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How a pregnancy center near Larry Bird’s alma mater drove Planned Parenthood out of business

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em

Indiana State University is best known for its legendary alumnus Larry Bird, whose rivalry with Magic Johnson is credited by an HBO documentary with saving the NBA from collapse.

But for pro-life activists and anyone who wants to empower college students to “refuse to choose” between abortion and staying in school, ISU should be seen as a victorious battlefield.

Less than a year after it opened the nation’s largest crisis pregnancy center (CPC) within walking distance of the urban campus, the CPC of the Wabash Valley had stolen so many Planned Parenthood clients that the Terre Haute abortion business had to close shop.

One reason? The new CPC was housed directly under a bunch of college students.

Celebrate Life Magazine, published by the American Life League, has a must-read feature for any pro-life organization trying to reach “abortion-minded” college students, an enormous Planned Parenthood constituency.

The CPC stopped playing small ball and started thinking big nine years ago when it was bumping up against space constraints in its far-flung facility, unable to take on any more clients yet wanting to reach more college students.

As financial opportunities fell through that would move the organization closer to ISU, the CPC reached out directly to churches and pro-life business owners to donate money, trusting the premium price tag for downtown property would pay life-affirming returns.

Opened in 2015, the new facility ended up cannibalizing the local Planned Parenthood’s business by offering many of the same services (minus abortion), more cheaply, in an apartment building full of college students:

The center also offers pap smears, breast examinations, and screening and treatment for yeast infections. The variety of medical services offered at the CPC of the Wabash Valley places them in the top 1% of the more than 4,000 centers nationwide. “Offering these medical services has changed our statistics,” [Director] Sharon [Carey] said. “According to the Planned Parenthood website, 40% of their clients are there for STD screenings and treatment. If we can offer those services more cheaply than they can, we can compete with them.” …

“So many of our clients live right above us in the college apartments. Our location is the best marketing tool we could ever hope for. The students see our building every day. We’re right here, right where we’re needed most.”

The CPC also made a conscious decision to play down the, well, girliness of the facility – using “neutral colors” – so that the men who impregnated their clients would come in as well.

It’s paying men to take parenting and support classes, sort of – they get credits they can use to buy baby monitors and car seats, according to Carey. (Women can do the same for other items, typically earning a package of diapers and baby wipes each week.)

Planned Parenthood’s business plummeted by 62 percent in 10 years as the CPC’s rose 57 percent, and the CPC captured the abortion business’s STD-testing business when it closed, screening 75 percent more students that month. (The side benefit of a pro-life organization offering STD screening – still a rarity – is that it often reveals pregnancy to the surprised expectant mother.)

In fact, the CPC’s STD screening costs just $15, and a local pharmacy is providing free treatments when students actually do have infections. The same services at Planned Parenthood? “Nearly triple our cost,” according to Carey.

The diligence and attention to college students’ needs has paid off handsomely for the center, which drew 477 “abortion-minded and vulnerable women” last year, with 80 percent of them choosing life after getting an ultrasound there. Its total clients last year: more than 3,700, and more than a quarter of them men.

As Carey said, explaining the center’s success: “We are long past the days when a free pregnancy test will draw in an abortion-minded woman.”

From my own perspective, we are long past the days when status quo pro-life activism, including its heavy reliance on cute baby pictures and religious language, is good enough to draw in an increasingly secular and liberal generation.

It must reach college students on sex-drenched campuses where they are – geographically, physically and emotionally – not where the churchy activists want them to be.

The CPC of the Wabash Valley realized it couldn’t beat Planned Parenthood, so it joined ’em – and won.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” Previously he led media and public relations at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a free-market think tank. Greg is developing a Web series about a college newspaper, COPY, whose pilot episode was a semifinalist in the TV category for the Scriptapalooza competition in 2012. He graduated in 2001 with a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, where he co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon.

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