The art of harrassing abortion seekers

Taxpayer-funded "pregnancy crisis centers" accused of deception in thwarting abortions


Sarah Elizabeth Richards
May 1, 2006 10:21PM (UTC)

This is one of the most disturbing stories we've heard in a while:

A 17-year-old girl reportedly goes into what she thinks is a Planned Parenthood. After giving her personal information, she's told to come back for a later appointment, this time in the actual Planned Parenthood building, which shares a parking lot with what the girl initially thought was Planned Parenthood.

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But when she shows up, she's met by police responding to a tip that a minor is being forced to have an abortion. It turns out she was reportedly lured into a so-called "crisis pregnancy center," where staff allegedly tried to prevent her from getting the procedure. The crisis center has also been accused of staking out her house, calling her at home and work, and contacting her parents and boyfriend.

The story was told to AlterNet's Amanda Marcotte by Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Marcotte reports on the growing suspicion that such crisis pregnancy centers are using deceptive methods to steer women away from obtaining abortions. (Our own Broadsheetress Lynn Harris sought reaction from the Indiana Planned Parenthood, which released a statement calling it the "most flagrant example of patient harassment reported by a patient tricked into these unregulated, 'fake clinics.'")

This may be an extreme case, but Marcotte reports that a growing number of "crisis pregnancy centers" routinely resort to questionable tactics in an attempt to intercept women seeking abortion providers. Signs reading "Pregnant? Need help?" can be seen throughout Austin, Texas. "Dishonest as these types of crisis pregnancy centers are, it's hard to argue against their right to exist, especially since most of their clients enter their doors willingly," she writes. "However, the aforementioned incident reported by Planned Parenthood of Indiana indicates that some groups are not above using more aggressive methods to stop women from aborting pregnancies."

And -- get this! -- many are funded by taxpayer dollars. And that money is being diverted from family planning services that serve low-income women. In Texas for example, $25 million was cut from the reproductive services budget, but $5 million was set aside for crisis pregnancy centers. According to the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas that means 17,000 low-income women are estimated to lose access to family planning services. On the national level, Planned Parenthood claims that such centers are the recipients of $60 million of government grants.

So what exactly are crisis pregnancy centers anyway? Marcotte refers to Sarah Wheat of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, who wrote a report claiming theyre an arm of the anti-choice movement, which provide the "absolute minimum of services required to maintain the illusion that they provide care while they further their actual goal of trying to persuade women out of abortion," writes Marcotte. One classic tactic allegedly includes giving a pregnant woman shelter until just after the date for a legal abortion has passed. (Texas's attorney general sued the centers after they were accused of false advertising as abortion clinics.)

So the centers began promoting themselves as places to get medical information. But according to an investigation by Wheat, "these pseudo-clinics have few or no paid employees, no medical personnel on staff and no real facilities to provide any medical care. Generally speaking, the medical treatment provided by the largely volunteer staff is nothing more than handing clients a pregnancy test that could be purchased over the counter for $10," writes Marcotte.

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Kudos to Marcotte for illuminating some of the tricks these centers allegedly use -- and the funding behind them. In 2005, NARAL Pro-Choice America counted 183 crisis pregnancy centers compared to only 43 abortion providers in Texas.

Whatever your message, it would just be nice to give women some straight-up information during a potentially difficult time so they can make a clear decision. Deception weakens anyone's cause.


Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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