Get Real! Should I Visit a Crisis Pregnancy Center?

This week on Get Real!, Heather Corinna's sexuality advice column for teens, Heather answers questions about crisis pregnancy centers.

Jessica asks:

I heard
about a really good organization that helps girls who are pregnant and
don’t want an abortion. It’s called Birthright. I have seen one in my
town, but I can’t find it on your site. Do you have any information
about Birthright or stuff about the way the baby is developing so that
we can find out more about our options?

Heather replies:

Birthright is one of many
antichoice/pro-life organizations (like CareNet, Heartbeat
International or the NIFLA) which supports a certain kind of pregnancy
“help,” and we would not recommend anyone go to one of the
centers affiliated with them, which they help fund, or others like
them; even women who know they are pregnant and intend to remain so.

It is (and helps fund) what is called a CPC, or a Crisis Pregnancy Center.

CPCs don’t usually discuss all available options for women, and
grossly — and knowingly — usually misrepresent both abortion and
pregnancy. CPCs like Birthright often use deceptive advertising in
order to give the impression that women can come in for help no matter
which choice they want to make: they do not advertise themselves as
only for women who do not want to terminate, but commonly do quite the
opposite, purposefully giving the false impression that even women
considering or wanting termination may be served there.

Some will purposefully delay returning the results of pregnancy
tests to women in order to make it harder for those who want an
abortion to get one within the legal window. They will often show women
images of what they claim are aborted fetuses, but which are often
something else entirely (such as stillborn fetuses or miscarriages);
they usually inform women of unsubstantiated risks of abortion but also
don’t fill them in on the actual — and important for any pregnant
woman to know, especially if she’s remaining pregnant — risks of
pregnancy. Most misinform women about emergency contraception, and most
list long-term effects of abortion which are completely false. Because
most have no medical licensure, they also are not required to provide
patient confidentiality the way an actual medical center or doctor’s
office is, which is no small deal for any woman, no matter what choice
she is making.

What CPCs do, as their job, and those staffing them very much
consider their job and their mission, is primarily talking or tricking
women out of abortions: not really serving women in any real way who
are choosing to remain pregnant. If a woman comes to an abortion clinic
saying she absolutely does not want an abortion, she’ll be given
referrals for prenatal care, financial assistance, and to adoption
resources, if she wants them. If a woman shows up at a CPC and says she
absolutely WANTS an abortion, the staff will do everything they
possibly can to try and get her to make a different choice, including
prayer and knowingly manipulative information.

As mentioned in the link just below, The Pearson Foundation has a
publication called “How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach
Crisis Pregnancy Center.” That book outlines, in detail, how CPCs
should use misleading names that make them sound like abortion clinics,
ways to present the appearance of providing abortions, and how to do
what they can to hide their pro-life/antichoice positions. For example,
the manual suggests answering the question, when a woman calls in, “Are you a pro-life center?” with “We are a pregnancy testing center. What is pro-life?” It is, quite literally, a manual on how to purposefully mislead women and how to be a fraud.

is a very good, balanced student-written article on CPCs. I have also
provided a link to an extensive report on CPCs from Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) below, but to give you a taste of what he

87 percent of CPCs reached in the investigation provided
misleading, medically inaccurate information about abortion. CPCs often
withhold essential, medically accurate reproductive health information
from women who are led to believe that they are visiting a neutral and
objective medical facility. Despite the fact that the women who come to
them are clearly sexually active and at risk for unintended pregnancy
and sexually transmitted infection, CPCs lecture them about abstinence
instead of explaining contraception, if they provide any sexual health
information at all.

A 2006 NAF report on CPCs (Crisis Pregnancy Centers: An Affront to Choice) quotes the following as reported from one young woman’s experience at a Birthright center:

When I was 17, still in high school, I missed my period
and my sister recommended what she thought was a clinic, because it had
a sign for a free pregnancy test and was called ‘Birthright.’ In the
front hallway there was a statue of the Virgin Mary. I went with a
friend, but the two counselors separated us. They had me pee in a cup
and then one said that she had to talk to me separately in her office.
The counselor asked me about my sexual activity, about why I thought I
was pregnant, then asked if I believed in God, and what I planned to do
if I was pregnant. I responded that I was Christian, my father was a
minister, and that I would have an abortion. ‘What do you think that
God will think of that?’ the counselor asked. I responded that I
believed in a forgiving God who would want me to go to college. The
counselor argued that God thinks that an abortion is murder and then
showed me pictures of fetuses.”

Pregnant women — or women who suspect they may be pregnant — can
get accurate, truthful and compassionate advice — help no matter WHAT
choice they want to make, and in considering their options to determine
which is the right choice for them, not by anyone else’s standards —
through their general physician, gynecologist and/or through family
planning clinics. Abortion clinics — which are staffed with real
medical professionals — also usually provide options counseling for
women who want to discuss all their options. I assure you, no
abortion clinic wants a woman to have an abortion who is not sure that
is what she wants, and all take many steps to BE sure that is truly
what a woman wants, even when she has come in expressly for an
abortion procedure. If and when a woman comes to an abortion clinic and
clearly is not sure she wants an abortion, the general procedure is to
make clear to her that she then cannot be given an abortion that day,
and only if she changes her mind and DOES want one should she return.

CPC does not operate that way: they feel only one choice — remaining
pregnant — is acceptable, and if a woman who comes to one is not sure
if she wants to remain pregnant (or comes in thinking, based on their
deceptions, she can obtain an abortion there and wanting one), they
will employ all sorts of methods to convince her to do otherwise, based
on what they want, not that woman. So, while you can get
accurate, unbiased counseling on ALL your options even at an abortion
clinic: you cannot at a CPC.

