The Problem With Crisis Pregnancy Centers

If you are pregnant, and you need information/healthcare, you have a couple of options: you can go to your OB/GYN, you can go to a reproductive health clinic (like a Planned Parenthood), or you can go to a crisis pregnancy center (CPC).

Many feminist, and particularly pro-choice, organizations have come out against crisis pregnancy centers.  On the surface, this seems odd: CPCs are supposed to provide resources and peer-counseling: for example, some CPCs are licensed to provide things like pregnancy tests, and they’re generally advertised as health clinics.  But the reality of the situation is far different: CPCs are usually NOT licensed medical providers, and numerous reports confirm that many crisis pregnancy centers deliberately provide false information about reproductive health options, from counseling against abortion to lying about birth control.  Pro-choice means pro-family and pro-adoption as well-~-there’s nothing wrong with providing resources and referrals for pregnant people who wish to complete a pregnancy and either pursue parenting or put the baby up for adoption-~-but actively lying to individuals under the pretense of being a medical care provider is essentially fraud, and that’s the problem.

So how common are they?  A quick look at the Wikipedia page for crisis pregnancy centers tells me that there are approximately 2500 CPCs in the United States, as compared to 1800 abortion clinics (though I suspect those numbers may be out of date, with more CPCs and possibly fewer abortion clinics).  That same page also points out that 20 states provide funding to CPCs, and between the years of 2001 and 2005, 50 CPCs received $30 billion from the U.S. federal government.  A similar claim is examined by HuffPost, when they attack the premise that taxpayer dollars (which, thanks to the Hyde Amendment, cannot be used to fund abortions), are being used to fund religious campaigns against abortion-~-which is, obviously, hugely problematic.  Considering the fact that the majority of CPCs aren’t licensed medical clinics, this seems a bit odd (but then, it was the first term of the Bush Administration, and we had instituted policies like the Global Gag Rule).  One glance at the map on this page produced by NARAL Pro-Choice California gives a good idea of just how common CPCs are-~-which means they become a more likely choice for pregnant people in need of reproductive health services, which they often cannot and do not provide.  This is ESPECIALLY true in states which have actively worked to eliminate abortion clinics through TRAP laws, like Missouri, which presently only has one remaining abortion clinic in the state: pregnant persons in these states may feel a CPC is their only option, but unfortunately, it’s not a good one.

Source: Vice News

It’s not just that they compete for the attention and time of pregnant persons in need: it’s that they do so in a way that fundamentally undermines their ability to make independent reproductive health decisions and exercise their legal rights.  It’s not just about abortion, though these organizations DO counsel against abortion: that same NARAL Pro-Choice California report revealed that forty percent of CPCs included in the study advised that hormonal birth control increases the risk of infertility and can cause breast cancer, and sixty percent of CPCs included in the study advised that condoms are not effective at preventing pregnancy or the transmission of certain STIs.  Seventy percent of California CPCs included in the study said that abortion increases risk of breast cancer, and an even greater number advised that abortion increases risk of infertility.  Holy misinformation, Batman!  Those claims have all been debunked: abortion causing breast cancer was a claim based on deeply flawed studies that were then used by the anti-choice movement to attack reproductive rights, the studies that linked birth control to breast cancer were based on previous, now out-dated formulations of hormonal contraceptives, and legal, safely-performed abortion carries with it minor risks that would be inherent to any surgery, and doesn’t pose a threat to fertility later in life.  Oh, and as to the eighty-five percent of California CPCs which claimed that abortion causes mental illness?  Here’s a Guttmacher Institute report outlining the reality that abortion doesn’t have a direct link to depression or anxiety.  Basically, this is a pack of lies being handed to pregnant people who are often scared and unsure what to do, in order to discourage them from accessing abortion or utilizing contraception in the future.

Recently, a couple of undercover operations have looked to expose CPCs for the problems they create.  When one woman went undercover to a number of CPCs in Virginia-~-a state which has more than twice as many CPCs as comprehensive reproductive health clinics, and has enacted restrictive abortion laws-~-she was asked questions like these: “What is your relationship with your parents like?” “How is your financial situation?” “Have you told the father?” “What is his religion?” “Are his parents religious?” “How many people have you slept with?” “Would your parents be excited about a grandchild?”  These aren’t questions that are relevant to making a medical decision, they’re questions needed to gain information to use for emotional manipulation, which is what many individuals report is a main tactic of CPCs.  That same woman was also told that birth control is the same as medication abortion-~-even though it’s not.  Another study in Virginia revealed a counselor telling a client that condoms are “naturally porous” and therefore cannot protect against STIs, and that having an abortion would damage all of her future relationships.

In case you’re thinking this might be a problem specific to California and Virginia CPCs, it’s not: the undercover activist involved in that second investigation in Virginia, Katie Stack, is a co-founder of the Crisis Project, which films undercover videos at Crisis Pregnancy Centers.  Stack herself has also found similar problems in Iowa, and in Cleveland, Ohio.  Along with Vice‘s Fazeelat Aslam, and a Texas volunteer named Donna, Stack has been working to investigate CPCs across the country, creating a documentary called “Misconception”.  When Jacyln Munson (PolicyMic) went undercover to CPCs in New York City, she found the same problems: false information about contraception, including emergency contraception, incorrect models of fetuses, and slut-shaming via a lecture on how it was awful she had premarital sex.

These undercover efforts are part of a push to fight back against CPCs and the false information that they spread to pregnant people in need.  That effort needs to go further, though: supporters of reproductive justice, and honestly, supporters of science, need to campaign against the use of taxpayer money to fund ideological and scientifically inaccurate counseling.   Some or all CPCs may be potentially be guilty of fraud, a legal avenue that activists may choose to explore.  I am not sure what the most effective ways are to push back against CPCs, but some estimates indicate that after this year, they may well outnumber abortion providers 5 to 1 across the United States…and to be perfectly frank, if funding healthcare is already controversial, we should make sure we are at least actually funding healthcare, not individuals who are paid to lie to pregnant people with no one else to turn to.

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~ by Randi Saunders on September 29, 2014.

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