The anti-choice deception

Jen Roesch exposes the lies and fabrications of the so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" run by the anti-abortionists.

Ads like this one project the image of unbiased counselingAds like this one project the image of unbiased counseling

Scared? Confused? We Can Help.
Call 1-800-PREGNANT

THIS AD, accompanied by a photograph of a downcast young woman, greets millions of riders of the New York City subway system each day. It advertises itself as providing help for women with "crisis pregnancies"--that is, unplanned pregnancies. It offers free pregnancy testing, options counseling and other services.

Its real goal is to get women to walk through the doors of one of the anti-choice movement's most popular weapons--"crisis pregnancy centers." These centers advertise themselves as providing support to pregnant women in need. They prey on women who are pregnant and looking for options--particularly young, poor and working-class women.

They set up across from or next to abortion clinics, and deceive people into walking through their doors. When they do, women are subjected to a range of bullying, intimidation and scare tactics designed to make them carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, and place the infant for adoption.

Their practices reveal the utter contempt for women that lies at the heart of the anti-choice movement.

What you can do

For more information on the crisis pregnancy centers, visit the Crisis Pregnancy Center Watch Web site.

Find out how you can help defend a women's clinic near you against the 40 Day for Life campaign--visit the 40 Day for Choice Facebook page.

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THE FIRST order of business is targeting those who anti-choicers call "abortion-vulnerable" women. In common language, this means that they want women who are already considering or planning an abortion to walk through their doors.

Despite the advertisement of free diapers or support for pregnant women, the people running these centers don't actually want women looking for help carrying a pregnancy to term. These women get in the way of their central mission: preventing women from having an abortion.

One publication for these centers, called At the Center, identified the concern:

The mission of pregnancy help centers is to reach abortion-minded women and provide them with life-affirming alternatives to abortion. However, many centers are acknowledging frustration over the fact that their ministries are becoming more social welfare agencies than cutting-edge forces to reduce abortion.

So what does it mean to be a "cutting-edge force to reduce abortion"?

First, many of these centers have converted to medical centers so that they can use ultrasound equipment to show women pictures of their "unborn baby." Many women are pressured into viewing the ultrasound on the basis that it is necessary to determine dating to see if abortion is an option.

Women are offered pregnancy tests. These are no different than at-home pregnancy tests that take one to three minutes to complete. However, usually the tester disappears for an hour or more, while a volunteer "counsels" women on why they shouldn't have an abortion. Half an hour later, the tester reappears with some baby item, saying "Congratulations, you're a mommy," or something to that effect.

Women are also told that fetuses can feel pain and are shown videos of fetuses recoiling from abortion equipment--completely false information. They are shown videos with names like The Silent Scream, The Hard Truth and The Harder Truth. The goal, according to one video maker, is to "inflict excruciating psychic anguish on women who have had an abortion."

A senior fellow at the National Pro-Life Action Center defends these tactics:

[W]hy conclude that facts and sonograms by themselves are sufficient to reach unstable, abortion-minded clients? I think just the opposite is true. In a visual, post-modern culture, using graphic pictures to change the way a client feels about abortion before using facts to change how she thinks (and, ultimately, behaves) on abortion makes perfect sense. This is not manipulation. It's meeting the client at her level.

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IN FACT, beneath their warm and fuzzy exteriors, many of these centers are willing to play hardball to achieve their goals. The Web site Crisis Pregnancy Center Watch recounts some of the horrifying stories of women who have been subjected to their tactics.

One woman describes what happened when the free pregnancy test she had come for turned up positive:

I asked her about abortion, and she told me that if I murdered my baby, I would go to hell. She said I would probably get breast cancer or commit suicide, or be infertile. It didn't seem right. I started to leave. The woman told me that if I left without signing up with this adoption agency, she'd call my parents and tell them I was going to murder their grandbaby.

I started to get sick. She threatened to call me at home, to come to my house, and to tell all my friends I was pregnant if I didn't sign up. I finally ran for it. Unfortunately, they had my phone number and address. They called my dorm roommate and somehow got her to give them my parent's phone number.

Another woman reports how she got disgusted by the scare tactics of one of the centers and told them that she was leaving and having an abortion. A few days later, her mother received an anonymous phone call saying her daughter had killed her grandbaby.

It's what happened next, though, that really traumatized this woman:

Seven months later, I got a card in the mail. It said, "Congratulations on Your New Baby!" but it was splattered with red paint or ink. Every year after that, I'd get a Happy Birthday card made for children, except they're all splattered with red paint.

After I had the abortion, I was really fine. But once I started getting those cards, I wasn't. All that guilt they said I would have if I had an abortion came true, but only because they created it. I would have been fine, honestly. I had no moral opposition to abortion, but they put that into my head, and it still to this day haunts me.

