Pregnancy Centers Put Up False Fronts

Women finding themselves with unplanned pregnancies have many places to turn to for help. But, some organizations purporting to offer information about “choices” actually do nothing of the sort.

Pregnancy resources centers, or crisis pregnancy centers, are organizations that try to discourage women from choosing abortion. But, the usually faith-based PRC’s often don’t disclose their purpose in advertising and outreach materials, and many have been accused of trying to manipulate women by using tactics ranging from misrepresentation to outright coercion.

“They pretend to provide women with accurate information about pregnancy and pregnancy prevention, but typically what they do is provide misinformation about pregnancy” says Kate Horle, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Take, for example, Real Choices Pregnancy Care Center in Boulder. Until 2004, it was simply called Caring Pregnancy Center.

The name change shows how PRC’s try to hide their true purpose, says Susan Levy, executive director of Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center.

“Co-opting that word, ‘choice,’ that does not sound like they’re trying to be upfront about who they are and what they do,” Levy says. “It’s agenda-driven to convince women not to have abortions. Why would you use the word ‘choice’?”

Real Choices’ Web site offers further clues about its true mission. The main page lists several links including “Unplanned Pregnancy,” “Adoption,” “Sex” and “Abortion.” A woman seeking information about abortion might think the organization isn’t anti-choice, but by clicking on the abortion link she’d be greeted by a very graphic description of exactly how an “abortionist” performs the procedure. The Web site also calls emergency contraception “a type of abortion.”

Levy says she does not contest the right of PRC’s to oppose abortion, but she thinks it’s unethical to not be upfront about it.

“I respect anybody’s right to be anti-abortion and to try to convince people to not have abortions. That’s a free speech right,” she says. “But, anything that is being used to manipulate a woman or a woman’s choice is wrong.”

One such manipulation PRC’s have been accused of is giving ultrasounds to pregnant women and requiring them to look at the images. The ultrasounds are often not performed by medical personnel and have little purpose except to influence a woman’s decision.

Focus on the Family runs a program called Option Ultrasound, which gives PRC’s money to buy the machines. Ultrasound machines cost between $25,000 and $40,000. Last year, Focus on the Family budgeted $4.2 million for the program, according to a February 2, 2005 New York Times article.

A Focus on the Family Web site reads:

“As we investigate ways to dissuade mothers-to-be from abortion, we’ve been extremely encouraged to learn that women who see their babies on ultrasound are far less likely to seek abortions than those without access to such an option.”

Access to ultrasounds is not an issue, Levy says. BVWHC performs them on women having abortions, but it’s up to the woman whether she wants to see the image or not.

“We put the woman in charge of her own decision,” Levy says. “We don’t have any agenda as far as what the right decision for that woman is.”

Levy says women are sometimes given false information about abortions, including that there is a link between abortions and breast cancer – a claim that is soundly rejected by the medical community.

Alpha Center, a PRC in Ft. Collins, distributes such misinformation. At first, Alpha Center seems to offer legitimate choices. Its Web site reads:

“You have options. If you find yourself facing an unplanned pregnancy, you have three options. You can chose to parent your child, make an adoption plan, or take the step to terminate your pregnancy. We provide education so you can make a decision you can live with for the rest of your life.”

Alpha Center then warns of risks it says are associated with abortion such as sexual dysfunction, hallucinations, suicidal ideas and difficulty keeping close relationships.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains objects to many PRC practices, says Horle. But, they haven’t been as extreme in Colorado as they’ve been in some other states.

Horle has heard of PRC’s opening on the same block as Planned Parenthood clinics and putting up similar signs in an effort to trick clients. When women seeking abortions walk into the wrong building, they’re not told of their mistake until they’ve missed their appointment at the Planned Parenthood down the street. There have been other anecdotes about women being told they’re not pregnant – when in fact they are – until it’s too late to legally have an abortion.

In some states, the deceptive tactics used by PRC’s have been challenged in court. Lawsuits have been successful in New York, California, Ohio, Missouri and North Dakota. Some states now require PRC’s to clearly acknowledge on their Web sites and advertising that they don’t provide access to or information about abortion. Others prohibit PRC’s that don’t have medical staff (most don’t) from calling themselves health clinics.

New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney introduced legislation this year titled “Stop Deceptive Advertising in Women’s Services Act,” which would prevent PRC’s from intentionally leading women to believe they offer abortion resources.

Horle isn’t sure why PRC’s haven’t been as successful in Colorado as they’ve been elsewhere.

“Folks in Colorado and in much of the West are not big believers in misinformation,” she says. “We are not fans of the whole big brother idea. We don’t like the idea of someone telling us what we should or shouldn’t be doing with our bodies.”

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Kerri Rebresh

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