Human Rights

A Look Inside the Fake Abortion Clinics That Are Greatly Outnumbering Real Ones

Your tax dollars are funding religiously affiliated, medically inaccurate centers focused on preventing women from accessing abortion services.

Photo Credit: Screenshot YouTube.com

When Rachel called a crisis pregnancy center located in Texas, she told the receptionist she was facing an unwanted pregnancy and wanted to explore her options. The woman on the phone responded by saying Rachel should come in for a free sonogram to “see her baby.”

Rachel went to the center and a volunteer asked her if she was planning to have an abortion. Rachel said she was still thinking through her decision. The volunteer then stepped out of the room and came back with another woman who introduced herself as a missionary. This woman told Rachel that the Bible says abortion is wrong. She pulled out a brochure titled “A Woman’s Right to Know” and proceeded to read abortion death rates.

Rachel was taken into another room for the sonogram. The volunteer claimed she was “pretty sure” she could see Rachel’s “little peanut.” The women asked Rachel how she was feeling about her pregnancy. Rachel said she still wasn’t sure. The women asked if they could pray for her. They laid their hands on her and prayed for 10 minutes. Afterward, the missionary said Rachel should give herself “to Jesus and let him take over” instead of worrying about her pregnancy. She sent Rachel away with a Bible. Rachel was never given a pregnancy test.

An Undercover Investigation

Fortunately, Rachel wasn’t pregnant. She always knew she wasn’t. She was an undercover volunteer investigator for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, a reproductive rights organization working to expose the danger of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).

CPCs are frequently religiously affiliated, often offer medically inaccurate services, and are focused on preventing women from accessing abortion services—all with the help of American tax dollars. CPCs are on the rise nationwide, but especially in Texas. Meanwhile, dozens of abortion clinics have been forced to close in the state. A Thursday ruling shut down 13 clinics overnight, leaving Texas with only eight.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said this is indicative of the state of Texas’ disregard for women’s ability to control their own bodies.

“Texas has cut family planning funding and now cut down all but eight abortion clinics,” Busby said. “Clearly the state of Texas is not interested in women having reproductive health options. If it’s putting money into centers that push a religious agenda and feel that abstinence and adoption are the only options that people should have available to them, it  really cuts off a lot of the decisions people may want to make. And it sends the message that your choices don’t matter, your life doesn’t matter.”

Busby explained the disturbing experiences volunteer investigators had at CPCs.

“When one of our investigators asked about seeing a doctor, the volunteer, who identified as a nurse said, ‘Well, if you see a doctor, we can’t give you a free sonogram, but if you come back when you’re 11 or 12 weeks, we can see a lot more in the sonogram and we can give you more information,’” Busby said. “She basically was discouraging her from getting first-trimester, prenatal care.”

In addition to delaying women from accessing abortion services, Busby said another investigator’s experience revealed how CPC volunteers are not adequately trained to counsel those facing unwanted pregnancies as a result of sexual assault. The investigator told a CPC volunteer her pregnancy was the result of date rape. The volunteer gave her a pamphlet on how to prevent rape, which discouraged drinking and dressing provocatively.

Busby said she was personally most surprised by a video one volunteer was forced to watch that said, “Women are four times more likely to die the year following an abortion than those who give birth.”

“That made my jaw hit the floor,” Busby said. “Because I know the state of Texas has mandated materials that they give out in these centers and abortion doctors are required to read to their patients that contain myths about psychological trauma and breast cancer risks. But to hear just a completely made-up, outright lie was really shocking.”

A New Source and Space for Women

The investigators’ findings have helped bolster NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ new website released last week that details the various ways CPCs work to deceive women facing unintended pregnancies. Those efforts include charts like this that list the most commonly told lies:

Busby said her organization has released reports on CPCs in the past, but believes it’s time to renew the conversation on a wider scale.

“We wanted to continue to build upon this project and this seemed to make more sense than just publishing another report,” Busby said. “We wanted to create a space where people could share the experiences they’ve had if they’ve gone into a CPC unknowingly or even intentionally.”

On the site, a woman named Alicia is the first to share her story and expose the real-life consequences of these centers. Alicia mistook a CPC for an abortion clinic when she was 12 weeks pregnant. She insisted she wanted an abortion, but the CPC kept using delay tactics, even stating that they had to push back her abortion appointment despite knowing that they don’t do the procedure. By the time she realized something was wrong with the CPC, Alicia was 18 weeks pregnant. She was able to get an abortion at 18.5 weeks—barely missing Texas’ 20-week cut-off abortion law.

The site describes numerous other features of CPCs, which are hostile to contraception as well as abortion. Their abstinence-only approach discourages people from using condoms, likening their use as “playing Russian roulette” with STDs and pregnancy. Another piece of CPC literature stated that using emergency contraception like Plan B could cause an early abortion, even though the pill is unable to terminate a pregnancy.

