Georgia is the latest state to provide taxpayer funds to anti-choice fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which use misinformation to dissuade people from seeking abortion care.
But new research on Georgia’s fake clinics found that organizations eligible to receive millions in state funding often advertise limited health care services and provide medically inaccurate or misleading information.
The study, published Monday in Women’s Health Issues, found that most anti-choice clinics in Georgia offer few services beyond pregnancy testing and counseling. A majority of these facilities, according to the study, promote false or misleading information to pregnant people.
“Our analysis revealed numerous concerns about advertised services and accuracy of the health information presented on Georgia crisis pregnancy center websites,” Andrea Swartzendruber, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, told Rewire in an email.
“Although our study does not provide information about the types and quality of services actually provided at Georgia’s crisis pregnancy centers, it reveals that they often offer false and misleading, and potentially harmful, health information,” Swartzendruber said.
The researchers identified 87 fake clinics in the state and analyzed the content of 64 websites.
Nearly every anti-abortion clinic in the study advertised pregnancy options counseling and pregnancy testing. But just 42 percent of the websites informed clients that the organizations do not provide or refer clients for abortion services.
The study found that 53 percent of fake clinics’ websites included “false or misleading statements regarding the need to make a decision about abortion or links between abortion and mental health problems or breast cancer.”
Seventeen clinics provide abortion services in Georgia, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta offers a full spectrum of reproductive health care. Like most Georgia facilities that provide abortion care, it’s located in a major metropolitan area.
Kwajelyn Jackson, community education and advocacy director at the Feminist Women’s Health Center, told Rewire she believes anti-choice clinics are “not equipped” to give medically accurate information or advice to the clients they serve.
“We have heard from people who went to CPCs for wanted pregnancies who were still lectured about abortion during their visits, given inaccurate information, and misdiagnosed, sometimes to devastating results,” Jackson said.
Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed a bill in April 2016 to establish the “Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting” grant program to promote pregnancy and parenting services as alternatives to abortion care.
Life Resources of Georgia, a self-described “pro-life Christian organization,” was awarded a $189,400 contract in August to distribute $3 million in grants. Life Resources can exercise a significant degree of discretion in determining which organizations receive funding.
Life Resources of Georgia did not respond to requests for information or comment.
There are about 70 “pregnancy assistance organizations” in Georgia that may qualify for grant money, according to Georgia Life Alliance. The state health department lists 50 organizations, provided to the department by Georgia Life Alliance in 2015, that offer free ultrasounds for pregnant people.
Nancy Nydam, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Public Health, told Rewire in an email that the department’s Family Planning program oversees the contract awarded to Life Resources of Georgia. The organization, she said, is “working to have the subcontracts in place” by December 1.
The Georgia Department of Public Health’s Family Planning program offers residents assistance in accessing comprehensive services, including “effective contraception methods.”
But, according to the study’s findings, none of the anti-choice clinics’ websites advertise contraceptive methods approved by the FDA. The contraceptive services advertised on fake clinic websites were limited to counseling about emergency contraception and natural family planning—on 11 percent and 3 percent of anti-choice clinic websites, respectively.
Swartzendruber said the services described on fake clinics’ websites do not appear to align with prevailing medical guidelines.
“The study’s findings suggest that careful monitoring and increased regulation of Georgia’s pregnancy resource centers may be warranted to ensure quality health information and services and fiscal responsibility of public funds,” Swartzendruber said.
Jackson also asked for more accountability from the state of Georgia.
“I think Georgia must explain exactly how granting taxpayer dollars to CPCs will improve maternal health outcomes in our state, with no regulation or accountability attached, all while we still have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country,” Jackson said.