By Carson Norwood
In the past few months, the media has been flooded with news about congressional efforts to divest from reproductive health coverage and restrict access to abortion care. But what we’re not hearing about is another type of “family planning” center that our government supports: crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs.
These centers often frame themselves as legitimate medical facilities—frequently popping up across the street from real abortion clinics, imitating their signage, and paying search engines to be the first ads that pop up when a person Googles local pregnancy resources.
However, CPCs are not clinics. Though they pretend to offer all of the services that a medical clinic would, the sole mission of these centers is to keep their visitors from choosing safe and legal abortions. Studies have shown that by providing medically inaccurate information and using emotional manipulation, CPCs are often successful in convincing their patients to continue unwanted pregnancies or delay their decision until it’s too late to access an abortion.
Even so, these centers outnumber medically licensed family planning clinics in Massachusetts three to one, and often receive federal and state funding.
Although they make good copycats, just walking in the door can make it clear that there is something different about these centers. Waiting rooms are often littered with pamphlets touting the dangers of not only abortion but contraception as well.
Abstinence, these pamphlets claim, is the only safe and moral options for individuals to prevent unwanted pregnancy. And if you’re already pregnant? Well, that’s that.
They may also include parenting magazines, children’s toys, and even medically inaccurate fetal models. One report indicated that waiting room models showed fully-developed fetuses shrunk down to various sizes, supposedly showing different developmental stages.
What happens past the waiting room is even more disturbing. When a visitor is called in, they are first asked to take a pregnancy test—usually picked up from the nearest drugstore. If a couple goes together, they may be separated, and boyfriends or husbands are often told that it is their responsibility as men to take control of the situation and keep their partners from having an abortion.
If a visitor is pregnant, volunteers will often congratulate them as they reveal the result. They may bring in baby clothes or stuffed animals and will immediately begin referring to the fetus as a baby or child, attempting to guilt the visitor out of terminating the pregnancy.
If the center has ultrasound equipment, they may schedule an ultrasound for a later date, further delaying a potential abortion. However, these centers rarely have staff that can accurately read an ultrasound. More likely, they will simply tell the pregnant person that the fetus is much more developed than it truly is, in another effort to have them continue the pregnancy.
Reports from individuals who have visited these clinics say their questions about contraception and abortion were either disregarded or answered with medically inaccurate information about the dangers of these pills and procedures. Despite the majority of people who have abortions reporting a deep sense of relief, CPCs often claim that abortion results in depression and even PTSD.
CPCs claim that abortions are incredibly dangerous, despite being less risky than childbirth, and cite long-debunked studies linking abortion with breast cancer and infertility.
So, what happens if a CPC is successful in convincing a visitor to continue their pregnancy? Surely they support these often low-income, sometimes single parents after childbirth, right? Unfortunately, no. Like many of our anti-choice legislators, these clinics are focused solely on bringing children into the world.
Aside from possibly being provided with a free onesie or perhaps a gift as large as a baby stroller, new parents must figure out by themselves how to balance the financial, logistical and emotional responsibilities of raising this child.
Want to learn more about CPCs and how to stop them from preventing access to safe and vital healthcare? Join the Simmons chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m. in the SAC to discuss this and many other topics related to reproductive justice.