The A-A-A Women For Choice, a crisis pregnancy center in Manassas, Va., tries to persuade women not to have abortions. It opened next to the Amethyst Health Center for Women, an abortion provider, 24 years ago. (Petula Dvorak/The Washington Post)
Columnist

Pat Lohman’s most powerful weapon in her long war on abortion has been deception.

It’s a tactic she has embraced for nearly three decades to disrupt one of Northern Virginia’s few abortion clinics. Lohman operates her Manassas crisis pregnancy center right next door.

Same brick building, same sign, same generic office decor. The abortion clinic, Amethyst Health Center for Women, was on the right. The pregnancy center, AAA Women for Choice, is on the left.

Confused women seeking abortions would wind up in Lohman’s place, where she threw all she had at them — pamphlets, pleas, prayers, promises of help, used baby gear, bloody imagery, God — to change their minds.

“Deceptive? People say we’re deceptive? Okay,” Lohman told me. “But what the other guys are doing? That’s deceptive, too. Those girls have no idea what abortion really is. When I hear ‘pro-choice,’ that is a deception. And this country has forgotten about God.”

The Amethyst Health Center for Women, an abortion provider in Manassas, closed in the fall. The practice was purchased by abortion opponents. (Petula Dvorak/The Washington Post)

Here’s the part that’s really astonishing. Several months ago, the abortion provider retired and the Amethyst Health Center closed. That’s when Lohman, 69, and her supporters swooped in, orchestrating their grandest deception yet.

Nothing indicates that the abortion clinic is closed except a locked door. The clinic’s Google ads still pop up, and the phone number still works. When women dial the closed abortion clinic, the call is forwarded straight to the pregnancy center. Everything remains in place to lure women to the clinic and hope they try the door, figure they made a mistake, then go right next door to the carefully named AAA Women for Choice.

How did Lohman pull it off?

I talked to the doctor who ran the abortion clinic for 27 years, first with her husband, then alone after he died. She’s a 76-year-old widow with an National Rifle Association sticker on the clinic window and a gun she’s had ready for decades after being threatened by abortion protesters at her home. She doesn’t want to be in the news anymore and asked that I not use her name.

But when we talked, she told me that she sold her practice when she retired. She never met the new owners, only the lawyers who said they represented a group of medical office investors. The investors also bought a dialysis office in the same, unremarkable medical office park, they told her.

Just five minutes after signing the final papers at closing, the doctor called her office to check her messages.

“Triple-A Women for Choice,” a voice answered.

The doctor thought she made a mistake and redialed.

“Triple-A Women for Choice,” the voice said again.

Whoever bought her practice had the phones forwarded to the pregnancy center within minutes of the sale, before the lawyers even had a chance to close their briefcases.

The retired doctor said she doesn’t believe an outright fraud happened. She said it was an omission of information.

“If I were 20 years younger, I wouldn’t have retired, and this wouldn’t have happened,” she told me. “But I am tired. And right now, I don’t want to stir things up.”

According to property records, the new owners bought the place for $360,000 on Sept. 29, 2015. It now belongs to BVM Foundation — the Indiana-based Blessed Virgin Mary Foundation. Calls to BVM Foundation and its listed officers were not returned.

“Yes, they are forwarding calls to us,” Lohman acknowledged.

She pointed at the empty Amethyst office, which used to serve about 1,200 women annually: “They want to get a doctor in there who believes like we do.”

Abortion opponents have been using some of these tactics for years, as Planned Parenthood could tell you. Abortion clinics across the country are shadowed by crisis pregnancy centers.

But buying a clinic is new, said Alena Yarmosky, who is with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

When women call, they are asked “lots of intimate, personal, medical questions,” she said. And because the center isn’t a real health-care provider, “none of that [information] is confidential.”

NARAL workers made calls to the center, and in the recordings you hear the counselors answer the phone and simply explain that “we’re taking calls for them” when the caller asks for Amethyst. And then there is a long dance to get the woman to come in for a counseling session.

What happens when women do make the appointment or walk into Lohman’s office, with its signs advertising free pregnancy tests?

The counselors there give women a generic over-the-counter test and lead them into an exam room. While waiting (way too long) for the results, Lohman launches into her routine. There is a questionnaire asking women intimate details about their sex lives.

The counselors at the pregnancy center told me they hear some awful things.

“It’s shocking. The STDs. The number of partners, how many young people,” said Susan Hays, the counselor on duty when I visited.

“We had an 11-year-old girl come in with her parents. They thought she was pregnant,” Lohman said. “Turns out she wasn’t. But we gave them all the information.”

Did they consider reporting a sexually active 11-year-old to authorities?

“Oh no, we don’t do that. We’re not doctors, so we don’t have to,” Lohman said.

They tell women that condoms can be porous and unreliable.

They tell women they’ll have a hard time getting pregnant again after an abortion.

They tell women that abortion and birth control can cause cancer, a link unconfirmed by medical research.

“Talk about objectifying women. How about doping her up with steroids?” Hays asked.

Then comes the video. It’s a bloody, graphic, disturbing (and some say inaccurate) depiction of an abortion.

“Here’s our response form. I would say 99 percent of the women who see it say they would recommend it to others,” Lohman said, after she questioned me about my family, my stand on abortion rights, my views on religion.

Do women ever get angry when they realize they went to the wrong office?

“Oh yeah, they get angry, there’s yelling at us sometimes. But they just don’t want to hear the truth,” Lohman said. “But we are the ones telling the truth.”

Well, not quite.

Twitter: @petulad