In addition, the most CPCs can usually offer pregnant women
medically is a pregnancy test, the kind any woman can buy at a
drugstore for herself. Most of what they offer is simply anti-abortion
propaganda. There are rarely real medical staff at these centers, and
they can’t often provide things like needed sonograms or prenatal care.
(Because ultrasound technology is only supposed to be used as a
diagnostic tool by medical providers, and CPCs don’t provide actual
medical services, few of them have ultrasounds or provide them, and for
the most part, they aren’t supposed to be using them when it comes to
ultrasounds and medical/legal policies.) For women who go in and
discover they are not pregnant, they also cannot offer birth control,
and most CPCs oppose birth control outright. Plenty of CPCs
fraudulently advertise that they CAN provide these kinds of services
even when they cannot just to lure women in.

Many CPCs have violated state laws or had fraud charges filed
against them for these reasons and more. CPCs like Birthright are not
an appropriate place to go for prenatal care, and in some respects, can
even endanger women’s health, particularly those which promise medical
care fraudulently they know they cannot and do not provide. When a
pregnant woman needs medical care, a delay in that care can create
health risks for her and her pregnancy.

No matter WHAT reproductive choice women are going to make — or
even what choices they are personally opposed to — they need bonafide,
accurate information that is not intended to influence them
emotionally, and they need real medical care. Even a woman who is
pregnant, who knows she intended to sustain her pregnancy, and who is
against abortion is not helped by inaccurate information or a lack of
real medical care. And I think we can agree that it’s really
insensitive and inappropriate to show a newly-pregnant woman bloody
propagandist images of stillborns. How is that helpful?

We don’t get much into embryonic and fetal development here at
Scarleteen because it’s a bit outside our scope — most of our users
are trying to avoid/prevent pregnancy — and fetal development is
usually only an issue for women who are pregnant and who have decided
to continue their pregnancies. Certainly, when a woman who is pregnant
and asking about abortion asks about fetal development, we talk about
stages of development with her truthfully and refer her to good
additional resources. We also counsel pregnant women asking for help in
making a reproductive choice based on their questions, and they don’t
tend to ask about development, save when they are well into a
pregnancy, intend to remain pregnant, and are either just curious or
asking about prenatal health. Since it’s best a pregnant woman directs
these kinds of questions to her healthcare provider, that is who we
will generally refer her to if she is asking about prenatal issues

There are a lot of resources for pregnant women on the internet
about pregnancy, embryonic and fetal development and growth (and I’ll
give you some links to a few of those below). Because that need is so
widely and well served elsewhere, there’s just no reason for us to
invest a lot of time and energy in that arena here. In my book, I do, in my extensive chapter
on reproductive choices, outline the basic processes for all three
choices, which for continuing a pregnancy, includes information on a
developing pregnancy and childbirth.

For women who are certain they want to continue a pregnancy, the
right place to go first is to a doctor, OB/GYN or general public health
clinic. Besides telling you what you need to know about what to expect
during a pregnancy, and how to take care of yourself, they can also
talk in-depth with you about fetal development and help direct you
towards any resources you may need in terms of financial or other
practical assistance.

Once you know you are pregnant and know you intend to bring a
pregnancy to term, going to a medical professional — such as your
family doctor or your gynecologist — or a real medical clinic is the
best first step, for both your health and that of your developing fetus.

So, that is where we would advise you — and advise other pregnant
women who want to remain pregnant — to go to find out about fetal
development and pre-natal care. We don’t suggest CPCs not only because
they simply rarely provide that, nor just because we don’t send our
users to any source we know to be medically inaccurate. We also do not
endorse CPCs because any business in the practice of fraud, misleading
or tricking women, and not honoring a woman’s right to choose for
herself what is right for her is not in line with our ethics when it
comes to understanding that it is not our right, or anyone else’s, to
do anything but respect an individual’s own right to choice and the
right to factual reproductive health information. For more on why we
feel that way, see here.

Here are a few more links and articles for you on CPCs:

The FWHC offers this sound advice on how to find a reliable, bonafide clinic, no matter what choice a woman is making:

  • Select clinics that provide the full range of contraceptive alternatives.
  • Ask on the phone if they provide or refer for abortion services. Avoid centers that refuse to give a straightforward answer.
  • Do not use the ones listed in yellow pages under Abortion Alternatives.

• Be cautious when surfing the web. Often you will find anti-abortion
religious-based websites disguised as pro-choice information. Keep
searching for reliable information.
• Select clinics that have clearly established reputations. Avoid
centers with ambiguous descriptions. Avoid clinics whose staff do not
provide full, clear answers regarding their services. Ask friends or
relatives you trust!

And here are some excellent online resources about the process of pregnancy, embryonic and fetal development:

If you are looking for information about practical or financial
assistance for a pregnancy in your teens, or general information about
all your options, Backline has an excellent page
of resources here. They also have a toll-free hotline at: 1-888-493-0092.

If you’re in the United States and are looking expressly for practical/financial help, here in the government’s page for WIC, the programs available to help low-income women, infants and children, including pregnant women. Lastly, we have long loved Girl-Mom.com for all kinds of support for teen mothers, from other young Moms.

Obviously, you have the right to think whatever opinion you have
CPCs, but I’d encourage you to do some of this reading to make up your
mind informedly. I’d also encourage you, if advising other women who
are pregnant and in need of help, to direct them to services which DO
provide the kind of real help they need, without bias or any agenda
other than making sure that they are able to be assisted in taking the
best care of themselves, no matter their choice. If we can’t trust
women to make sound choices for themselves, we can’t very well trust
women to be parents, and make sound choices for their children, either.