Imagine a business that doesn’t advertise the services it actually provides, lies to its customers and purposefully pretends to be something it’s not.
Connecticut has no less than 27 such businesses in its crisis pregnancy centers, which claim to be medical establishments but are anything but. Within those centers, women are told outlandish lies about abortion, and are often pressured to carry the baby full-term.
These are not crisis centers. They are fronts for the anti-abortion movement, but they refuse to advertise as such to their vulnerable clientele of women who must decide how to deal with an unintended pregnancy.
NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut just released a report, “The Right to Lie: Crisis Pregnancy Centers In Connecticut,” and what they found would make the biggest charlatan blush.
According to the report, which used undercover research gathered from February 2012 to June 2014, Connecticut’s crisis pregnancy centers outnumber the state’s 19 abortion providers. Abortion providers are subject to regulations and state oversight. Crisis pregnancy centers are not. The report found that 95 percent of people who staff the state’s crisis centers give misleading information on abortion – that the procedure causes cancer, for instance, or severe mental health issues. Twenty percent of the staff wear white lab coats, as would doctors or nurses, though only 11 percent of the centers had medical professionals or medically supervised personnel on staff.
To lure customers, Connecticut’s crisis pregnancy centers promise free pregnancy tests, free baby supplies, and, for some, even free maternity clothes. The centers are frequently found in low-income areas – or near colleges or universities. Family planning is confined to discussions about abstinence. The centers generally offer no gynecological exams, no pap tests, and no assistance in domestic violence situations – all of which are services recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. One investigator was told by an overzealous staff member not to trust her own decision to have an abortion because “when you’re pregnant, you’re like an over-excited dog.”
“It’s pretty shocking,” said Tess Koenigsmark, NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut organizer. Particularly shocking was that NARAL affiliates in other states found similar practices at their centers. Connecticut should know better. As Koenigsmark said: “We view Connecticut as a relatively progressive place for reproductive rights, and yet the deceptive tactics aren’t any better here.”
Koenigsmark said NARAL and other organizations intend to push legislators to make sure centers adhere to good business practices. Ironically, the NARAL report comes on the heels of an Associated Press study that says fewer women are seeking abortions. That’s not just in states like Texas and Missouri, where legislators are intent on restricting abortions as much as possible, but also in progressive states like Connecticut, which saw one of the highest declines in five years, at 30 percent.
According to the report, abortions are down by 12 percent nationwide since 2010. Are crisis pregnancy centers lowering the incident of abortion? Not at all. The Guttmacher Institute has been tracking a nationwide decline in abortions for a few years. A 2014 study said that decline could be largely attributed to increased access to contraceptives and birth control.
“You can almost go back to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when we all started talking to our children about condoms,” said Susan Yolen, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England’s vice president of public policy and advocacy.
“In and of themselves, condoms are not the best choice, but young people who have decided to be sexually active have grown up in a world where we talked about condoms.”
Other factors include programs such as Connecticut’s Medicaid family planning benefit program. If a woman is not on Medicaid but would probably qualify if she became pregnant, she is eligible for family planning services. Connecticut’s 40 or so school-based health centers have also contributed to the decline, said Yolen.
Because that’s the answer, isn’t it? Knowledge and access reduce the abortion rate. Someone should tell the crisis pregnancy centers. They’re doing it all wrong.
Susan Campbell is the Robert C. Vance Chair for Journalism and Mass Communication at Central Connecticut State University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.