“Pregnant? Need Help?”
Have you seen these signs around your community? You might be forgiven for mistaking them as advertisements for women’s health centers – but you’d be wrong. These are advertisements for religious organizations called Crisis Pregnancy Centers and they are the happy recipients of your tax dollars.
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are anti-choice “fake clinics” which exist solely to dissuade women from having abortions and, more often than not, are run by churches and religious organizations. They often advertise falsely in phone listings as “abortion services” or “family planning services” but the only service most provide are drugstore pregnancy tests and, in limited cases, an ultrasound. In fact, very, very few CPCs even have medically trained staff, choosing to rely instead on church volunteers. Many CPCs have been caught in the act of giving out false medical information and acting coercively, all in the name of God and a woman’s traditional role. Some CPCs have deceptive sounding names such as “A Woman’s Choice” and women often find themselves calling what they think is a clinic or an abortion provider only to find that the person on the other end of the line refuses to discuss abortion or contraception unless the woman comes in first, “just to talk”. All of this subterfuge is meant to trick women into visiting the center so that more pressure can be brought to bear.
I visited a Crisis Pregnancy Center as a teenager and found out very quickly that the main focus was evangelizing. I was greeted by what I now know was a volunteer who led me to a private room and had me give a urine sample. She placed the sample on her desk, popped in a drugstore test stick and picked up a heavy bible. She told me she wanted to pass the time by reading scripture to me. I sat and listened politely and then told her I was non-religious. She insisted on praying with me anyway and then read the result of my test – negative. She then asked me if I used contraception and told me that condoms don’t really work and that I was better off just not having sex at all. With that, I was released.
My friend *Katie was not so lucky. Years later she visited the same CPC and her test was positive. Instead of offering support to a pregnant teen, the center pressured her to give the baby up once it was born. Katie was adamant that she wanted to raise the baby herself but the volunteers at the CPC had already pulled out a list of eager couples and continued to pressure her with horror stories of teen parenthood. She was finally able to leave and is now a happy mother.
Not content with simply defunding Planned Parenthood, many conservative states and even the federal government are openly giving taxpayer dollars to Crisis Pregnancy Centers. In fact, in 2010 the Obama administration gave Care Net, one of the largest purveyors of CPCs a “capacity building” grant, despite the fact that the organization is strictly a proselytizing entity which does not provide family planning services and which has an explicit “Christian only” hiring practice.
State and local government give further support to these religious centers by openly endorsing them in ways that seem innocuous to those who don’t know what CPCs do. The Virginia Department of Health lists Crisis Pregnancy Centers in its online publication, A Virginia Guide to Family Planning, Genetics and Social Services while leaving unmentioned any family planning clinics. The guide even mentions Colonial Heights Baptist Church as a family planning resource!
Government funding of CPCs is clearly a violation of the separation clause of the first amendment. In 2011, I began a campaign to get the Virginia Department of Health to stop endorsing CPCs through its guide and you can get active in your state too. Check out your state and city health departments to see whether they endorse CPCs and start a campaign. You might also want to find out who is teaching sex education in your city’s schools. In some states, sex education teachers are not required to be certified and anyone can volunteer to teach it and many churches see this as a great opportunity to send in one of their own. You can also fight back by using this handy toolkit to document false advertising practices used by CPCs.
Finally, you can get educated. It’s astonishing how many people are unaware of CPCs or don’t realize the intensely religious nature of what goes on behind their doors. Consider hosting a screening of 12th and Delaware in your community to let everyone see firsthand and objectively what CPCs are all about and the damage they do to women’s lives.
*Name has been changed
Richmond (VA) Clinic Defense