Christian 'Pregnancy Crisis Centers' Masquerading as Health Clinics Tell Women Abortion Causes Cancer and Infertility -- And You're Helping Pay for Them
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She sat in the counseling room, looking at the posters of fetal development covering the walls. In her hands she held the pamphlets urging her to forgo abortion.
Together with a partner, the young woman, Alexa Cole, had entered the crisis pregnancy center – CPC, for short – hoping to get more information about abortion and birth control options.
“[It] was in kind of like a shopping plaza area,” Cole later recalled. “It had a sign on the curb or by the sidewalk advertising Pregnancy Resource Center or something along those lines.”
Inside, the office was decorated like a campus health clinic. On the reception desk sat a jar with plastic fetuses for visitors to take home. After check-in, the receptionist ushered Cole and her friend inside the counseling room, then left them there for 10 minutes under the unflinching gaze of the unborn.
Cole had heard about all this before: the health clinic décor, the anti-abortion pamphlets, the rooms decorated with fetus photos. She had heard of video presentations where women lament their decision to terminate their pregnancies. She had even heard of one woman, while waiting for her own appointment, being asked to hold a live infant while the mother excused herself to the restroom.
But unlike some of the other women, who accidentally visited a CPC seeking contraception or help with an unplanned pregnancy, Cole's visit was also a fact-finding mission about the CPC itself.
Cole is the public affairs director for NARAL Pro-Choice California. Like its national organization, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Golden State affiliate has taken the lead in educating the public about CPCs and the public health risk they pose.
“I had a CPC counselor tell me that condoms are like bags of balloons with holes in them,” Cole said of one of her undercover visits.
Cole's undercover visit was just one of many carried out by NARAL volunteers over a two-year period. The results of those visits will be released in a report next month. And the visits mirror a problem playing out across the nation: with the help of federal and state funding, CPCs' mostly unlicensed staff uses deceptive marketing tactics to spread false or misleading information about abortion and contraception, all with little or no outside or government regulation.
CPCs have been around for decades. Most of the 2,300 CPCs in the country operate under three umbrella groups: Care Net, Heartbeat International and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA). In exchange for a membership fee, the umbrella groups provide CPCs with literature, legal and fund-raising advice, and discounts at national conferences.
NARAL California began investigating CPCs after hearing stories from women who, looking for help for an unplanned pregnancy, ended up in a CPC instead. Thinking they were entering a full-service family-planning clinic (many CPCs set up shop in the same office center or across the street from legitimate health clinics) these women were surprised to find counselors who tried to talk them out of abortion.
NARAL staff decided to check them out.
“The first part, which was actually sort of challenging, was identifying them,” said NARAL Pro-Choice California National Director Amy Everitt. “They do a really good job of changing their names and portraying themselves as something they're not.”
They found CPCs with names similar to Planned Parenthood or other comprehensive health clinics.
After tracking down the state's more than 200 CPCs, NARAL California found 22 volunteers to participate in covert visits around the state. After extensive training, pairs of volunteers walked into 14 CPCs and contacted another 18 by phone. Immediately following their contacts, which were not taped or recorded, the volunteers separately filled out information sheets that were compiled into NARAL's results.