Your Tax Dollars Going to CPCs

It is estimated that CPCs nationwide outnumber abortion clinics five to one. In Texas, CPCs have been on a more dramatic rise. There are even “mobile CPCs” in Texas that park outside of abortion clinics. Busby currently knows of 160 CPCs in Texas, while only eight abortion clinics remain open following the passage of the HB2 bill in 2013 that placed strict regulations on the clinics. In August, a federal district judge found parts of HB2 unconstitutional. But his decision was recently overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a notoriously conservative federal appellate court.

As the amount of CPCs increase, so has state taxpayer funding for these centers. CPCs in Texas receive funding through the Texas Pregnancy Care Network (TPCN), which is the only contractor working with the Texas Alternatives to Abortion Program. That Program received more than $5 million from the Texas Legislature in 2014, and more than $23 million since 2009. Money is given to CPCs, adoption agencies and maternity homes. TPCN doesn’t release public information on its funds, so it’s impossible to know how much taxpayer money is going to CPCs and which ones are receiving the funding.

“This is an area where there’s not a lot of transparency,” Busby said, adding that TPCN has taken down almost all information from its site. “There’s a distinct lack of accountability to taxpayers within the Texas Pregnancy Care Network. We recently requested an audit of how these funds are being spent and whom they’re being dispersed to. And what we received back is almost a completely redacted document. They’re claiming trade secrets.”

Busby said that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor of the state this November, has allowed TPCN to cover up their funds as trade secrets. Abbott also created a committee in 2013, which gave a portion of the $46,000 raised from Texas Legislature approved “choose life” license plates to CPCs. A year prior, Abbott defended the Texas Legislature ban on taxpayer funds for abortion providers and their affiliates.

In addition to the difficulty uncovering CPCs’ funds, Busby said it’s also hard to know what, if any, rules CPCs are required to follow and how they are enforced. In a screenshot Busby provided of TPCN’s old website, the network claims it has a “client-centered policy that clients receiving Program services never feel pressured by the person delivering those services to participate in religious or spiritual activities.” Yet, the investigators for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas witnessed the religious actions of the CPCs firsthand.

Not only is the state of Texas working with CPCs to cover up information on their funding and regulations, it is also actively providing misleading information about abortion. For one, in 2003, it passed the "Women’s Right to Know Act," which required all abortion doctors to tell women scientific falsehoods, such as abortion increases the risk of breast cancer and infertility (it does not). The accompanying “Women’s Right to Know” pamphlet is used by CPCs to discourage the procedure, as Rachel experienced. The pamphlet states nothing about the risks of childbirth, which has a 14 times higher death rate than abortion.

In addition, Busby said the state requires abortion providers to give out a list of organizations that provide free sonograms and it includes CPCs.

“So the state of Texas is actually encouraging women to think that they can get a free sonogram in a CPC, knowing full well that the law does not allow that type of sonogram to be used in an abortion clinic,” she said.

Fighting Back Against CPCs

Activists fighting for women’s freedom to control their own bodies have a tough battle ahead of them—and the struggle isn’t just in Texas. A new documentary released in September by VICE, an international website focused on arts, culture, and news topics, investigated CPCs nationwide and found similar discoveries as the NARAL Pro-Choice Texas investigators. 

The documentary illustrates the extent to which these CPCs will go in order to deceive women. In the film, anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson was even recorded at a CPC training session explaining ways to manipulate women into believing that CPCs are abortion clinics. She said:

"Women that are seeking abortions, women that are pregnant, that are vulnerable, they are going into Google and they are typing ‘pregnancy symptoms.’ There’s a way in Google where you can basically set that search to your website. … We want to look professional, we want to look business-like. And, yeah, we do kind of want to look medical. The best client you ever get is one that thinks they’re walking into an abortion clinic."

The documentary presents Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) who is trying to pass a law to crack down on CPCs. She said taxpayer money should not be going to groups that use false advertising and unscientific evidence. VICE estimates that CPCs nationally have received tens of millions of taxpayer dollars over the last decade.

Busby said because CPCs have such deceptive advertising, it can be difficult for women seek abortions to distinguish them. She said women should be wary of centers that won’t talk about abortion over the phone. She said women’s best bet is to find providers via the National Abortion Federation.

Busby said she hopes putting the spotlight on CPCs will ultimately end their taxpayer funding.

“I think right now the biggest thing that we need to do is to bring to light what these centers are,” Busby said. “The ultimate, end goal is to stop money from going to them that could be going to family planning, and other services in the state where so many people are left out, like healthcare. We have one of the highest rates of child hunger and child poverty and uninsured children—those are some places where we can put resources that are going to these centers that are just about spreading lies and misinformation about abortion.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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