Everything wrong with crisis pregnancy centers

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Jamie Scott/Staff

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“Crisis pregnancy centers” are covert anti-abortion centers that mislead and misinform women with unplanned pregnancies, sometimes with the use of public funds, specifically federal family planning funds. These centers must be held accountable for falsely advertising abortion resources.  

Imagine two scenarios. One in which you or a loved one is happily pregnant but does not have the funds or access to safe medical care such as an ultrasound, or the ability to purchase supplies such as diapers for the baby. The other scenario is one in which you or a loved one is having trouble finding a safe and accessible clinic to carry out an abortion. These scenarios are both unfortunately the reality for many women and uterus-supporting individuals today. 

After the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, so-called crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs, emerged. CPCs are pregnancy resource centers that offer pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling, diapers and baby clothes, all accompanied by an anti-abortion message. These “free” resources are provided only in exchange for attending workshops or classes that have religious undertones.

The CPCs claim they aren’t trying to dissuade patients from an abortion, but simply “encourage people to carry their pregnancies to term rather than having abortion.” These centers should be required to accurately describe what they do or do not offer. Funding should be provided to programs that provide safe spaces for women to access equitable reproductive care, which includes abortion, and withheld from all crisis pregnancy centers. There has been little coverage of these centers in the past, but the passing of Texas’ Heartbeat Act makes the presence of the CPCs newly relevant. 

Crisis pregnancy centers are often located near abortion clinics and lure women with signs saying they provide information on the abortion pill or post-abortive counseling. However, they provide false information about abortion, telling women that abortion is linked to breast cancer (it isn’t) or mental health issues (it isn’t).  

It doesn’t help that individuals seeking abortion care may be directed to these centers. For a time, South Dakota tried — and ultimately failed — to require women to consult a pregnancy resource center before going to an abortion clinic. Internet search optimization is apparently used to ensure that CPCs show up first when a user searches for abortion clinics.

For example, when an individual looked up “abortion clinic” in their search engine in Texas, the Grapevine Women’s Clinic showed up as one of the first results. This center’s website, similarly to other CPCs, gives the impression that it offers counseling services, information on different abortion methods and even financial assistance for abortions.

Additionally, public funding has been given to centers like CPCs in the past, dubbed as “social safety-net providers,” but facilities that offer a more diverse range of services such as family-planning clinics have gotten less funding. Worsening matters, the Trump administration “barred groups that provide or refer abortions from getting federal family planning funds” through his Title X gag rule. As of October 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services under the Biden administration put an end to the Title X gag rule.

The main purpose of crisis pregnancy centers is to ensure that women do not choose abortion. A particularly troublesome aspect of these centers is that Black people who have visited these centers were addressed with racist assumptions, including that “abortion is a conspiracy against Black people” and that “black women are not able to make decisions about whether or not they want to keep a pregnancy by themselves.”

A UCSF study conducted by Katrina Kimport with patients who attended these resource centers found that 19 of the 21 patients in Kimport’s study were Black, and the majority were low-income; many were facing other adversities including homelessness or food insecurity. 

These CPCs take advantage of disadvantaged populations and have attempted to manipulate Black and Latinx individuals by referring to their traumatizing history. Heartbeat International’s Urban Initiative, an anti-abortion resource center, posted a quote from minister John Pipe: “O that the murderous effect of abortion in the Black and Latino communities, destroying tens of thousands at the hands of white abortionists, would explode with the same reprehensible reputation as lynching.”

CPCs do provide some valuable services to women continuing pregnancies. Kimport’s study found that some patients who had already decided to continue their pregnancies only went to the centers for resources they couldn’t afford. For example, attending one parenting class or watching a parenting movie was worth five center dollars that could be used toward diapers or baby clothes. Though diapers or baby clothes are not normally free, this point system that subjects women to anti-abortion propaganda in order to get items that should be considered basic necessities is wrong and exploitative. 

Overall, these centers are unethical for pretending to offer abortion-related services and resources while acting as another barrier for women trying to access safe abortions. On Nov. 8, federal funds for health clinics providing abortion resources will be restored, and Title X funds will expand these clinics’ reach to underserved and low-income women of color. In the meantime, the public should be informed so that individuals seeking abortions don’t fall for these centers’ ploys. 

Jennifer Phunmongkol is a UC Berkeley alumna and a graduate student at Georgetown University’s Health and the Public Interest M.S. program. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.