Crisis Pregnancy Centers Endanger Vulnerable Women

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Endanger Vulnerable Women

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are clinics - often religiously affiliated and operating without medical licenses - that attempt to steer women away from seeking abortions. These clinics evade regulation and oversight, fail to inform women of all the relevant options available to them, and mislead clients by appearing as legitimate medical care facilities. CPCs should be subjected to strict governmental oversight, required to disclose all religious affiliations, and forced to impart only factually accurate information with those who knowingly seek their services.

The deception begins even before women enter the door. One study found that 80% of over 254 clinic websites included false or misleading information [1]. CPCs often perform ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, giving the impression that they are operating as medical offices. For example, a woman who goes by Amy K. believed she was visiting a Planned Parenthood when she walked into a CPC that was purposefully located in the same building. Upon requesting abortion services, the clinician performed a sonogram and forced her to listen to the fetal heartbeat. After lying about how far along Amy was, the staff member encouraged her to continue the pregnancy, saying that she would be “a great mother” [2]. Two women visiting a CPC in Texas undercover on behalf of NARAL, a pro-choice organization, were met with medically-inaccurate information and propaganda [3]:

“‘They won't tell you this wherever they do these things, but it's a very big risk. You may never be able to conceive children. There's about a 90% chance you may never be able to have children down that road…” While there, Gorsky and Wenke were also sold a slew of other medically unproven information about abortion, including negative mental side effects and emotional distress, false claims debunked by the American Psychological Association. The procedure, they were warned, was "very painful," and they would "hear the vacuum sucking the fetus out." The CPC counselor went on to conflate the abortion pill with Plan B, saying the pill acts to stop a woman from being impregnated, a dangerous medical lie. Even though the women told the counselor that the father was out of the picture and disinterested, she pressed them to inform him of the pregnancy and reminded them ‘“God had a plan.”’

About 90 percent of CPCs are operated by three anti-choice organizations [4]. Such centers cannot operate without bias. Two groups of CPCs should be established: one group, those aligned with a religious organization, should be required to disclose all affiliations to every client. Those in this group should be clearly labeled and designated as associated with a church or ideology, and clients should be warned that any advice given may not be scientifically proven. The other group, CPCs not affiliated with a certain religion or anti-choice organization, should be required to obtain a medical license and impart only factual information. These distinctions will reduce confusion and ensure that those seeking abortions make autonomous, informed choices that are independent of coercion by groups with ulterior motives.

Despite religious associations, many CPCs are publicly funded. The state of Texas, for example, allocated $18 million for the “Alternatives to Abortion” program in the 2016-2017 year by diverting funds from clean air initiatives [5]. There are about 20 states that fund pregnancy centers, as well as one, South Dakota, that requires women to receive anti-abortion counseling from a CPC in order to terminate a pregnancy [6]. Moreover, 32 states offer “choose life” license plates that generate revenue for CPCs. Heartbeat International, a Christian organization and one of the largest CPC networks in the world, acknowledges that its goal is "shepherding spiritually 'broken' women toward Christ" [7].  

In 2015, California passed a law that instructed CPCs to disclose if they are unlicensed to clients [8]. Additionally, the legislation required clinics to impart information pertaining to the availability of free or low-cost public programs concerning family planning, contraception services, prenatal care, and abortion [8]. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down California’s Reproductive FACT Act in a 5-4 decision on the grounds that compelled disclosure amounts to a violation of the first amendment [9]. However, this reasoning can be applied to a multitude of necessary disclosure laws meant to protect Americans. For example, most states have laws compelling home sellers to disclose to buyers the status of the home’s structural condition. The Securities Act of 1933 requires publicly owned companies to disclose information about financial condition and management compensation to protect investors. Many states require their public employees to disclose any possible conflicts of interest. These sorts of disclosure laws are necessary to promote full transparency and ensure that women are able to make informed choices about their bodies.

A significant number of CPCs provide important and necessary services such as testing for sexually transmitted diseases and organizing free parenting classes [10] . However, the women who are most in need of the free services that CPCs advertise are often those who lack access to comprehensive healthcare due to economic, geographic, or situational obstacles [10]. As a result, these clinics attract women who may have no other choice. CPCs need to be closely regulated to ensure the safety and autonomy of those who seek help in difficult times.

References:

  1. Bryant AG et al. “Crisis Pregnancy Center Websites: Information, Misinformation, and Disinformation”, Contraception, 2014. 

  2. Chen, Alice. “Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Impeding the Right to Informed Decision Making”, Cardozo Journal of Law and Gender Vol 19. 

  3. Tuma, Mary. “Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Money for Nothing” Austin Chronicle, July 20 2018. 

  4. “Unmasking Fake Clinics”, NARAL Pro-Choice America, 2010. 

  5. Novack, Sophie. “Texas Lawmakers Vote to Take Millions from Clean Air to Fund Anti-Abortion Program.” Texas Observer, April 11 2017. 

  6. Chandler, Michael. “Antiabortion Centers Offer Sonograms to Further Cause.” The Washington Post, September 9 2006. 

  7. Winter, Meagan. “What Some Pregnancy Centers are Really Saying to Women with Unplanned Pregnancies”, Cosmopolitan, July 14 2015.

  8. "AB-775 Reproductive FACT Act", California Legislative Information.

  9. “Supreme Court Backs Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in Free Speech Case”, Liptak, Adam, The New York Times, June 26 2018. 

  10. Bryant, Amy and Schwartz, Jonas. “Why Crisis Pregnancy Centers are Legal but Unethical”, AMA Journal of Ethics, March 2018.


 

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