June 24, 2022, was a devastating day. The U.S. Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade, which reversed the constitutional right for women and individuals with uteruses to have an abortion. It is no surprise that this decision will disparingly affect marginalized groups in their access to a legal, safe and timely abortion.
Twenty-one members of Congress asked Google to ensure that women seeking abortions were not misdirected to fake “clinics.” Anti-abortion centers started appearing in the 1970s, shortly after the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. Styled as “crisis pregnancy centers,” or CPCs, or “pregnancy resource centers” to mask their true intent, anti-abortion centers today outnumber licensed abortion providers by three to one nationwide.
Googling “abortion resources” turns up many results for CPCs, which lure women in with free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and the promise of information on options. In fact, they provide false information and psychological pressure to scare a pregnant person into continuing their pregnancy. Abortion is a time-sensitive matter, and anti-abortion centers purposely misinform and distract pregnant people to prevent or delay them from finding a safe and reputable abortion clinic.
Anti-abortion activists claim that abortion causes infertility, breast cancer and depression: all false statements consistently disproven by numerous reputable, peer-reviewed medical studies over the last 40 years. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures and has a 0.25% complication rate — far lower than the complication rate for removing wisdom teeth.
These so-called CPCs are not licensed medical facilities. Staff may wear white coats to give the simulacra of medical professionalism, but these fake clinics are run by anti-abortion activists. The centers offer free ultrasounds — but no qualified personnel to interpret them. The American Institute of Ultrasounds in Medicine states that only physicians can interpret diagnostic obstetric ultrasound examinations. Their websites might use abortion verbiage to lure people in, but the services they offer are focused entirely on persuading continuation of the pregnancy. These centers often give inaccurate information on the stage of a pregnancy: either that it is too advanced (there is no point in seeking abortion) or very early (there is plenty of time to make a decision). Both deliberate misinterpretations are efforts to throw obstacles in the path of someone seeking an abortion.
Some centers offer an “abortion pill reversal,” which purportedly allows a pregnancy to continue after medication abortion, which accounts for 54% of all abortions in the United States. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns that these “reversals” are unproven and unethical. Studies to test the effectiveness of “abortion reversal” lacked control groups and ethical review, and were scientifically unsound. One study in 2020 was even ended early due to concerns over the safety of its participants.
This is bogus medicine. These centers are financed and staffed by the right-to-life movement. Disturbingly, anti-abortion centers are also supported by U.S. taxpayer dollars. Indiana, for example, allocated up to $3.5 million in 2016 to Real Alternatives, which runs a chain of these anti-abortion centers, the news site Rewire reported. The funds came from the federal welfare program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is designed to support low-income families with food, rent and childcare. More recently, CPCs have secured more than $4 million through the COVID-19 pandemic bailout. These centers may be fooling legislators and politicians because they provide baby clothes and diapers, but all services are accompanied by anti-abortion propaganda. Taxpayer dollars should not be allowed to fund people masquerading as health care providers who lie to women in illegitimate clinics.
Given that roughly two-thirds of Americans support the right to legal abortion, why aren’t there more people picketing outside of anti-abortion centers? Anti-abortion centers must be exposed — and closed down — a task made more urgent as the Supreme Court just overturned Roe v Wade. The Supreme Court handed all decisions on abortion back to the 50 states, which will dramatically worsen access to abortion. Real pregnancy clinics offering a full range of reproductive health services are already being forced to close in alarming numbers, especially in restrictive states. According to the Abortion Care Network, 30% of independent clinics have closed since 2012. Those paying the steepest price are low-income and marginalized women, who are least likely to receive quality health care and least able to travel to places where abortions are legal and safe. This disparity will only be exacerbated even more in the presence of anti-abortion centers and the fall of Roe v Wade.
These anti-abortion centers are dangerous and threaten pregnant people’s lives. It is time to expose them as the frauds they are.
Actions you can take right now:
- Picket outside of your local so-called CPC. Bring friends, and pass out fact sheets providing accurate information about misinformation people may encounter inside.
- Write truthful reviews about their deceptive services on Google, which has been working towards better flagging certain pregnancy centers with labels such as “does not provide abortions.” We can help speed up its work by writing reviews about how these centers purposely misinform women.
- Show up at your local marches and protests, and bring factsheets to start conversations and spread awareness on the harm caused by anti-abortion centers.
- Lobby and tell legislators to defund these anti-abortion centers.
Jennifer Phunmongkol is a UC Berkeley alumna and a graduate student at Georgetown University’s health and the public interest M.S. program.