Imagine that you have mild chest pains. You do not have insurance, so you do a quick internet search for free clinics and find the American Heart Care Center. It is located next to many other medical practices and your local hospital. What you do not know is that the clinic is run by a religious sect that believes that medication and surgery are sinful. The employees wear scrubs and after you check in, you are escorted to an exam room. They take your vital signs and hook you up to an EEG machine. The “doctor,” who is wearing a white lab coat, arrives and says that you simply need to change your diet and exercise more and the chest pains will subside. When asked about medication or other treatments, the “doctor” tells you about horrific side effects of medications and gives false statistics about surgery outcomes. You leave feeling cared for, but a little confused.
The next week, your chest pains become severe. At the emergency room, they find that you need a stent implant and roll you in the operating room. Afterward, you tell the surgeon about your trip to American Heart Care Center nearby. She reports that the clinic is run by volunteers from a religious sect and is funded by the government. When you get over your shock, you ask why the clinic hasn’t been shut down for malpractice and fraud. She tells you that since the clinic is run by volunteers, does not collect fees, and is not licensed, they are not held to the same standards as a licensed clinic.
Hard to believe, right? Well, that is exactly what is happening across the country, except it is not a heart care clinic, but a collection of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). Crisis Pregnancy Centers are clinics that are run by religious and anti-abortion groups to deceive pregnant women who are seeking an abortion. They typically set up shop near an existing family planning clinic and use similar logos so that a woman looking for the actual family planning clinic will come to their door instead. If a pregnant woman goes to a CPC, she will be given counseling to keep her child and give it up for adoption if she cannot support it. She may be told that abortion will prevent her from being able to conceive later, that abortion causes breast cancer, and that women who have abortions suffer severe mental health consequences, even though all of these statements are false and not supported by the American Medical Association.
CPCs appear to be medical clinics, but they are staffed by volunteers, some of whom may or may not have medical training. CPCs lure pregnant women, especially low-income women, into their clinics by placing ads offering free services on public transportation, college bulletin boards, subways, billboards and other places where they are likely to be seen by young and/or low income women. If you were to call a CPC to find out if they provide abortion services, the receptionist will tell you that you need to come in to speak to a counselor to understand all of your options and offer a free pregnancy test or sonogram. The woman does not know that the person giving the sonogram may be not a licensed technician. In fact, in one undercover story by the Los Angeles Times, the undercover woman who was not pregnant was told that her IUD was a baby and that it did not have a heartbeat!
CPCs may also tell women that they have plenty of time to decide by misinforming them about the laws regarding having an abortion or telling them that they are not as far along in their pregnancy as they are. Allison went to Pregnancy Decision Health Center in Columbus, Ohio to see if she could obtain the abortion pill which is effective up to 9 weeks into pregnancy. When the sonogram technician said that she could not see anything yet on the sonogram, Allison was scheduled for an appointment the next week. When the technician indicated that she could see the baby during the follow-up appointment, Allison was told she was too far along for a medication abortion and would need the much more expensive surgical abortion.
Because these clinics are not covered by HIPAA laws, women who go there may find out that their personal information, specifically her pregnancy, may be broadcast to local doctors and hospitals. When Morgan Trube was a college sophomore, she wanted to confirm her pregnancy and went to A Place for Women, a CPC in Waipio, Hawaii. After figuring out that this was not a real family planning clinic, she left thinking she would never hear from them again. A few weeks later, she received an email with her full name listing the gestational age of her baby, how it was developing, along with a picture of a “fetus” in utero. Clearly, A Place for Women had shared her personal medical information with the group sending the email. She ended up filing a cease and desist order forbidding A Place for Women from using her information going forward.
The American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics states that CPCs do not function in an ethical manner. “Honest information about the perspective from which they dispense advice and support, in addition to forthright acknowledgement of their limitations, is essential for these centers to provide an ethical service to women. For no other medical procedure would someone who is not a healthcare professional seek to give detailed counseling on the risks of the procedure.” (emphasis added) Put directly, people without medical training should not be permitted to push their religious agenda by deceiving patients. And taxpayers certainly should not be funding CPCs to provide non-healthcare. When a woman goes to obtain medical care, she should be assured access to the full menu of options for maximum health care.
Federal and state governments must not fund Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Because of their basis in religious belief, funding them amounts to state sponsored religion. Certainly if a woman wants to go to a clinic that aligns with her religious beliefs, that is her prerogative. However, most women, especially those who have decided that they want an abortion want to go to a clinic that has medically trained employees who can explain all the medically accepted practices and options. Unfortunately, the North Carolina Legislature has submitted a budget that not only funds CPCs in the state, but increases the funding to $2.64 million. This, after finding that over $50,000 of last year’s funds were misspent on religious curriculum. Additionally, groups supporting CPCs have not submitted their quarterly reports on time in all of 2018 resulting in the inability for oversight. North Carolinians need to know the truth about Crisis Pregnancy Centers and how their tax dollars are supporting them. Just as you would want only real medical providers advising you on your chest pains, pregnant women want real medical providers giving them the best care possible. And that includes information about all medical options. The North Carolina Legislature will likely vote on CPC funding this week. Contact your state House and Senate representatives today to let them know that you do not want your taxpayer dollars to go to Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and make sure to tell your friends and neighbors as well!
Anna Lynch is a writer, educator, and champion for all things women.