I called a crisis pregnancy center. This is what I learned:

by Megan Kinkel, NARAL PRO-CHOICE VIRGINIA volunteer

As a labor and delivery nurse, my whole career is devoted to women’s health and helping families bring healthy babies into this world.  I have been extremely blessed to support countless women throughout labor and birth.  It is largely because of my nursing experience that Crisis Pregnancy Centers (“CPCs”) make me so angry and frustrated and sad.

At first glance, the idea of a CPC seems ok- a safe place where people facing an unintended pregnancy can seek support and information about all of their options, whether that’s carrying the pregnancy to term, adoption services, or accessing abortion care. Ideally, this information would be medically accurate, would come from trained medical professionals (i.e. doctors and certified nurse midwives), and would be non-judgmental. The problem with CPCs is that their services rarely live up to those values.

Last week, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia participated in the Expose Fake Clinics National Week of Action to expose CPCs for what they are – anti-abortion groups presenting themselves, falsely, as medical clinics providing reproductive healthcare services. As part of the Expose Fake Clinics week, NPCV activists went undercover to call CPCs throughout our Commonwealth to find out what services and information these fake clinics actually provide.  Under a pseudonym, I called two CPCs asking about my options for an unintended pregnancy.

The first CPC I called, Assist Pregnancy Center in Annandale, offered me a pregnancy test and basic ultrasound. When I pressed about what kind of pregnancy test, they confirmed it was a urine test—the same kind you can get at your grocery store. As a nurse, I know the most accurate and medically-accepted way to confirm a pregnancy is through a blood test or ultrasound – that’s what women get when they turn to clinics like Planned Parenthood.

I told the woman I was likely considering abortion or adoption. She was up front that they do not perform abortions or refer to abortion providers, and then refused to tell me any more about abortion. I asked if I could see an OB/GYN at Assist Pregnancy Center, and while she said they are a “medical clinic,” their website doesn’t list a single OB/GYN on their medical staff. Seems a little misleading, right?

It was actually pretty difficult to get any real information over the phone. Whenever I asked a question, she quickly steered the conversation back towards pressuring me to make an in-person appointment. It didn’t  seem like a great way to help an emotionally distraught young woman just trying to get some answers.

The second CPC I called, Blue Ridge Pregnancy Center in Lynchburg, also offered me the same urine pregnancy test and basic ultrasound. I asked if I could see a doctor at their center, and I was told they have “trained advocates,” but no, there aren’t any doctors here. This was a huge red flag for me- how can a place that claims to offer medical services (pregnancy testing, ultrasound, medical advice) not have a single physician?

Throughout our conversation, the woman continually tried to steer my away from the topic of abortion. She used loaded language like “baby,” and immediately after telling me she would give me “all options,” she only talked about  parenting support and adoption.  Like the first CPC, she was also withholding of information over the phone and insisted I make an appointment. She even asked for my phone number so she could call to “check up” on me if I didn’t make an appointment by the following week.

It was obvious to me that these CPCs will do just about anything to get you physically in the door for an appointment. I can’t speak to what happens at these appointments, although NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia published their findings from an investigation in 2013, but if my phone calls are any indication, it does not involve a medically accurate and non-judgmental conversation about the full range of reproductive health options – including abortion.

My advice to anyone who thinks they’re pregnant and don’t know what to do: go to a real OB/GYN’s office or Planned Parenthood or any other public health free clinic. As a medical professional who works with Virginians to deliver wanted pregnancies, I know the importance of giving people best-practice medical care and all of the accurate information they need to make the choice that’s best for them, without shame or stigma. And I know women won’t get that sort of judgement free care at a Crisis Pregnancy Center.

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