Olivia Shaffett, MPA Staff Writer, Brief Policy Perspectives
With an estimated 2,700 crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) currently operating in the United States, CPCs have become a fixture in many Americans’ lives. However, very few people know how CPCs operate, as most centers lack transparency, obscuring their goals, and work. CPCs are not operated by licensed medical professionals. Instead, they are typically run by volunteers associated with Christian nonprofit groups. The purpose of most centers is to persuade women not to have an abortion, and the centers do so with ambiguous advertising that many medical professionals claim spread misinformation that can potentially harm the women visiting these clinics. Some states, like Mississippi, face a significant disparity between the two forms of family planning clinics, as the state currently offers only one abortion clinic and 38 CPCs for pregnant women seeking information on their pregnancies.
Supporters of these clinics advocate against abortion and believe that all pregnancies must culminate in birth, even if the pregnancy derives from rape or incest. Some women have found that the centers provided them with the support and encouragement they needed after discovering an unexpected pregnancy. However, many women walk into these clinics under the impression that abortion is an option. Unlike other family planning clinics, CPCs also do not offer any form of contraception or information concerning the proper use and benefits of contraception. In fact, some centers promote the idea that contraception rarely works in preventing pregnancy.
Medical Misinformation and Coercion
Critics of these clinics include a significant portion of medical professionals who warn that the medical misinformation spread by CPCs can lead to severe detriment for pregnant women. The centers often provide inaccurate medical information, such as “abortion almost doubles risk of breast cancer,” as they are unregulated and not subject to HIPAA. This information lacks merit and scientific evidence. Many clinics also perpetuate the idea that abortions possess a high fatality risk when statistically induced abortion remains low-risk, with only 0.6 per 100,000 legal abortions leading to death. Carrying a pregnancy to term, on the other hand, has a 14 times higher mortality risk due to complications, like hemorrhage, that can occur during pregnancy or birth.
Another issue lies less with the purpose of such clinics and more with the deceptive tactics used to lure women who may be seeking a place to discuss options and choices. Many of these methods target women of vulnerable communities, including women in poverty, immigrant women, and teenage girls. The use of the term “choice” in the company name distorts the mission of these centers, which is to prevent abortion at all costs. Additionally, the nonprofits behind these clinics strategically position buses advertising “free ultrasounds” and centers advertising “choice counseling” outside of abortion clinics to convince pregnant women not to enter the nearby abortion clinics. Critics claim that CPCs are both harmful and unethical as they actively mislead pregnant women who are seeking full information concerning their options.
How Are CPCs Funded?
Currently, 16 states use taxpayer money to fund CPCs directly, with Texas providing the largest portion. In 2017, Texas allocated $20 million of its budget over two fiscal years to pregnancy groups offering alternatives to abortion. Other states fund the centers indirectly by providing the option to purchase a “Choose Life” license plate at local DMVs. The DMVs do not disclose that the additional cost of these plates will fund state CPCs, which creates a transaction with a lack of information.
Additionally, as of March 2019, President Trump has allocated federal funding to Christian nonprofits who establish and operate these centers around the country. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to allocate $1.7 million of federal funds to the Obria group, a religious nonprofit that oversees partner clinics in California with the goal of eliminating abortion and promoting faith-based reproductive policies. Obria advocates for abstinence as a primary method of birth control and offers an “abortion pill reversal” in certain clinics. In contrast, fewer associates of Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics providing comprehensive reproductive care will receive federal funding.
What Does This Mean For Women’s Healthcare?
Since 1970, the United States has provided affordable healthcare to low-income women under a federal grant program known as Title X. Due to the Hyde amendment, no federal funding currently goes towards abortion services, with the exception of rape, incest, or cases where the woman’s life is endangered. As of 2019, the Trump administration has implemented new conditions for Title X family planning beneficiaries that prevent clinics from providing abortion referrals and discussing abortion options with patients. Opponents have deemed this a domestic “gag rule” that primarily harms low-income women and other vulnerable communities. Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of women’s reproductive healthcare in the country, chose to leave the Title X program and decline federal funding for the fiscal year in response to these conditions. Several state-level Planned Parenthoods have charged patients higher rates for all services, and others fear the potential closure of clinics.
The decision to limit federal funding to healthcare clinics that do not offer or discuss abortion disproportionately puts CPCs and other religious nonprofit centers at an advantage to receive funds. It simultaneously encourages the continuation of unlicensed professionals providing medical advice and indicates a shift towards faith-based family planning. Without a range of healthcare options, women may not receive complete and accurate information regarding their reproductive health, potentially hampering their wellbeing.