Anti-abortion activists have a wealth of tools in their belt beyond just Bibles and money. One of their greatest tools is faux compassion, a practice that gestates at their notoriously grimy crisis pregnancy centers. These centers lure in people seeking abortions only to try and persuade them into carrying their pregnancies to term.
I first learned about crisis pregnancy centers as a student at Grove City College, because of course I did. I distinctly remember a project in my Public Relations class where students would work together with local businesses to do PR and advertising work, and two of the groups in my class worked with local CPCs. Several of my classmates went on to find careers at CPCs.
Crisis pregnancy centers, which prefer to call themselves women’s health centers or pregnancy resource centers, are masters of search engine optimization and targeted ads. Even now, they still often come up before real abortion clinics in a search for abortion providers.
This disingenuous tactic of disguising themselves as abortion clinics goes far beyond search engines. Ever since their earliest days, CPCs were instructed to list themselves alongside abortion clinics in the Yellow Pages. And the buildings themselves are strategically placed as close to real abortion clinics as possible.
What’s the big deal with CPCs?
At first glance, it can be hard to see what’s so bad about crisis pregnancy centers at all, even if you are pro-choice. They claim to be gentle, nonjudgmental centers where pregnant women can go for help. They don’t provide abortions, but they are happy to conduct ultrasounds and provide counseling and baby supplies.
Well, for a place that claims to help pregnant women to not provide abortions is actually a huge red flag. Abortion is a legitimate form of medical care, and the only way to claim that it isn’t is by twisting facts and being extremely dishonest. Now we’re reaching the turf where CPCs thrive.
I wanted to go truly undercover for this post and share some of the tactics of CPCs, so I decided to chat with an agent at a CPC site I found through Live Action called Option Line. I posed as a 17-year-old high school student from Indianapolis named Sarah who is seeking an abortion because she lives with her parents who can’t find out she had sex. Sarah has a couple hundred dollars from her part-time job that she’s saving for college. She hasn’t taken a pregnancy test yet, but she’s showing symptoms and she missed a period. She really just wants an abortion so she can have a normal senior year and go to college like she’s dreamed of.
I’ve fortunately never been in Sarah’s situation, but I’m sure thousands of girls have.
Option Line first sent me to Clarissa, a bot that determines which agent to connect me with depending on my needs. I ended up talking with Abby, who told me to call a local CPC to schedule an ultrasound seven times in our 32-minute conversation. Abby was extremely friendly, but she definitely could have been a lot more helpful. As soon as I connected with Abby (but not Clarissa the bot), she did send a copy-and-paste message saying that
Our centers do free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. They also have information and counseling on all your options, including abortion. We do not perform or refer for abortions, but our centers offer info on the different procedures, the costs in your area, as well as the laws in your state.
When I/Sarah mentioned contacting the local Planned Parenthood to compare prices (and when I pointed out that paying for an abortion is cheaper than raising a child), Abby was very patient and chipper, emphasizing that the ultrasound is free, that Planned Parenthood charges insurance, and that ultimately what Sarah decides is up to her. When I wondered why I don’t just get a “normal pregnancy test” from the store, she again told me that if it’s positive, that’s when I schedule an ultrasound.
By the end, I almost felt bad that I had wasted Abby’s time until I remembered that if she wasn’t talking to me, she would have been trying to manipulate a real girl in Sarah’s position. The funny part is that girls like Sarah aren’t usually as dumb as CPCs hope they are, and Abby likely wouldn’t have succeeded in persuading her anyway.
Why do they love ultrasounds so much?
This extremely informative and well-researched paper put into perspective why Abby was coercing Sarah into an ultrasound that wasn’t medically necessary. The author, Cassandra Griffin, draws readers’ attention to this popular Focus on the Family manual for CPCs to use to determine what to suggest for each patient.
Services will be provided for abortion-minded and abortion-vulnerable women to help them in the decision-making phase of their pregnancy. The provision of ultrasound services to women who are not abortion-minded or abortion-vulnerable is at the discretion of the medical director.Focus on the Family, Excellence of Care: Standards of Care for Providing Ultrasound and Other Medical Services in a Pregnancy Resource Clinic
This language is the result of CPCs operating under a method of putting pregnant people into one of three categories:
The abortion-minded patient is one that is seeking, has scheduled, or has started the process of an abortion. . . .
The abortion-vulnerable woman is one that is intending on carrying her pregnancy to term but has doubts about her ability to do so. . . .
The carry to term woman is one that is against abortion and intending on carrying her pregnancy to term. . . . It is worth noting that the manual does not recommend the ultrasound for women intending to carry their pregnancies to term, it is only recommended for women the clinic deems “abortion-minded” or “abortion-vulnerable”.Griffin, Cassandra, “The Truth About Crisis Pregnancy Centers” (2019). Theses/Capstones/Creative Projects. 83.
Sarah was an “abortion-minded” patient, which is why Abby was so adamant on getting her to schedule an ultrasound. I now know that this was so that Sarah would change her mind after “seeing her baby,” but at the time it also felt like an extremely convenient way to dodge any and all questions Sarah had because she hadn’t yet taken a pregnancy test. Essentially, no action must be taken and no choices must be made until one has an ultrasound, even when it is too early in the pregnancy to possibly be necessary. When initially talking to the bot, I told it that Sarah had had sex only about a month prior.
Using ultrasounds to manipulate
Normally, the earliest that one would get an ultrasound to confirm pregnancy and gain information like due dates and number of babies would be six to eight weeks. I imagine that getting an ultrasound at four weeks isn’t that preposterous, but several medical groups strongly advise against getting an ultrasound when it isn’t at a hospital or doctor’s office and isn’t medically necessary.
