Is your local women’s reproductive health clinic what you think it is? (Photo: Corbis)
With free ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, peer counseling, and diaper lessons, Crisis Pregnancy Centers are playing an increasingly large role in women’s reproductive healthcare. As abortion laws become more restrictive— and clinics harder to reach in many states — the centers have even been gaining state and federal funding.
But a new report, featuring undercover work done in 10 states by NARAL Pro-Choice America, concludes that these pregnancy centers utilize aggressively deceptive practices to deny women access to health care — and actively provide misinformation on both abortion and birth control.
A typical billboard advertising a Crisis Pregnancy Center. (Photo: Flickr)
Crisis Pregnancy Centers are non-profit organizations established to counsel pregnant women against having an abortion. They generally provide peer counseling and may offer non-medical services such as financial assistance, child-rearing resources and adoption referrals. The pro-choice organization Planned Parenthood calls them “fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion. They have a history of giving women wrong, biased information to scare them into not having abortions” and “often pretend to be real health care providers — but many are not.”
These pregnancy centers, while not new, currently outnumber abortion providers nationwide by 2,500 to 1,800.
A pregnancy care center in California. (Photo: Flickr)
Crisis pregnancy centers market themselves to women dealing with unintended pregnancy, often using language speaking to the woman’s “scared” state of mind and need for help. Many women who find themselves at a CPC believe they have found a comprehensive women’s health clinic — and a place that provides not only abortion as an option, but accurate medical information about a woman’s choices.
The first CPC was founded in the United States in 1967 as a way to promote the anti-choice Pregnancy Center Movement. The founder of this first CPC, Robert Pearson, went on to establish a foundation to support the development of CPCs nationwide. One “support tool” provided by the Pearson Foundation at the time was a 27-minute long slide show called “Caring” that, according to Mother Jones “included many pictures of bloody fetuses in waste cans…It ends by comparing abortion to the Final Solution,” the term used by the Nazis to describe the systemic killing of the Jews throughout Europe and, eventually, the world.
NARAL Pro-Choice California’s investigation into CPC practices in their state involved 49 site visits to over 25 percent of the state’s CPCs — 19 of which were licensed as community or free health centers by the state — and the organization found that, regardless of the scenario they presented as part of their undercover guise, they were met with the same answer and overriding philosophy from each center: “You Should Have A Baby No Matter What.” The NARAL team notes that this message “was never accompanied with suggestions to see a doctor in order to have a healthy pregnancy.”
CPCs primarily reach women through billboards and online advertising. Last year, NARAL successfully launched a lobbying campaign to get Google to remove ads for CPCs from its search results for “abortion clinics.” According to the Washington Post, “Google policy states that advertisements must be ‘factually supportable,’ as well as truthful and accurate.” Advertisers who do not comply with Google policies may see their ads rejected or their domains disabled or accounts suspended. Google said in a statement that it had applied its ad policy standards in this case and followed normal company procedures.
CPCs also often locate themselves in close proximity to comprehensive women’s health clinics to cause confusion in a practice known as “co-location.” The NARAL report found that more than half of the abortion providers in Massachusetts have a CPC nearby, a fifth of the comprehensive women’s health centers in Ohio have at least one CPC within a block of their location, and 11 of the 14 state universities in Ohio have a CPC within 5 miles of campus.
The NARAL report found that CPCs notoriously provide inaccurate medical information to women. For example, “67 percent of the CPCs investigated in North Carolina gave inaccurate information about the risks of abortion, including that it is strongly associated with infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, future ectopic pregnancies, future preterm births, excessive bleeding and death,” that “every single CPC investigated by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland misrepresented the risks associated with abortion,” and “85 percent of the CPCs investigated in California misled women to believe that abortion…is dangerous.”
In one example, a women who had been given an ultrasound at a Crisis Pregnancy Center in California was told that her IUD was a baby.
CPCs can also misrepresent the mental health effects of abortion, describing a non-medically recognized condition called “post-abortion syndrome” or “post-abortion stress.” 87 percent of CPCs investigated by NARAL in Minnesota told women that abortion causes “severe mental health problems” while 78 percent of the CPCs in Montana “claimed that abortion causes serious psychological damage.” CPCs also regularly, falsely, link abortion to breast cancer occurrence and future infertility as well as often telling their patients that birth control is equivalent to abortion and ineffective at preventing pregnancy.
While NARAL raises some important issues, the CPCs themselves disagree. Care Net, which has 1,160 affiliated pregnancy centers across the U.S. and, on their website, advertises a real-time pregnancy decision coaching call center, says that they offer what women really need. Roland C. Warren, president and CEO, of Care Net told Yahoo Health in a statement:
"NARAL is gravely threatened by the compassion, hope, and help that pregnancy centers provide to women in their communities. While NARAL is set up to meet its own ideological wants, pregnancy centers are set up to meet women’s actual needs. For example, NARAL does nothing for women facing unplanned pregnancies who choose to have their child. They promote a medical procedure that ends a life, but do nothing to provide for the material, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs of women who choose life. But that is exactly the type of comprehensive support that pregnancy centers offer. And we know women need this support because millions of them are visiting pregnancy centers every year and are giving overwhelmingly positive feedback on the services they receive."
A complicated facet of CPCs is that they often receive federal funding. The Washington Post reported in 2006 that between 2001 and 2005, CPCs received more than $30 million in federal funding, noting that “President Bush has been an advocate for pregnancy resource centers and for abstinence-only sex education. Few of the pregnancy resource centers — formerly called crisis pregnancy centers — received any federal funding before 2001.” Additionally, eleven states (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) offer “Choose Life” specialty license plates, the sales of which fund CPCs in their state.
In a statement, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, commented on the report’s findings, stating that, “Pregnant women absolutely need objective, accurate information and superior services in order to make the best decision. Crisis pregnancy centers offer the exact opposite of that. These institutions are driven by a desire to limit women’s options and to do whatever it takes to keep all women from choosing abortion. They lie, they scare, they humiliate. This report shows that these are in no way medical institutions and everyone deserves to know this before they walk into a CPC.”