A young woman, 16 years old, is raped . Her concerned father, looking for medical care and counseling, brings her to a storefront “clinic.” They are shown what he later describes as “brutal footage” including pictures of dismembered fetuses. “They just emotionally raped her. . . They are advocates for the unborn, and to hell with the troubled person. They had an ax to grind, and just terrorized her,” he said.
Unbeknownst to the man and his daughter, they had walked into a crisis pregnancy center—the anti-choice movement’s latest tactic in the campaign to take away women’s reproductive freedom. Around the country, the anti-choice movement has set up thousands of these centers. They’re all different, of course, and some might offer pregnant women sincere help, such as free baby clothes. But more often, we’ve discovered, their sole purpose is to lure women in with the promise of honest medical care and then badger or coerce them away from considering abortion.
These counterfeit pregnancy centers typically aren’t regulated by the government because they’re not really offering medical care—they’re just pretending to. They often list themselves in phone books under “family-planning information centers” or “abortion services.” When women call to inquire about their services, the centers often provide dishonest or evasive answers. Once women enter the CPC, they are exposed to anti-choice propaganda to dissuade them from exercising their right to choose. No information on birth control is provided.
Although their methods have drawn the rebuke of some courts and government officials, including New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, most of these centers function without oversight or accountability.
Let’s be clear: NARAL Pro-Choice America has no objection to a storefront center that offers help to women who have decided to carry their pregnancies to term. And if a woman enters a center with full information about the center’s real agenda and its bias, that is entirely her choice. But lines are crossed when the center is dishonest about its purpose, or when a center uses misinformation, intimidation or coercion. Unfortunately, that’s what is happening.
An anti-choice group called the Pearson Foundation wrote a manual on how to start a crisis pregnancy center. It’s filled with advice on how to be dishonest or deceptive when women call the clinic. In 1994, the manual’s author, Robert Pearson, said ”we’re fighting Satan… A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her kill her baby.”
To make matters worse, these operations have found a new source of funding from taxpayers, courtesy of the Bush administration. The Washington Post recently reported that crisis pregnancy centers have received $60 million from taxpayers since 2001.
One example of where the Bush administration has sent tax dollars is the Tennessee-based Life Choices Pregnancy Support Center, where the staff believes "without reservation or qualification that the Scriptures teach that human life begins at conception.” The Post review shows that it had revenue of $81,621 in 2001. Two years later, the center received a $534,339 grant to teach “abstinence-only” programs. By 2004, annual revenue totaled $617,355.
It’s bad enough that politicians are spending our tax dollars on fake “clinics” whose sole purpose is to mislead, coerce and intimidate women. It’s worse to find out that these dollars are being pulled from real, legitimate, basic health care.
Just this month, the state of Texas announced $5 million in grants for crisis pregnancy centers. A report from the NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Foundation documents the other desperate health needs that are going unmet, just so that politicians can pursue their anti-abortion agenda:
Texas ranks 50th among states in the percentage of women without health insurance. Yet the state chose to fund crisis pregnancy centers rather than real medical care. Crisis pregnancy centers don’t even provide information about birth control options!
Texas ranks 46th in the percentage of women who’ve had pap smears in the past three years. Pap smears help detect cervical cancer, but instead of helping more women get this vital test, the state cut funds for the service.
Texas ranks fifth in teen pregnancies—but instead of investing in more sex-education programs, it’s sending money to crisis pregnancy centers.
Hardworking Americans should not have to foot the bill for these anti-choice groups that pose as health clinics, misrepresent the services they provide and, in some cases, even harass and intimidate the unsuspecting women they lure into their centers.
It’s time for state officials and Congress to hold this growing industry of government-supported fake clinics accountable. Fortunately, there is an opportunity for action at the federal level.
This week, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced the Stop Deceptive Advertising in Women’s Services Act, which would empower the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that crisis pregnancy centers don’t use deceptive or intimidating practices to prevent women from accessing a full range of reproductive health-care options. The premise is simple: Women deserve to hear their options without intimidation, interference or delay.
Americans expect honesty in advertising. These anti-choice operations are no exception.