Below is an excerpt from an article originally posted on buzzfeednews.com in January 2022 and includes the work from UnRestrict Minnesota community partner Gender Justice and quotes from UnRestrict Minnesota Campaign Manager Erin Maye Quade. You can read the full article here.
Victoria Torres Garcia listened as two women spoke to her in a private room about the risks of seeking an abortion. They gave her pamphlets and prenatal pills, claiming that ending her pregnancy with medication would prevent her from conceiving again.
But the college student, then 21, knew what they were saying was bogus.
Garcia had already been pregnant once before and had gotten a medication abortion. Here she was, pregnant again, her own proof that what they were telling her wasn’t true. At the time, she had no way of knowing that she had made an appointment at a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), an organization with the primary mission of turning people away from choosing abortion. (Pro–abortion rights advocates may use the term “CPC,” whereas anti-abortion advocates typically call these sites as “pregnancy care centers.”)
These centers promise free services, including pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, in addition to social resources and products, like baby supplies, typically for low-income people. CPCs provide essentials for pregnant people who may not be able to afford help anywhere else, but research shows these facilities typically only give out supplies and support to those who attend their programming, such as counseling sessions, and are thereby “plugged into the global anti-abortion movement’s sophisticated digital infrastructure,” according to a new study of CPCs in nine states by the Alliance.
But advocates are concerned that amid heightened state-level threats to abortion access, CPCs are poised to be enforcement sites of anti-abortion laws like SB 8 in Texas, in which any public citizen can report an alleged violation of the six-week abortion ban. And while anti-abortion groups argue these centers provide crisis intervention, the coalition in support of abortion rights says the existence of these facilities is a crisis in and of itself.
CPCs are visually difficult to distinguish from other reproductive care facilities because they are often branded with similar names and signage as local abortion clinics, according to the study. They also often have a clinic-like waiting room that makes patients feel as though they are at a medical provider and use similar language that abortion clinics use on their websites. This effectively confuses people who are seeking medical care: 10% of CPCs in the Alliance’s study operated mobile units near abortion clinics to divert patients.
And because so much personal information is gleaned from patients, researchers say these sites are becoming dangerous repositories that can be weaponized in states that have become increasingly hostile to abortion rights.
“Because CPCs are a global network … they’re actually poised to become the surveillance mechanism to enforce these unconstitutional laws,”
said Erin Maye Quade, advocacy director at Gender Justice, a Minnesota-based organization that’s part of the Alliance, a coalition of state and regional law and policy members that advocates for reproductive justice.
Through “deceptive and coercive tactics,” CPCs dispense “medical misinformation” and misleadingly present themselves as local support facilities for pregnant people and parents, Maye Quade said. With CPCs outnumbering abortion clinics by a national average of three to one, reproductive justice advocates say the likelihood that someone like Garcia inadvertently ends up at one is high.
“I think people just don’t realize that CPCs are as extensive as they are, that they’re state-funded and they’re causing as much harm as they are,” Maye Quade said.
The Alliance found that CPCs intrude on patients’ privacy, deliberately gathering data on their reproductive, medical, sexual health histories that could later be used to criminalize them. These facilities also provide little to no actual medical care and disperse falsehoods that abortion causes infertility or depressive “post abortion regret,” among other claims, the report found.
Roland Warren, president and CEO of Care Net, one of the nation’s largest pregnancy center networks, told BuzzFeed News that about 60% of its more than 1,100 affiliates are licensed to offer medical services, including consultation with a licensed medical professional, limited diagnostic ultrasound for confirmation of a viable pregnancy, and testing for sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
“Medical services are provided in accordance with all applicable laws, and in accordance with pertinent medical standards, under the supervision and direction of a licensed physician,” Warren said in an email.
The Christian network has “saved more than 823,000 babies from abortion” since 2008, according to Care Net’s website, “equips people to save babies from abortion,” and works to train churches in providing anti-abortion ministry.
“The primary mission of the pregnancy center is to share the compassion, hope, and help of Jesus Christ — both in word and deed — with those facing pregnancy decisions,” Care Net’s Standards of Affiliation webpage states.
People like Garcia inadvertently find CPCs because these networks invest in search engine advertising to effectively target those searching for abortion care, and people are often led there regardless of their search engine or query keyword, the Alliance found.
Care Net countered the claims that it uses misleading advertising: “Care Net-affiliated pregnancy centers are trained to use advertising strategies with Federal Trade Commission standards that are truthful and not misleading according, for example, to the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. 45.”
For Garcia, Google suggested Aid for Women, a CPC near her Illinois college that had free, same-day appointments for uninsured people like her. At the time, she didn’t know an actual abortion clinic called Women’s Aid Center was just a 15-minute drive away from that facility. (BuzzFeed News has reached out to Aid for Women for comment.)
Her plan was to seek an abortion if a pregnancy were confirmed. As a first-generation college student and a child of a single mother who raised five children, Garcia knew she wanted to finish her bachelor’s degree and build a life for herself. (Now 24, she owns a house, has a full-time job, and works with Illinois-based abortion funds.)
Even though she knew the choice she wanted to make, Garcia said she would go on to experience an aggressive anti-abortion environment at the CPC. After walking through hallways lined with baby supplies, the staffers gave her a urine test and confirmed she was about three weeks pregnant. They overwhelmed her upon delivering her results, she said, telling her she’d “love being a mom” and that adoption was a better “option” than abortion.
“The language they used was very manipulative,” she said. “I didn’t know the language they used was something that CPCs end up using in their tactics. At this time, I was just like, I have options. Abortion is an option.”
According to Garcia, the staffers told her they could provide a procedure known as “abortion pill reversal” if she ended up getting a medication abortion and changing her mind. But Maye Quade said this “nonscientific” procedure is the most “dangerous” thing CPCs advertise, the idea that taking the hormone progesterone can undo a medication abortion (a two-pill protocol that ends a pregnancy).
“It’s not a process. It doesn’t exist,” the lead author of a stalled abortion pill reversal study, Mitch Creinin, an OB-GYN at the University of California, Davis, told BuzzFeed News. The trial included 40 people who each took the abortion pill mifepristone. Then they were given either a placebo or progesterone. After three participants began to hemorrhage severely, Creinin stopped the study.
“You’re really under the impression they’re there to help,” Garcia said. “But they’re not. They don’t give you all your options. … I did not feel listened to at all. I felt that I was being talked down to.”
But CPCs outnumber abortion clinics nationwide, the study found, with higher disparities wherever they’re state-funded. Maye Quade said that in Minnesota, the difference translates to eight clinics that provide abortion care versus 90 CPCs across the state.