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“Crisis pregnancy centers” are threats to reproductive justice

by Lauren Guy McAlpin

A young woman, we'll call her Amanda, walked into an agency she saw advertised in her college newspaper. Having missed her period, promises of a free pregnancy test and confidential options counseling seemed like the best next step. A woman in a white lab coat accepted her urine sample and placed it next to a store-bought pregnancy test. They spent about twenty minutes discussing her sexual activity, her religious beliefs, and what she plans on doing if she is, in fact, pregnant.

The counselor's warm tone changed the moment the young woman mentioned she's considering abortion. The counselor launched into a tirade about how she would never be forgiven if she "killed her baby," and repeatedly refused Amanda's demands to know the result of her test. Nearly a half an hour later, the counselor informed Amanda that the test was negative, but that she would end up pregnant soon if she did not practice abstinence before marriage. Amanda left the center in a rage, suddenly feeling as though her reproductive rights are not quite as stable as she thought.

Amanda is one of thousands of women who have visited a deceptive crisis pregnancy center (CPC). These centers, rarely staffed by any licensed physician, are not clinics at all, but instead perhaps one of the most dangerous threats to choice today.

Amanda's story is one of many testimonials we've received at CPC Watch, a reproductive justice advocacy organization dedicated to exposing fake clinics and empowering women to make educated decisions. Through testimonials and research by other organizations, we work to uncover the many tactics used by CPCs: delaying test results while inundating women with false or misleading information about abortion and contraception, telling women they're not pregnant when they are to delay decision making, and perhaps worst of all, giving free "ultrasounds" that sometimes play video of a fetus at a much further along stage of gestation.

Manipulation is key at crisis pregnancy centers. Citing questionable research, CPCs preach that abortion makes a woman much more likely to develop breast cancer or infertility, statements that have been rejected by the National Cancer Institute and the Mayo Clinic, respectively. CPCs also tell women that abortion causes something called "Post Abortion Stress Syndrome," a condition not recognized by the American Psychological Association.

How can we claim women are "free to choose" their reproductive destinies while these fake clinics are pushing false and biased information to tens of thousands of women all over the country? The concept of reproductive justice we ascribe to emphasizes the importance of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, but we are soberly aware of what that decision does not ensure. Access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, contraception, prenatal care, abortion, and more; affordable and unbiased options counseling, and, of course, laws requiring CPCs to disclose their agenda to clients are cornerstones of what we strive for to ensure every woman sexual autonomy and reproductive justice; none of these are guaranteed by Roe.

While working to uphold legal abortion, we also need to keep a close eye on state-mandated threats to choice: "egg as person" bills are being considered in five states; mandatory ultrasounds before abortion in eleven, and extended waiting periods before abortion in South Carolina (South Carolina is also considering legislation that would require a woman to receive a list of nearby CPCs before being able to obtain an abortion.) In a struggling economy, states are cutting back on family planning initiatives as more women are finding themselves without health insurance, likely leading to more unplanned pregnancies and, consequently, more women visiting CPCs with promises of free services. It's essential to work against these threats, to ducate and inform women of the dangers CPCs pose and to continue working toward reproductive justice for all.

April 8, 2009

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Lauren Guy McAlpin is the founder and project coordinator of CPC Watch, a grassroots, pro-reproductive justice advocacy organization. She founded CPC Watch upon graduating from UNC-Greensboro's Women's and Gender Studies program and saw the need for a web-based resource that focused explicitly on the dangers of CPCs. Email [email protected] to get involved.

Also see Theatre Arts: A Menace to Society by Alexis Greene in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See New Waves for Abortion Access in European Courtby Diana Whitten in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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