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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

A threat to some, a blessing to others

Director Abdiel Contreras Alvarez, at right, said the mission of the pro-life nonprofit Defenders on the Sidewalks is primarily to help mothers instead of harassing them. (Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)

Pro-life group says its mission is to support girls, women before and after pregnancy, abortion or not

By Richard Gutiérrez

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the conversation about abortion hasn’t stopped or diminished; in fact, it has become more widespread, making its way into social media and television at a rapid pace.

The Students for Life America Instagram page currently has more than 183,000 followers, while the NARAL Pro-Choice America Instagram page has more than 163,000 followers. While some believe abortion is a normal and positive health procedure depending on the mother’s situation, others feel that abortion is murder and shouldn’t be practiced under any circumstances. Regardless of one’s perspective on the procedure, abortions are happening and the conversation is ongoing, not just in the mainland United States but also in one of its most populous territories, Puerto Rico.

Within the conversation on abortion, besides the life of the baby in the womb, there is another important consideration that people sometimes tend to leave aside: the mother. While pro-life individuals are sometimes painted as the villains vis-à-vis pregnant women or girls who may be seeking or have sought abortion services, that isn’t the case for the nonprofit Defenders on the Sidewalks, the organization’s director said. Abdiel Contreras Alvarez told the STAR that their mission is mostly dedicated to helping mothers instead of harassing them.

“We are part of a larger ministry in the United States called Sidewalk Advocates for Life; however, we started in Puerto Rico about four years ago as Defenders on the Sidewalks,” Contreras Alvarez said on Wednesday in front of Planned Parenthood in Bayamón. “We started coming here only on Saturdays. We were able to count easily up to 20 abortions in just four hours. The girls were emotionally devastated; some even passed out right in front of us, we’ve had to go up to them running many times to help them. The doctors or staff of the Planned Parenthood clinics in Bayamón don’t care how the mother feels after the procedure is done, so we’re here to help them as much as we can.”

“Yelling or cursing at people is not allowed in this ministry,” he added. “We approach the situation of abortion with love and kindness toward the mothers who might go through the process or have already gone through it. Even if they reject talking to us, we still let them know that if there is anything they may need, we are here to help them, because even though we are pro-life, we are here to assist the mothers, not to condemn them in any way, shape or form.”

Contreras Alvarez told the STAR that the group’s services help a lot of women because often they come to Planned Parenthood on their own.

“A lot of the times these girls come here alone even though they aren’t supposed to; these women come out of the clinic devastated a lot of the times,” he said. “We stay with these women as long as is necessary as they go through the recovery process; we’ve seen many different types of people here, from minors who come here as couples and even situations where older men come here with significantly younger women.” Regardless, we try to give them a kind word and help them in anything they can,” Contreras Alvarez continued. “We offer help to the mother and the child with completely free maternity classes. Project Nacer is a school that is available for teenagers with unexpected pregnancies; they take care of their baby all the way up to kindergarten in order to give parents the chance to study or work.”

In other words, the organization is focused on helping the mothers regardless of what decision they end up making.

Meanwhile, when the STAR interviewed a member of the Planned Parenthood clinic staff, the response was quite different.

“These people harass the girls who come here,” a staff member who preferred to remain anonymous told the STAR “They are violating the rights of the girls who come here by taking pictures of them. The law known as HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] doesn’t allow anyone to expose the information of any patients, not even pictures. This is a clinic that is approved by the Health Department. It’s not illegal like they say it is; people come here because they want to. We do not force people to come here. The Health Department in Puerto Rico permits abortion up to 24 weeks, because it is a matter of health; it’s healthcare. If a baby is going to come out of the womb with complications, it’s their choice if they decide they don’t want to continue with the pregnancy.”

“There is only one doctor in Puerto Rico who performs abortions after 24 weeks, Dr. Báez; she is currently fighting for this in the Senate,” the staff person added. “Here we only perform this procedure up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.”

The staffer went on to say that mothers visiting the clinic have essentially had to run out of their car to get inside because of how much they are harassed by Defenders on the Sidewalks members.

Contreras Alvarez, in response, said: “They do not take pictures of any patients and saying that they do is a lie.”

“If this is the case, they must provide evidence for what they are saying,” he said. “They have surveillance cameras on 24/7. If it were true, they would already be able to prove it, wouldn’t they? In fact, we barely ever take pictures of the clinic and when we do, there are only cars around, and the cars’ plates are deleted from the pictures.”

Contreras Alvarez even said there have been instances when the clinic has “called the police on us and the police have determined that what we are doing is not violating the rights of anyone; they’ve given us the green light.”

He added that “the clinic’s staff is greatly misinformed because while abortion in Puerto Rico is only legal because of health complications, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bayamón doesn’t fall under that category because they perform abortions up to 14 weeks.”

“None of the abortions performed there are performed because of health complications; that is a lie,” he said.

Contreras Alvarez pointed out that “abortions up to 26 weeks of the pregnancy” and “up to 40 weeks of pregnancy” are being performed at at least one other clinic and hospital on the island.

“This has been shown in the public hearings where I’ve participated; the Health Department has been very clear in stating that in Puerto Rico abortions can be performed up to this long [into a pregnancy] as long as it is supposedly to take care of the mother’s health or because the baby has a fetal anomaly,” he said. “Within these fetal anomalies, there are false positives of a child who may have Down syndrome and according to the labs, eight out of 10 of these cases are false positives.”

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