Crisis pregnancy centers misleading, preach morals
“Pregnant? Scared? You’re not alone. We can help.”
If only it were that easy.
An unwanted pregnancy has no simple solution, but the one being touted by the girl on the billboard, bench or bus advertisement, with her head in hands as she gazes mournfully out at you from above a phone number for a crisis pregnancy center, is not your friend.
Because while abortion is a divisive issue in this country, lying to a woman about her own body shouldn’t be. Pregnant, vulnerable women are not weapons for use in an ideological war.
Crisis pregnancy centers are tricky to spot. They often convincingly masquerade as legitimate abortion clinics — offering free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, using vague language on their advertisements and websites, popping up first in Internet searches for abortion — thus attracting clients looking for abortions.
The New York Times estimates that there are 2,300 to 3,500 CPCs currently operating in the U.S., as opposed to 1,800 abortion clinics, so the odds of accidentally ending up in one of these pro-life havens are pretty high.
Add to this data from a 2008 study by the Guttmacher Institute that showed that women in their 20s account for more than half of all abortions, and that means college-aged students are likely to fall prey to those odds.
CPCs know this. By offering free services, and often locating themselves near college campuses — we have Reachout Women’s Center on Campbell Avenue and Hands of Hope near Speedway Boulevard and Tucson Boulevard — they ensure that students in trouble and with limited resources are strongly inclined to drop by.
But once they do, they’re in for a trip.
“Crisis Pregnancy Centers are notorious for providing morally-biased, coercive and incomplete and/or medically inaccurate information and counseling to women who are struggling with an unwanted pregnancy,” said Robin Richards, a co-coordinator of Medical Students for Choice, a UA College of Medicine club that works to educate students about the full range of reproductive health care.
Earlier in 2013, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia released a year-long undercover investigative report in which, through phone and in-person interviews, investigators collected data about the information disseminated by CPCs. Based on this, NARAL Virginia found that 71 percent of the CPCs in its state were guilty of lying to women.
Additionally, a 2006 congressional investigation into 25 centers that receive federal funding found that 87 percent provided false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion.
Some of CPCs’ most commonly told lies, according to NARAL Virginia, are about the ineffectiveness of contraception, the dangers of medical abortion — including a heightened risk for breast cancer — and the negative psychological effects following the procedure.
All of these are easily disproven by reputable statistics and, sometimes, a pinch of common sense.
While abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method of birth control, condoms come pretty damn close. Both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health agree that condoms are effective in preventing pregnancy 80 to 90 percent of the time and are even more effective when used properly.
On the abortion safety front, a 2012 study showed that women were about 14 times more likely to die giving birth than having an abortion. The National Abortion Federation states that in medically performed first-trimester abortions (about 88 percent of all US abortions), 97 percent of women report no complications.
The American Cancer Society website states that nearly every scientific research study and every authoritative medical panel or organization agrees there is no cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.
And psychological effects? An 11-year study of 13,000 women found that women who give birth have the same rate of need for psychological treatment as women who have abortions.
So why are CPCs telling women otherwise?
Religion, the investigations show.
NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin found that about 60 percent of CPCs in the state, though not initially upfront about their motivations, identified themselves as part of religious organizations during visits. About 72 percent of CPCs visited also cited religion as a barrier to abortion referral.
This becomes more problematic when we consider that CPCs are eligible to receive federal education grants, while more comprehensive agencies that teach contraception and prevention methods are not.
Our country has long had a (strictly non-sexual) relationship with abstinence-only sex education. CPCs are really just another arm of the no-sex agenda, motivated by religion and politicians who seek to exploit religious bases.
We know abstinence-only education doesn’t work. If it did, CPCs and other educators would not have to resort to lies to cover up the numbers.
We also know that accurate information, while it will not stop sex altogether, as some of these groups seem to desire, can significantly curb unwanted pregnancies and all their complications. It can also lessen STI rates and even (and the CPCs would love this) decrease the number of sexual partners someone has.
The truth is more effective. If CPCs were truly the concerned friends they portray themselves as, efficacy would be their top priority — not conversion, not coercion and not fabrication.
But we cannot just wait on America to start telling the truth about sex, leaving women’s health at risk in the meantime. Instead, we all have to step up and start caring. Because whatever choices those saddled with accidental pregnancies make, they deserve to arrive at well-informed decisions.
“Shouldn’t other institutions — families, churches, schools — step in with loving, supportive care rather than shame when a young woman finds herself pregnant?” asked Monica Casper, head of the UA Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. “In my view, shame and blame drive girls and women to seek help from CPCs, and what they get, unfortunately, is care wrapped in lies.”
Katelyn Kennon is a sophomore studying journalism, creative writing and anthropology. Follow her @dailywildcat.