By Elizabeth Arzt, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Communications Fellow
You’ve probably seen those billboards or online ads with messages like “Pregnant? Scared?” that advertise free pregnancy tests – but are otherwise vague about their mission and the services offered.
It’s a common advertising ploy used by anti-choice groups that call themselves “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs). These facilities pose as women’s health clinics then use lies and manipulation to dissuade women from considering their full range of reproductive options. Understanding CPCs is key to evaluating the scope and agenda of the anti-choice movement in Virginia and across the country.
In 2010 and again in 2013, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia volunteers went undercover to understand what it’s like for women seeking counseling at Crisis Pregnancy Centers. We outlined our findings in an investigative report, Crisis Pregnancy Centers Revealed.
Last week, our Director of Advocacy and Communications, Alena Yarmosky, shared the investigation’s findings with a new group of enthusiastic volunteers and activists in a briefing and webinar.*
Here are my top takeaways:
CPCs don’t offer medical and social services provided by comprehensive health clinics, but they do offer free pregnancy tests and limited services to lure women into their facilities. They are also known to list themselves as abortion providers in the online directory, and may use ambiguous names with the hope that women will confuse them with a legitimate medical provider.
The investigation found that of the 56 centers identified, an astounding 40 facilities shared some degree of distorted medical information. They suggested that women who have abortions can get eating disorders, become alcoholic, drug addict, or that abortion could lead to infertility. One investigator reported, “The counselor said if I am a certain blood type, an abortion could cause my body to create antibodies that would attack my baby the next time I got pregnant.”
CPCs target groups that are the most underserved by the current health-care system including, women of color, college students, and low income women. CPCs are targeting these women by offering free services, strategic locations and market-specific ads showing young women of color seeking help.
In 2012, Virginia passed a law requiring women to undergo a transabdominal ultrasound and wait at least 24 hours before having an abortion. Abortion providers must present all women seeking an abortion with a list of no-cost ultrasound providers. This means the Virginia Department of Health has been using state resources to refer women to crisis pregnancy centers. The mandatory ultrasound law actually incorporates deceptive CPCs into the Virginia health system.
CPCs advertise to scared women who need help, and claim to offer objective guidance when they have a clear agenda. We can all agree it’s wrong to shame someone seeking guidance. Anyone seeking healthcare services should receive sound, unbiased and all-encompassing information. Women facing unintended pregnancy deserve no less.
*We’re always happy to present our report to new groups! If you’d like to set up a CPCs Exposed briefing or webinar for your group, please contact Nicole Grim at firstname.lastname@example.org.