An undercover investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas found that crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in the state disseminate misinformation, use deceptive tactics, and interfere with clients’ access to reproductive health care.
The findings mirror undercover investigations by other NARAL affiliates in other states.
Undercover audio recordings document CPC volunteers using language intended to shame visitors for being sexually active outside of marriage, providing medically inaccurate information about abortion, and using other tactics intended to prevent pregnant people from accessing reproductive health care.
“Too many women nowadays, they just meet someone and then they start sleeping together,” said one alleged CPC volunteer. “That’s where the fault is. Women don’t know how to say no anymore.”
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The organization investigated 16 CPCs in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Bryan/College Station, El Paso, and surrounding suburbs.
CPCs are often located near clinics that provide abortion services. Volunteers associated with the CPCs will protest outside the clinics and act as “sidewalk counselors.” Among the tactics that these protesters will use to dissuade women from seeking an abortion is offering them a free sonogram.
Texas state lawmakers have passed several pieces of legislation in recent years to restrict access to abortion care in the state. A law passed in 2011 requires pregnant people seeking an abortion to have a sonogram at least 24 hours before terminating the pregnancy.
However, CPCs usually do not meet this requirement because the same law stipulates that sonograms must be performed by a physician or a sonographer certified by a national registry.
Undercover investigators reported that CPC volunteers often insisted a sonogram be performed even before confirming if investigators were pregnant, while none of the investigators were pregnant at the time of the investigation. The investigation also found that some CPCs have broken or poorly operating ultrasound machines.
Four undercover investigators received ultrasounds during their investigations and two were told by the volunteer performing the ultrasound that they were “pretty sure” they saw the “baby,” despite the fact that neither of those investigators were actually pregnant.
Another tactic reported by undercover investigators is using manipulative practices to extend their visitors’ pregnancies to the point where terminating a pregnancy is difficult, if not impossible, in Texas.
Recent legislation passed by Texas lawmakers created a regulatory regime designed to restrict access to abortion care in the state. These regulations include requiring physicians that provide abortion care to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital and requiring abortion facilities to meet minimum standards adopted for ambulatory surgical centers.
The new law, currently in litigation, has already forced dozens of clinics in the state to close their doors due to the stringent regulations. The public health consequences and reduced access to reproductive health care are already evident in places like the Rio Grande Valley and in East Texas.
Extensive dissemination of scientifically inaccurate information was reported by undercover investigators. Common misinformation provided by CPC volunteers included claims that abortion is a dangerous procedure, that abortion causes breast cancer, and that abortion causes emotional and psychological trauma.
Abortion has repeatedly shown to be a safe procedure, medical research does not support the claim that abortion causes breast cancer, and studies have refuted the claim that abortion causes mental health trauma.
CPC volunteers reportedly gave scientifically inaccurate information about sexual and reproductive health. Investigators reported receiving inaccurate information about methods of reducing unintended pregnancies, including inaccurate information about condoms and emergency contraception. No information was given to investigators by CPC volunteers about hormonal or long-term birth control.
“If you’re going to continue having sex, you’re gonna get pregnant again,” one CPC volunteer reportedly told an investigator.
NARAL says the combination of using manipulation and misinformation is a “scare tactic,” and that CPCs use the state-issued pamphlet “A Woman’s Right to Know” to legitimize these tactics.
Irregularities in the operation of CPCs were also reported by the undercover investigators. These included not being open during posted business hours and even being closed during a scheduled appointment time.
The undercover investigators also found that CPCs receiving state funding through the Texas Pregnancy Care Network promoted Christianity in some way, despite the fact that the agency policy states that CPCs receiving funds must “agree not to promote the teaching or philosophy of any religion while providing services to the client.”
While access to reproductive health care in Texas is steadily being restricted, CPCs have flourished in the state. An investigation by the San Antonio Current found that 30 CPCs throughout the state have received more than $36 million in state funding.
The findings were similar to undercover investigations conducted by NARAL affiliates in other states. An investigation in 2013 by NARAL Pro-Choice Montana found that CPCs provided “biased and incorrect information” and “failed to abide by applicable regulations to protect consumers.”
Another investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia reported similar findings about CPCs in that state.