics focused on “helping women feel alright about abortion, and giving them these defense and coping mechanisms for the inevitable pain and difficulty they go through,” he said.
For instance, clinic workers told women of their abortion “you won’t even think about it later on” and “it’s no big deal, women do this all the time.” They would encourage them that “it’s actually a good thing that you’re doing for your family or your future family or your education or your career.” “A lot of times they’ll even refer to abortion and their need to go to Planned Parenthood as a necessary evil,” Pauls said. “She feels like she really has no real choice, so Planned Parenthood is the only way really to move forward without kind of experiencing this death of her current self or her future self.”
In contrast, pregnancy centers can step in and offer “holistic” health care that Planned Parenthood doesn’t, Pauls insisted. One significant “surprise” from his research was that “none” of the women “knew what a pregnancy help center was” or had “much knowledge or interest in it.” This was despite the fact that 2,400 pregnancy help centers outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics almost four to one. These pregnancy clinics don’t perform abortions but instead provide women financial, material and emotional support to have their baby and can even offer medical care and psychological counseling.
“Women are interested in this holistic approach to health,” of “being healthy in mind, body, spirit, soul, vocation,” Pauls said. The care in pregnancy help centers is “not just physical, which is what Planned Parenthood does. Make them unpregnant and send them back out into a risky lifestyle, to have them come back and do it all over again.” Many pregnancy centers are “connected with a medical model or a medical referral system where they can address the physical, psychological, emotional, social, intellectual, and vocational health needs of the woman,” he said.