Elective, unnecessary ultrasounds have been derided by a number of different medical groups. The Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory against women seeking ultrasounds elsewhere than at a hospital or their doctor’s office. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) have denounced keepsake, medically unnecessary ultrasounds (Thayer, 2015). The AIUM, the American College of Radiology (ACR), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), and the Society of Radiologists in Ultrasound (SRU) all specifically warn against fetal ultrasounds performed without a medical purpose, stating in their guidelines, “Fetal ultrasound a should be performed only when there is a valid medical reason, and the lowest possible ultrasonic exposure settings should be used to gain the necessary diagnostic information” (AIUM, ACR, ACOG, SMFM, SRU, 2018).Griffin, Cassandra, “The Truth About Crisis Pregnancy Centers” (2019). Theses/Capstones/Creative Projects. 83.
We know for a fact that these ultrasounds are unnecessary for reasons like the Option Ultrasound program, which gives grants for ultrasound equipment and training to CPCs only if that CPC “serves” a large “abortion-risk” population. The Assessment Tool for a CPC to find out if they are eligible for Option Ultrasound includes the following criteria:
Option Ultrasound, High Abortion Community Assessment Tool
- Does your organization directly serve a population of 300,000 or more?
- Is public funding for abortion available in your state beyond funding for rape, incest, or “life of the mother”?
- Does your service area have four or more public abortion providers?
- Does your service area have a four-year university with a student body of 15,000 or more (age18- 26, excluding online students)?
- Does your clinic have a paid nurse manager with a minimum of 20 hours per week?
- Does your clinic have a minimum of a $150,000 operating budget?
- Is your clinic affiliated with any of the following: CareNet, Heartbeat International, or NIFLA?
- Has your service area been targeted by a large abortion provider or Planned Parenthood for high-volume abortions?
If you’re not using ultrasound equipment specifically to dissuade people from getting abortions, then they won’t fund it. If CPCs were instead providing these services because that’s what pregnant people actually need, then the amount of abortion providers around shouldn’t influence that at all.
Ultrasounds are the tip of the iceberg
There is so, so much more that is wrong with crisis pregnancy centers that to go into everything would take all day. They spread abundant misinformation about things like the nonexistent abortion trauma syndrome, the erroneous link between abortion and breast cancer, and the idea that one can reverse an abortion. (The “abortion reversal pill” is an unnecessary dose of progesterone taken after the first of two pills required for a medical abortion. It acts as a placebo at best, considering that the first pill alone won’t successfully cause the abortion, and it can cause unpleasant side effects at worst.)
Not being run by licensed medical professionals, CPCs also often don’t have to abide by HIPAA. They have even been known to trick and harass girls who, coincidentally, are a lot like the fictional Sarah:
An Indiana mother recently accompanied her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend to one of Indiana’s Planned Parenthood clinics, but they unwittingly walked into a “crisis pregnancy center” run by an anti-abortion group — one that shared a parking lot with the real Planned Parenthood clinic, and was designed expressly to lure Planned Parenthood patients and deceive them.
The group took down the girl’s confidential personal information and told her to come back for her appointment, which they said would be in their “other office” (the real Planned Parenthood office nearby). When she arrived for her appointment, not only did the Planned Parenthood staff have no record of her, but the police were there — the “crisis pregnancy center” had called them, claiming that a minor was being forced to have an abortion against her will.
The “crisis pregnancy center” staff then proceeded to wage a campaign of intimidation and harassment over the following days, showing up at the girl’s home and calling her father’s workplace. Our clinic director reports that she was “scared to death to leave her house.” They even went to her school and urged classmates to pressure her not to have an abortion.Source 1, Source 2, Source 3
Even in less extreme situations, CPCs make their patients plain uncomfortable by proselytizing to them and judging them. One review of a CPC in Pittsburgh reads,
I went in for testing and they did what they said they would do — provide free health screens. However, from the moment I entered, I did not feel comfortable with the staff. I felt like I was being judged every single step. At one point, the “nurse” decided to pray for me, despite my telling her several times that I was non-religious. I was asked intrusive questions that were unnecessary to the services I requested and all I wanted was to leave. I was very disappointed with the entire experience and would NOT recommend this place to anyone looking for an abortion. However, if you’re looking for pregnancy support or STI screening and don’t mind intrusive personal questions, this place is for you.Google Reviews
Do not give them money, time, business, or donations
At the end of the day, there really isn’t any good that balances out crisis pregnancy centers and makes them worth the manipulation, judgment, and evangelizing. They rarely ever provide STI testing, accurate information on contraception, or even prenatal care (which makes sense considering that only 11% of CPC volunteers are medical professionals). The infant and kids’ clothes and supplies that one could find at a CPC can also be found at women’s shelters, diaper banks, and community swaps. CPCs often pose as neutral support centers, but you can always spot them because they emphasize pregnancy testing services and a commitment to being “for life”.
Dissuading pregnant people from utilizing crisis pregnancy centers is not the same as trying to coerce them into getting abortions. Hospitals, doctors offices, OB/GYNs, and abortion clinics (should) provide abortions but they don’t (or should not) push patients into a decision, especially not by presenting false information. A real medical facility will not use pseudoscientific, religious claims to force a pregnant person into doing something against their best interest and those of their family.
A place that actually cares for patients understands that abortion can often be the best choice for both the pregnant person and their potential child. Pregnant people and their fetuses are not at war with one another, because pregnant people know what is best for their bodies, their families, and their lives. To care for a fetus is to care for its parent. By disregarding the health and well-being of their patients, crisis pregnancy centers care for no one but themselves and the continuous flow of government funds into their pockets.