In response to the passage of increasingly restrictive anti-abortion laws around the country the fight for reproductive freedom has understandably focused on the legal battle for access to abortion. But while legal restrictions make headlines, opponents of reproductive freedom have executed a second arm of their strategy, overseeing the quiet expansion of sham pregnancy centers designed to imitate abortion clinics and deter pregnant people from receiving abortions and other needed resources.
These phony clinics, referred to as Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), lure patients in by deceptively adopting pro-choice language and medical terminology, when in reality the majority of CPCs have no full-time trained medical staff and are operated with the explicit purpose of discouraging pregnant people from receiving abortions.
The spread of these sham clinics has been fueled by a huge increase in government funding for CPCs, a shocking fact given their complete lack of regulation and ability to provide actual medical services.
A recent study analyzing CPCs in nine states revealed disturbing findings about the services offered by CPCs, particularly in Minnesota where CPCs now outnumber abortion clinics 11 to 1. Research has shown that over 80% of people who come to CPCs for help intend to carry their pregnancies to term and are simply seeking advice and resources that CPCs are often unable or unwilling to give.
Most CPCs in Minnesota provide no STI-related services, no well-person care or referrals and no prenatal care. Worse still, CPCs in Minnesota were found to make false and biased medical claims at nearly double the rate of CPCs in other states, with over half of CPCs in the state found to make false statements about abortion. Nearly 30% of CPCs in Minnesota also promote “abortion pill reversal (APR)”, a completely untested medical procedure described by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as “unethical” and “not based in science.” The only credible clinical study of APR ever conducted was halted partway through after a quarter of the study’s subjects were hospitalized with severe bleeding.
The most common service advertised by CPCs in the state is “free” goods such as maternity and baby supplies. But while these goods are advertised as free, they are often conditional on the recipient’s participation in biased ideological programming such as bible studies, abstinence seminars, and video screenings or classes which often push unscientific medical advice and bigoted anti-LGBTQ messaging.
In addition to pushing biased ideological “education” and unproven medical procedures, CPCs play another role for the global anti-abortion movement: conducting large scale surveillance of their patients. A report from the UK-based watchdog Privacy International revealed that an anti-abortion organization called Heartbeat International was collecting patient’s personal information from multiple CPCs. Tracked data ranged from medical information to personal identifiers, with categories such as: name, address, ethnicity, marital status, education, income source, drug use, medical history, medication use, ultrasound photos, and STI history.
Because most CPCs offer no health care services, they aren’t subject to legal protections against the disclosure of personal health information. This high-level, unregulated surveillance is particularly troubling in combination with initiatives like Texas’ latest anti-abortion law allowing citizens to bring lawsuits against any person they believe to have aided or abetted another in obtaining an abortion.
CPCs operate deceptively to deny their clients the chance to make an informed decision about abortion, but in a cruel twist the near total lack of services provided by CPCs means that even those patients who come to CPCs seeking to carry their pregnancies to term are deprived of the help they need. This burden disproportionately falls on those who already lack resources, compounding the maternal mortality crisis for communities of color.
Minnesota taxpayers provide CPCs with over $3 million a year in funding through the Positive Alternatives Act (PAA), with almost no oversight or regulation. PAA funded CPCs in the state offered fewer services than those not receiving funding. Meanwhile, examples of misuse of funds are rampant. One grantee received $65,000 to serve fewer than 20 clients per year, while another applicant receiving a $75,000 grant allocated only 7% of its budget to services.
UnRestrict Minnesota partners are working hard to re-direct funding currently given to CPCs towards providers offering evidence-based health care.
Access the full report at “Designed to Deceive: A Study of Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Nine States.”