But stopping women from having abortions is not the only goal of these centers. Calling themselves "ministries," they have an entire agenda based on the values of the Religious Right.

When women show up, and it turns out they are not pregnant, they are refused birth control and are instead lectured on the importance of abstinence. Even married couples are told that if they are not ready to have children, they shouldn't be engaging in marital activity.

If you have already had an abortion, you're still a target. You can take the online quiz of one of these networks of centers to find out if you might be suffering from post-abortion stress syndrome. You are given a list of symptoms ranging from weight gain to thoughts of suicide; check even one, and you're told you need abortion recovery help. Then you are funneled to abortion recovery groups that offer programs like the Bible-based study Forgiven and Set Free.

Women who come to these centers looking for help carrying a pregnancy to term are in for a rude awakening. One pregnant, single, young woman describes going to a center for help and being asked to fill out a stack of forms. It wasn't until she was halfway through the first page that she realized that they were legal forms for adoption. When she explained that she was interested in keeping her child, the clinic volunteer became harsh, and told her that it would be wrong to have a child without being married.

Women who need free diapers or baby items are asked to participate in "Earn While You Learn" programs. According to the rules of the program, women must attend Bible-study classes and sermons and take notes in order to earn "free" items.

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IT WOULD be comforting to think that these centers and their tactics represent the lunatic fringe of the anti-abortion movement. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. These centers operate as part of extensive networks and have become adept at raising massive sums from federal, state and private sources.

Currently, there are about 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers operating in the U.S., and a majority of them have converted to medical status, which enormously expands their reach. To put this in perspective, this is more than double the number of clinics actually providing abortion today. In other words, by sheer numbers alone, you are twice as likely to access a fake abortion clinic as a real one.

The abstinence-only education initiatives of the Bush years provided an enormous stream of revenue for these clinics. Each year of his administration, more than $100 million of federal money was allocated to abortion "alternatives" programs, the majority of which was funneled to CPCs.

This funding is likely to be cut in the current budget. However, it's not finalized, and conservatives are trying to slip it in. There is also still funding through "faith-based" initiatives that is a potential source for CPCs to access.

At the state level, millions of dollars and government support is being given to these centers. For example, Florida has a state-funded "option line." Women who are pregnant and looking for help can call a toll-free number that directs them to these crisis pregnancy centers. Some 70 percent of women who call this number are considering abortion; a majority continues the pregnancy after visiting these centers.

A bill currently being sponsored in Congress, the Pregnant Women's Support Act, would create a national option line on the Florida model. It stipulates that the only clinics that would be eligible to receive referrals would be ones that do not offer abortion services.

The sums being handed out to CPCs at the state level are mind-boggling, especially when you consider the way state budgets for services are being slashed. With bill names like the "Pregnancy Maintenance Initiative" and the "Positive Alternatives Act," Pennsylvania has given out $4.4 million to CPSs. Louisiana has spent $1 million, Missouri $1.3 million, and Minnesota $5 million.

And these centers don't just operate in rural areas. Increasingly, they are targeting large, urban centers. In New York City, which has the highest rate of abortion in the country, there are dozens of these fake clinics. The largest network, Expectant Mother Care-Frontline Pregnancy Centers (EMC), has 10 centers throughout the city. Several operate next to or even in the same building as legitimate women's health clinics.

EMC also hosts dozens of student interns every summer who receive free housing, board and a $4,000 per month stipend. These interns are trained to provide "counseling" and are sent to women's health clinics, where they harass and intimidate women seeking abortions or other health services.

These volunteers are mobilizing from September 23 through November 1--along with anti-choice forces in states across the country--for a "40 Days of Life" campaign. Their goal is to organize thousands of anti-choice activists outside women's health clinics. In previous years, this has made some of these clinics literally inoperable.

However, there are also small groups of activists in cities and towns across the country who will be mobilizing with their own campaigns to counter the lies and make abortion clinics accessible.

One young woman at a clinic in the Bronx described her story to activists. At the age of 15, she was raped and became pregnant. When she went to what she thought was a women's health clinic, she was told that she was six months pregnant, and it was too late for an abortion. It turns out that this was a lie, but by the time she knew that, it really was too late.

Now, she is 25 with a 10-year-old daughter. She was unable to go to college, works a low-paying, dead-end job, and has to rely on food stamps to put food on the table.

Her story, with a change to the details here or there, is the story of countless women who are deceived into seeking help from these crisis pregnancy centers.

The stakes in this struggle are women's lives. It's time we started fighting as if our lives depended on it.