The Van: When medicine and religion collide
By Jazmine Fiedler, Caledonia Davey, and Jacquelyn Opalach
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 two 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.
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,” Annette**, Nurse manager of the J. Rophe Medical mobile unit, said.
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 unintroduced 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.
“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
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 association between abortion and breast cancer, and the association between abortion and compromised mental and physical health.
No Exceptions in Ethics
Arcata High’s Nurse and past Planned Parenthood employee Johnny Kell established that 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. “Professional 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, 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 a pamphlet distributed by J. Rophe Medical. The pamphlet extols abstinence, which is a different topic than 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 brochure 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.
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.”
“This was like right there, right at the school, so it was like easy access.” – Nita
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 shared his views about the van’s proximity to the school. “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 like easy access,” she said.
“I do have to say that they’ve been here for five years and we have had absolutely no concerns, no issues with them whatsoever,” Navarre said. “They’re really thoughtful,
*Readers should know that the writers of this story are pro-choice
**Annette asked not to have her last name printed
***This students name has been changed to protect their privacy
Students combating the housing crisis
A & E Editor
I’d wake up at 5 a.m., take the city bus to school, go skateboarding, write lyrics, or make money after school, then go to drivers ed and return to the motel at around 10 p.m. Next day, do it all over again. There were points of heavy depression, points of insecurity; however, at the root of it all, I knew I was still human.” – Josh Horan, Arcata High Senior
Walking through the streets of Arcata, the presence of the homeless community is prominent. Those sleeping under bridges and on storefronts are only a fraction of the overall homeless population. Many sleep in shelters, couch surf, or live out of their cars. According to the New York Times, more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless population lives in California. Though Humboldt is low in its homeless population compared to other counties in California (calmatters.com), there are still 759 people who are registered as homeless in Humboldt.
A housing crisis in Arcata leaves more and more residents homeless. According to the North Coast Journal, HSU has more students enrolled than there are available houses. The price for rent in Arcata has increased by 19.44% since last year (Rent Jungle). So, what does that mean for our high school? Are the halls of Arcata High School reflective of California’s homeless population? How many students are struggling and working with their families to pay their rents or mortgages?
According to Arcata High administration, about three percent of students enrolled are homeless. Homeless can mean living anywhere from a hotel, being housed temporarily at a friend’s or a public space. Homeless students face daily challenges that make it difficult to learn and live the life of an average teenager.
Senior Josh Horan has struggled with reliable housing in recent years. Though he now has a house to live in with his family, at one point he was homeless. Horan began working to help support his family. “I was making money to feed myself and my parents when I could,” he said. Horan still works to help pay bills at his new home, and he is maintaining pride of who he is and where he came from.
Homeless students also suffer an emotional toll.
“There is more stress on someone that‘s homeless,” Crisis Counselor Eileen Klima said. Klima sees many of the homeless students on campus and explained some of the unseen hardships such as fitting in with peers and getting access to computers. Horan maintained a positive outlook throughout his experience,
“I guess you could say it was a learning experience, and I learned that my roadblock was my ego, and feeling like I was beneath people as if I was deducted points in the game of life. Though, through knowing that, I learned to focus on bettering myself, my family, and the people around me who truly cared for me,” he said.
High housing costs affect many local families with low-earning employment. Approximately 379 students at school currently qualify for free and reduced lunch. That’s about 40% of the student population struggling to earn enough money to pay for food.
Some resources are available to struggling students at school.
“We keep food here at school, along with clothes and hygiene products,” Klima explained.
School secretaries, the school nurse, and academic counselors in the office can help students get the resources they need. Students who are homeless or in financial need can also stop by room 104 and talk with Danielle Witten, Title I Coordinator to get confidential help as well.
Seniors graduating and planning to stay in the area face steep rent.
Haley Hill is hoping to live on her own in the new Sunset apartments this summer. She plans to pay for the housing by working two jobs. “Right now I have a part-time job and I’m trying to save up this year . . . I’m very lucky because my grandmother is going to help me financially through all of this,” Hill said. Calling herself “very lucky” is an overstatement in this case. Though she will be getting help from her family, the $895 a month is still a struggle to pay, even with it being less than the current average of $1,065 per month for renting units in Arcata.
The city of Arcata will find a solution to this problem. There are new buildings being built in open spaces, like the new Sunset apartments, but there is only so much room. On top of that, the Arcata City Council is having a difficult time passing major projects that would provide more student housing. With ocean levels rising on one side, and a protected forest on the other, Arcata will soon have nowhere left to expand. What is a solution to this problem? Should we build up? Cut down forests? Expand into the places soon to be under-water? Only time will tell what will come of the overflowing streets of Arcata.