Originally published by Breaking the Chains.
“Pregnant and Scared? Know Your Options! ”
“We Inform, You Decide.”
“You have options. Get the facts. ”
“Your Future, Your Body, Your Choice.”
Chances are, you’ve probably come across these messages on a billboard while driving down a highway or while performing a Google search. Such messages are advertising crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). CPCs give the impression that they are legitimate medical clinics. Sometimes taking slogans from the pro-choice movement, such as “Your body, your choice,” CPCs often imply that they will help women in crisis get abortions. They do just the opposite. CPCs are nonprofit, often religiously affiliated organizations, that are specifically set up for the purpose of dissuading women from having abortions.
CPCs are often strategically located in working class and oppressed communities as close to real abortion clinics as possible in order to cause confusion and to think many women who seek their services. At these clinics, women’s opinions do not matter if that opinion is to have an abortion. CPCs even emphasize fathers’ rights if they believe a woman’s sexual partner would oppose the abortion.
Phony clinics outnumber real ones by 3-to-1
Starting with Heartbeat International, CPCs began appearing in the 1960s in response to the liberalization of state-level abortion laws. After the dedicated advocacy of a militant women’s movement paved the way for the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion nationwide in 1973, crisis pregnancy centers sprang up in all 50 states.
Currently, there are as more than 2,500 CPCs in the United States, while there are only 780 abortion clinics. That’s right— in the US, CPCs outnumber abortion clinics 3 to 1! Their numbers are increasing, while the number of clinics that actually perform abortions is decreasing, forced to shut their doors by constant attacks and by hundreds of right-wing laws.
Spreaders of false, misleading and dangerous information
Since they are not required to be licensed as medical providers, CPCs are free to offer misleading information about abortion and reproductive health. CPCs claim that having an abortion leads to breast cancer, mental breakdowns and infertility even though there is no evidence to support these claims. They advocate for abortion pill reversal, making a false claim that medication abortions can be reversed with potentially dangerous administration of high levels of hormones. They often give false information about contraception, claiming that the morning-after pill and the IUD are abortion agents when they really prevent egg fertilization. Medically unnecessary ultrasounds, which are routinely performed by volunteers with no medical training, are purposely misinterpreted to make women believe that they are further along in their pregnancies than they actually are.
All of this misleading information wastes their clients’ time and delays or prevents women from getting abortions. Studies show that when women are denied a desired abortion for an unplanned pregnancy, there are devastating consequences, including long term economic insecurity– for both women and their children, and increasing the odds that women will stay in contact with a vilent partner and will raise children alone.
Poor and working-class women targeted
Promises of free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds lure poor and working class women to fake abortion clinics. Many of these women face challenges not addressed by these centers, like food and housing insecurity.
Fake abortion clinics offer clothing, diapers and baby toys — with strings attached. In order to qualify for free baby supplies, women must often take classes with religious and anti-abortion messages. There is not even a guarantee that women who take classes will be able to choose the baby supplies they need. Upon completion of required education courses, women often receive pre-selected baby supplies.
Fake abortion clinics obtain a great deal of medical and reproductive health information on those who access their services. Since these clinics are not bound by HIPPA or any regulations ensuring patient confidentiality, there is a very real concern that women’s personal information can be weaponized in states with strict abortion laws. CPCs could, for example, report women who go to the fake clinic but then choose to end their pregnancies on their own. This would disproportionately impact the working-class and people of color who have the most limited access to dwindlng abortion resources and are already susceptible to over-policing and mass incarceration.
Although CPCs seem local, they are actually part of a global network collecting and centralizing data on women who seek their services. CPCs and their network can do what they want with this data.
Tax dollars fund phony clinics but don’t fund abortions
While the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976 shortly after the adoption of Roe vs. Wade, prohibits federal funding of abortions, our tax dollars fund fake abortion clinics. Currently, CPCs receive taxpayer funding in 29 states, and 14 of those states receive funding through direct contracts. At least 10 states take funds meant for social safety net programs and give it instead to CPCs.
In 2019 the Trump administration forced Planned Parenthood out of the Title X federal program for funding comprehensive family planning and instead awarded $ 1.7 million in federal funds to anti-abortion clinics, which have a limited and biased view of family planning.
In Texas, the state with the strictest anti-abortion law in recent years, CPCs recieved an additional $ 20 million in taxpayer funding in 2020, after receiving $ 100 million the previous year.
In states with more liberal abortion laws and funding for abortions, CPCs proliferate and work diligently to deceive women.
‘It was important to know that it was my decision’
What is it like to go to a CPC? Ana Santoyo spoke to BTC about her experience at a crisis pregnancy center: “As someone who has had two very different abortions in my life, I feel lucky that I did not have to experience going to a CPC as my initial experience to accessing care. I reflected a lot on this because one of my abortions was at a time where I did not have health insurance and it was difficult to find out my next steps in the abortion I knew had to happen for myself and my family. It was so important that I knew it was my decision that should not be influenced by a stranger or anyone that would feel emboldened to say I would probably die and never have children again for terminating a pregnancy.
“As a mother who has had 2 abortions, I want my daughter to never have to experience someone lying and possibly harming her in the process of getting care that she wanted over her own body.”
Crisis pregnancy centers do not help women; they harm women. Their very existence depends on the assumption that women should not be trusted to make important decisions about our own bodies. They fail to address the glaring gaps in the United States’ social safety net that could actually support parents, and they siphon funds from the few social programs left in the US to support working parents. With the current relentless attacks on abortion access, the existence of CPCs is more dangerous than ever before!
Together, we must organize for a nation in which Ana Santoyo, her daughter, and all women are able to exercise their rights over their bodies. This includes access to unbiased, evidence-based reproductive medical facilities, as well as a social safety net that allows for all children to be born wanted and supported.