I graduated from the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in Greeley, Colorado, in May. During my internships as a student, I learned about crisis pregnancy centers, also known as “fake clinics” or “anti-abortion counseling centers.” These centers, which are unregulated, often offer free services in order to appear to be comprehensive health clinics, but instead they try to keep people from seeking abortion care and birth control options.
I realized that one had been hiding under my nose less than a mile from campus: The Resource Center, frequently known in its publicity materials as “Tests4Greeley.”
The center, which advertises access to complimentary pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection testing, is well funded by the community, with support from around 60 churches in the area and a $150,000 donation in 2014 from the prominent Monfort Family Foundation. Because of the foundation’s standing with locals, I knew I needed to create my own campaign specific to this center if I wanted students and Greeley residents to understand its deception. This is how the Truth4Greeley campaign began this fall.
The first step in the process was gathering stories from students who had gone to the center for the free testing they saw advertised. I began with a post to my Facebook page, asking my UNC friends if they had any experiences with the center. Almost immediately, I received messages from current and former students who had been given a mountain of medically inaccurate propaganda as the Resource Center’s staff tried to shame them about their lack of faith, sexually active lifestyle, sexual orientation, and more. They had no idea going in that this was a religious organization, let alone an anti-choice one; that disclosure is absent from any advertisements. As word of the campaign spread around campus, the volume of stories I received only continued to grow.
One student recalled after a visit with a counselor, “She told me that when I sleep with someone, I sleep with every person they have ever slept with. She then began to try and calculate with me how many people that would be. She purposely struggled to calculate this number to show me just how ‘outrageous’ my ‘number’ was …. This woman made me feel shame for something that I should never feel shame for. This response was something that was completely inappropriate especially considering she knew the history of my sexual abuse and assault.”
Another student who went to the center for an STI test said she was handed a pamphlet on why oral sex is wrong after disclosing her sexually active lifestyle, she then recalls that the staff members present were “basically telling me that everything I’m going through could be solved with Jesus. … She was trying to make me feel like what I did was something I needed to ask for forgiveness.”
I knew that stories alone might not be enough to sway the minds of the Resource Center’s supporters, so I needed to hear what they said directly. I recruited a colleague, Isabel Serafin. Serafin, a current UNC student, later approached the center equipped with a vial of a pregnant friend’s urine and her phone set to record audio.
Serafin’s appointment lasted nearly two hours. During that time, Resource Center staff told her that contraception is dangerous, condoms are ineffective, and that she would likely die from the abortion pill. They also showed her animated videos of abortions that ended with the disclaimer: “not intended to constitute medical advice or replace the individualized counsel of a doctor.”
Though Serafin made it clear that she did not want to continue her pregnancy, she left with a Bible, a religious DVD on abortion, a “Before You Decide” magazine riddled with inaccurate information, prenatal vitamins, a onesie, and more than 20 pamphlets outlining why sex outside of marriage is wrong, tips for a successful pregnancy, a Biblical guide to adoption, abortion timelines, referrals to local churches, and more.
“I just kept thinking about all the kids who were going in there completely unaware of the nature of the situation they were walking into,” Serafin said. “I kept thinking of how unsettling and even scary it would be to be facing the possibility of a real pregnancy, only to have that compounded by the clinic’s fear tactics. Young college students who are usually by themselves out here don’t need to be ambushed with that extreme religious rhetoric.”
“I just want the clinic to be transparent and honest about their services and what they do, especially if they are to advertise on campus,” Serafin continued.
The Resource Center’s website and tabling signs display that it offers abortion and birth control information, but it doesn’t make clear that the information is misleading at best and outright false at worst. Its Statement of Principle states it will never “recommend, provide, or refer for abortion or abortifacient” or “recommend, provide, or refer single women for contraceptives (married women seeking contraceptive information should be “urged to seek counsel, along with their husbands, from their pastor and physician).”
After our campaign started, the Resource Center added a page to its website titled “medical credentials” that pushes back against claims that it is a “fake clinic.” It also added two testimonials, in a clear response to our student stories.
As reported in the Colorado Sun, there are more than 50 of these anti-abortion fake clinics like the Resource Center throughout the state. They outnumber abortion providers and Planned Parenthood clinics, and in five rural counties, the only pregnancy center or clinic available is faith-based.
It is also important to note that because anti-abortion counseling centers like this only pose as medical facilities and do not charge for their services, they are generally not subject to the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In other words, they may not be subject to medical privacy laws, and they are not legally required to receive a patient’s consent before revealing their identity or releasing their personal health information for any reason.
As a young woman looking forward to determining the course of my own life, I know one of the most important things will be deciding if and when to have children. Those decisions need to be made with truth—which is not what the Resource Center provides.