Tom Waddell: Crisis pregnancy centers only serve to deceive
This column first appeared on CentralMaine.com and is reprinted with permission.
By Tom Waddell
Anti-choice extremists have been restricting abortion access since Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973. One tactic Christian nationalists use is establishing centers that look like places where women can get an abortion but only receive anti-abortion rhetoric. There were 780 abortion clinics in the country before Roe was overturned, but there are still 4,000 centers masquerading as women’s health care centers.
Known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPC), they offer free ultrasounds but do not provide comprehensive reproductive health care. Instead, they use names similar to genuine pregnancy centers to deceive women and encourage them to make appointments. The names sound like what pregnant women who don’t want to have a child need. However, once inside, women are lied to, shamed and pressured about their reproductive health decisions. This tactic often delays the procedure to push them past the deadline for a legal abortion.
CPCs are anti-abortion counseling centers that lie to pressure women to carry a pregnancy to term. They tell women that abortions often result in being sterile, that most women regret having an abortion, and that the risk of post-abortion suicide is high. Research doesn’t support these lies.
Current research has found that the post-partum death rate has climbed in America. “In 2021, the U.S. had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the country’s history, according to the CDC. The report found that 1,205 women died of maternal causes in the United States in 2021. That represents a 40 percent increase from the previous year,” NPR reported recently. Some physicians suggest that overturning Roe v. Wade will lead to an increase in maternal deaths. Factors include millions of women losing access to maternal care, abortion restrictions, CPCs delaying care for pregnancy complications, and closures of rural maternity wards.
Crisis pregnancy centers are not regulated medical clinics, do not need a license, and don’t have to follow federal health care privacy laws. This means they can use any personal information you give them in any way they want.
Many CPCs get women to sign a contract to carry their pregnancy to term. These CPCs then send the agreement with the woman’s personal information, including her social security number, to every local woman’s health care clinic. The goal is to intimidate patients and physicians from having or delivering complete women’s health care.
CPCs are deceptive. They try to open near actual abortion clinics and use names that sound very similar to real women’s health care centers. Yet, even after Roe v. Wade was overturned, CPCs kept growing. For example, the Christian Action Council, later renamed CareNet, has over 1,100 affiliated CPCs in its network.
Crisis pregnancy centers are considered religious outreach programs protected by the First Amendment. This allows them to picket genuine women’s health care clinics, pass out literature and encourage pregnant women to visit a local CPC. However, many CPCs are starting to be held accountable for their deceptive practices. California has state-wide regulations, and New York City and San Francisco have passed ordinances requiring truth in advertising.
The latest brick to fall in the wall between democracy and Christian nationalism is Walgreens. The nationwide pharmacy chain caved when Republican attorneys general from multiple states demanded they (and other pharmacies) not sell or ship mifepristone, the medication used to terminate a pregnancy, once they are certified to do so by the FDA. Walgreens even said it would not sell the medication in some states where women still have the right to choose [although it has since backtracked after public blowback].
However, there is some pushback. CVS previously confirmed it would provide mifepristone where legal, and at least one state, California, is pushing back. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced, “California won’t be doing business with Walgreens or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women’s lives at risk.”
FFRF Member Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Atheist Freethinkers and Humanist Association.