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The Anti-Choice Plan to Lure Women to Christian Pregnancy Centers

Many crisis pregnancy centers are converting into limited-service medical clinics. With Planned Parenthood under attack, will they be more of a draw for women?

There are between 2,500 and 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) operating in the US, all devoted to preventing the women who walk through their doors from getting abortions (meanwhile fewer than 2,000 clinics offer abortion). Some of these anti-abortion centers are part of massive evangelical Christian ministries, some are standalones, and others are attached to individual Catholic churches, whose priests sometimes bless the centers' ultrasound machines to power them with extra holiness for their main task: convincing a woman who may want to have an abortion to have a baby instead. Thanks to George W. Bush's breezy hand-outs of public money to Christian abstinence programs, many of these religious, anti-choice centers got millions in federal funding in the 2000s.

Many centers don't look too different from regular women's health clinics, and that's the whole point. If a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy walks into a CPC assuming it's a women's health clinic and not a front in the abortion wars, she's more likely to believe what they tell her there: like when a staffer says that abortion causes breast cancer (not according to actual studies), or that she might bleed to death on the table (so unlikely it's close to impossible), or that she can't have an abortion if she lacks legal residency (blatantly false), or any number of misleading and manipulative tactics documented in investigations of CPCs over the years. (In one case, a volunteer handed an undercover investigator a model of a 12-week-old fetus to "show her boyfriend.") (See the 2004 Waxman report [ PDF] and the results of an undercover investigation by NARAL Pro-choice Maryland Fund [ PDF].)

Not all CPCs misinform women about their intentions or wave plastic fetuses in their faces. Some are clear about their anti-abortion stance and a lot offer services helpful to children after they've exited the womb, like child care and parental education, which is not something that can be said for most of the players in the anti-choice movement.

Still, multiple investigations have revealed that CPCs use a wide variety of tactics to lure pregnant women in order to scare, guilt and manipulate them into carrying their pregnancies to term. Some advertise in the same part of the Yellow Pages as abortion providers. Many are situated right next to Planned Parenthood clinics. A representative of the National Abortion Federation told AlterNet a member clinic reported that volunteers from a neighboring CPC have intercepted women headed into the clinic and steered them into the CPC instead.

There's another strategy that's gotten less attention: an under-the-radar campaign by large anti-choice organizations, like the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates and Focus on the Family, to fund and guide the conversion of CPCs into licensed, limited-service medical clinics, ramping up their services to include pregnancy tests and ultrasound. Although they offer only limited women's health services -- none offer mammograms, for instance -- medical clinic status has led many to start offering early prenatal care, prenatal vitamins, STI testing and even eye exams. A few have started advertising pap smears.

The nationwide effort to create limited medical clinics that promote an anti-choice, anti-birth control, abstinence, and conservative Christian message has been on since the late 1990s. But in a bad economy, and with GOP governors across the country having spent the last legislative session coming up with endlessly creative ways to choke off funding to Planned Parenthood clinics (which many low-income women depend on for their health care), women's health choices are dwindling.

That can make CPCs that are pitched as medical clinics more of a draw than ever.

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