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Getting Real: A Holistic Approach to Pregnancy & Teenage Sexuality

An Interview with Joanna Repsold of the Westside Pregnancy Clinic

by Bobby Maddex

I’m tired of this obsession with the fetus,” I heard a liberal talk-radio host once say. “Pro-lifers couldn’t care less about these kids after they’re born.” At the time, I thought this was a fairly accurate charge. Where were the pro-life organizations that supported and protected unwanted children? Where were the pro-life programs that worked to prevent such children from being conceived in the first place?

As it turns out, my questions were completely unwarranted. For thirty years now, the Westside Pregnancy Clinic in Los Angeles has been loving children by effectively loving their moms, serving and empowering the women who seeks its help. It has likewise developed a program to prevent young people from making uninformed decisions regarding their sexuality—to attend to the causes of unwanted pregnancies along with the consequences. When I became aware of Westside a few months ago, I immediately wanted to know more. Here I talk with Joanna Repsold, the director of the clinic’s Reality Check program.

What is the Westside Pregnancy Clinic (WPC), and how is it different from other such clinics?

The WPC has been in existence for about thirty years. It was started as a small counseling center here in Los Angeles and has grown to become a non-profit, licensed, community-care clinic. What sets us apart is that our medical and support services are geared towards educating women on all of their options. Our specialties are parenting, adoption, and post-abortion support. We provide STD testing, pregnancy testing, early prenatal care, which includes pre-natal testing, and referrals for extended care. Mothers can also receive professional counseling from one of our marriage and family therapists, and investigate the options of abortion, adoption, or motherhood. We don’t refer or perform abortions, but we do educate women on all three options so they can make the best possible informed decisions for their lives. And we don’t just leave these women once they make their decisions.

What do you mean?

Whatever it is that a woman decides to do, we are there for the whole process. Women who do decide to have abortions can come back to us afterwards to take part in our post-abortion recovery program. We offer pregnancy and parenting classes for women who decide to parent. We also have programs that offer extended counseling to new mothers, as well as opportunities for them to earn diapers, clothes, and food for their babies. The WPC is even willing to mentor mothers on how to care for their children. If they choose to place their children for adoption, we likewise have a referral network and are here to support them through the process. We really want to be there for the woman—to meet her needs and help her make the best choices for her life, not the choices that we would want her to make. We don’t benefit from any decision that she makes, whether financially or otherwise.

What else is different about Westside?

Well, out of about 50 abortion-providing facilities in this area, we’re one of the few that offers alternatives to abortion. We’re the only place where women can come and find support for other decisions that they may want to make—where they’re not going to be pressured into having an abortion. We also provide education on the front end, helping teenagers, especially, to avoid getting into a situation where they have to deal with an unplanned pregnancy.

What is the philosophical justification for leaving abortion open as an option?

When a woman comes to us, she’s looking for accurate and honest information. Our goal is to educate her on all of her options, although we specialize in parenting, adoption, and post-abortion. We want her to truly make a choice for herself. We often meet with women who feel that abortion is their only choice. They come in here and discover that it is a very safe environment in which they’re not going to be pushed one way or the other. They find that we really care about them and their situation. We provide the information that couples need to own their decisions, and we are here to support them during that process. We are convinced that, when mothers feel educated and supported, they are more likely to make good decisions that benefit not only them, but also their babies.

Yes, but what about those women who, after receiving the information you provide, go ahead and get abortions anyway?

Well, there are indeed women who still choose to get abortions, and many of them come to us afterwards because they know that we’re a safe place where they can talk about their experiences and begin to heal. We want them to know that we care about them. We’re not trying to turn a profit or force them to choose one way or another.

You mentioned that you are surrounded by an inordinate number of abortion-providing facilities. How do they feel about the existence of the WPC?

We actually have a pretty good relationship with many of these clinics. Even Planned Parenthood has referred clients to us at times. The situation is not as hostile as most people would expect, because these clinics understand that we specialize in connecting clients to resources that will help them carry their babies to term and become successful parents. Those clinics that specialize in abortion see us as a resource for clients who might want to choose something different, or for those who have had an abortion and return to them for help that they are unable to provide.

What can you tell me about WPC’s Reality Check program?

