Crisis pregnancy centers claim to offer advice and support to women conflicted about their pregnancies, but in reality their goal is to dissuade women from exercising their right to choose. A new report sheds light on just how misleading and dangerous the information these centers give out can be for women who are seeking genuine medical advice.
The report, released this week by NARAL Pro-Choice America, details how Crisis Pregnancy Centers, or CPCs, masquerade as places where women can get information about pregnancy and abortion — but offer no such services. Instead, CPC’s intentionally misinform and mislead women with the ultimate goal of persuading then to follow through with a pregnancy, regardless of what factors may have led a woman to seek termination.
There are currently an estimated 2,500 CPCs in the U.S., compared to an about 1,700 abortion clinics. CPCs are well-known for targeting vulnerable or confused women with misleading ads, and providing them with false information.
NARAL has gathered information on CPCs in more than 10 states. Investigators, posing as pregnant women, reported back on their experiences with CPC staff and the information given to them at these clinics, much of which was factually inaccurate.
“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,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a press release. “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.”
Here are seven facts from the NARAL report that anyone who cares about women’s health needs to know:
1. In some parts of the country, CPCs outnumber abortion clinics by far.
A whopping 95 percent of Minnesota counties do not have an abortion provider, but there are over 90 CPCs in the state. This means that crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion providers by almost 15 to 1. In North Carolina, CPCs outnumber abortion providers by 4 to 1.
2. CPCs often present themselves as legitimate reproductive health clinics.
Many centers are purposefully located near abortion providers. Vague signage and websites lead some women to believe that these centers offer abortion services and contraception, when they do not. Women are told that they will be examined by licensed medical practitioners; instead, they are “counseled” by CPC staff, many of whom are not medically trained. In one example mentioned in the report, a CPC staff member performing a sonogram identified a women’s IUD as her baby.
3. CPC’s target low-income women and women of color
Many CPCs purposefully advertise in bus shelters, believing it will attract women who may be homeless or low-income. Care Net, a network of CPC’s, has bought ad time on BET (Black Entertainment Television) and puts out specific advertisements targeted to the African-American community that compare abortion to slavery. Furthermore, the report notes, an investigation by Colorlines.com exposed a plan by CPCs to “deliberately set up shop in these communities to go after vulnerable women and deny them the care and honest information they have a right to.”
4. CPC staff regularly exaggerate and lie about the risks of abortion to terrify women into following through with their pregnancies.
According to the NARAL report, undercover investigators were told by CPC staff that terminating a pregnancy would put them at significantly increased risk for breast cancer, infertility, the non-existent mental illness “post-abortion syndrome” and other health issues. All of these claims have been debunked by medical experts.
5. CPCs provide false information about birth control.
Many CPCs have an anti-contraception bias. According to the report, “89 percent of CPCs investigated in Montana presented inaccurate information about birth control, including that birth control is the same as abortion, condoms don’t work, and birth control leads to breast and cervical cancer.” Furthermore, 69 percent of Missouri CPCs investigated told women that hormonal birth control increases the risk of infertility — and 92 percent refused to tell women where they could get access to contraception.
6. CPC staff often encourage women to delay making a decision about whether to have an abortion.
Fifty-three percent of investigated Minnesota CPCs urged women to put off making a decision, by recommending that they take another pregnancy test in a month or undergo an ultrasound to see if the pregnancy is viable. One CPC volunteer in Maryland told an investigator: “Don’t panic. Abortion is legal through all nine months of pregnancy, so you have plenty of time to make a decision” — something that is simply not true.
7. CPC staff regularly judge women for seeking legal abortion.
Numerous investigators reported being shamed by CPC staff for their interest in termination. In North Carolina, 61 percent of investigated CPCs pressured women not to have abortions by giving them baby items. In New York City, 73 percent of CPC staffers investigated “referred to the fetus as a ‘baby’ or ‘unborn child’ and to abortion as ‘killing.'”
8. Taxpayer dollars support CPC’s.
“A disturbing number of these anti-choice CPCs receive taxpayer funding to shame and manipulate women who seek medical attention and never get it”, the report says. In Minnesota, for instance, CPCs receive state dollars through the Positive Alternatives Act, which makes $2.4 million available to CPCs annually. In 2011, 23 of the 31 grantees were CPCs. Eighty-seven percent of taxpayer-funded CPCs investigated in Minnesota gave misleading or outright false information to women seeking medical services. At least 11 states directly fund CPC’s, the report says, and even more states provide indirect funding.
The NARAL report shows just how damaging CPCs can be for women who genuinely need help and reputable information about pregnancy, birth control and abortion. Calling CPC’s an “insidious threat” to reproductive rights, the conclusion of the report says it perfectly: “Women will never achieve reproductive freedom until all CPCs are exposed, and women are made aware of their rights and understand their medical options.”