Reality Check is a sexual-integrity program that is abstinence-based—not abstinence-only, but abstinence-based—and our aim is to educate young people on how to make the best choices for their lives, whether emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Emily Keith started the program about seven years ago. She discovered that there was a complete lack of sexuality presentations that focused on more than just condoms and STDs. She wanted to come at the subject with a comprehensive, holistic approach. How is pornography going to affect your relationships? What is the media doing to influence your understanding of sex, marriage, and body image? How can you equip yourself for a healthy relationship? These are the sorts of questions that Emily wanted to answer for kids. Of course, we still educate young people about the reality of sexually transmitted diseases and infections—about condoms and birth control—but we also talk about how sex will affect their lives. We want them to understand that sex is not just physical, but also relational. It is likewise an emotional and a spiritual matter.

Does abstinence-based education really work? What sort of proof is out there?

A study was released just this past February by the University of Pennsylvania that found that an abstinence-based education is effective in delaying the onset of teen sexual activity by about one-third. Basically, a third of all students receiving abstinence-based education are up to two years behind their peers in terms of beginning sexual activity. It turns out, in other words, that students are willing to wait when they’re encouraged to do so. Of course, just as with pregnant women, I think it’s important to educate them on all of their options. I tell them that they are free to use condoms if they want, but they should also know that they’re not going to protect them like they think they will. If we were to try to pretend that birth control doesn’t exist, these kids would find themselves in trouble down the road because they didn’t get all the facts. Abstinence education has only been receiving federal funding since 1998, so it’s going to be a little bit behind comprehensive sex education in terms of our being able to assess its effectiveness. Even so, we are seeing a huge decline in the rate of sexual activity on the part of teens, and I really believe it’s because of abstinence-based programs.

Speaking of comprehensive sex education, what can you tell me about SIECUS? How does this organization operate, and what sort of impact has it had on sex education?

SIECUS is an acronym for the “Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.” This is actually a privately funded organization. I know it sounds like SIECUS is a government entity, but it is absolutely not. This organization has done a really good job of setting itself up as the standard for teenage sexual education. What it does is periodically release a set of recommendations and guidelines for sex education. Because it has managed to connect itself to Planned Parenthood and is so well funded, its recommendations are often taken as recommendations from the federal government. The average parent would be appalled, however, if they knew what these recommendations are. For instance, SIECUS suggests that teachers talk to children aged 5­8 about masturbation and rubbing one’s genitals. It recommends that children aged 9­12 be taught about bisexuality, homosexuality, and different ways to share sexual pleasure. Thus, without any real resistance on the part of parents, SIECUS has managed to profoundly impact sex education in the United States.

In some ways, the WPC seems to function as a counter to both SIECUS and organizations such as Planned Parenthood. How do you think the battle for life is going?

I believe that there has been a big shift in attitudes toward the unborn. As people are educated about what abortion really is—as they learn that there are a lot of organizations out there that are ready to assist a pregnant woman throughout the life of her child—the tide continues to turn. Technology has done an amazing job in helping people understand the development of a fetus. When I talk to kids during my Reality Check presentations about the implications of STDs—how they can affect fertility—the conversation inevitably turns to what happens when a sperm meets an egg. Without exception, whether the kid is 11 or 18, he will answer that a baby begins to grow. As far as these kids are concerned, abortion is murder. They understand that the abortion debate is about much more than a woman’s right to choose. It is about protecting the woman completely, which abortion doesn’t do because it fails to address the emotional and spiritual aspects of a pregnancy. I’m encouraged. I really am.

How do you account for this gap in understanding between young people and adults?

I specialize in working with young adults, and here’s what I can tell you about the young people I encounter daily. They want the truth; they want information, and they want it in a very real, fast-paced way. Because of this, I’m able to come in with a culturally relevant, amazing program that is exactly what they need—the encouragement that life isn’t just about this moment, that they can pursue sexual integrity and make healthy decisions for their lives and futures. That is what I love about teens; they want the truth and they like it raw. We don’t debate; we present accurate information in a fun way. And they know that we’re here for them regardless of their decisions.

How can readers find out more about Westside and Reality Check, and where can they go to find a clinic similar to Westside if they don’t live in the Los Angeles area?

To learn more about Westside and Reality Check, they can visit wpclinic.org and realitycheckla.org, respectively. I would recommend searching online for pregnancy centers or clinics in your area, or contact your church to see if they have any recommendations. Get informed and then inform your community. This is an issue that affects all of us. You’ll be shocked by the number of your peers who are passionate about this cause but don’t feel empowered or equipped to speak out on the topic. The more we talk about our views, the more we’ll find others who agree with us. Together, we can then support clinics such as the WPC and empower them to be effective forces in their communities.


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