The 'fake abortion clinics' misleading women in the United States

On the left: a crisis pregnancy center; on the right: protesters outside a CPC.
On the left: a crisis pregnancy center; on the right: protesters outside a CPC.

Activists for the right to choose abortion in the United States are fighting back against a proliferation of “crisis pregnancy centres” across the country. CPCs, as they are known, are clinics — often run by anti-abortion Christians — that try to talk women out of getting an abortion. Some have been found to give factually incorrect information to pregnant women looking for help. Pro-choice activists are slamming their dodgy practices and calling for them to be shut down.

CORRECTION: This article stated that the crisis pregnancy centre Options For Women/Cornerstone does not provide pre- or post-abortive care. This is incorrect, and has been changed.

There are CPCs in every state. Heartbeat International, a network of “pro-life pregnancy resource centres” in the United States, has 4120 “service providers” listed, none of which offer abortion. In comparison, the Guttmacher Institute recorded only 788 abortion providers across the country in 2014 — and a large number of these clinics will have shut down in the years since. Often, CPCs will greatly outnumber real abortion clinics – for example, in Missouri, there is only one abortion provider, but the Heartbeat International directory lists 114 CPCs in the state.

A national campaign called Expose Fake Clinics is trying to shed light on these organisations, and carried out a ‘week of action’ from July 17-26, which included protesting in front of CPCs and encouraging people to identify and expose “fake clinics” operating in the local area.

#exposefakeclinics #asseeninnewyork @calloutfakeclinics @lpjleague

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Some organisations have been keeping an eye on CPCs for years. Naral is a pro-choice organisation that promotes reproductive rights, and their chapter in Minnesota has been conducting “secret shopping” at CPCs throughout the state. This involves someone going in and posing as a pregnant woman, to gauge what kind of services they offer, and whether they provide medically accurate information.

“There was a lot of scaremongering”

One woman “secret shopped” at a number of CPCs throughout Minnesota in 2014 and 2015, and spoke to FRANCE 24 about the type of care she was given. She requested to remain anonymous.

The ‘story’ that I had was that I was pregnant and didn’t know what I was going to do. I was 25 years old, I was in college, and I didn’t know if I wanted to have a child or how I would afford one. On some of these trips I went in by myself, and on others I went with someone who posed as my boyfriend – although he would never be allowed in the consulting room with me.

In my pocket, I would carry pee from a pregnant friend so that when I took the pregnancy test I could appear to be pregnant. I would try to ask vague and open-ended questions like, “What are my options?”

“I was told outright lies”

In general, there was a lot of shaming language and scaremongering. It made me think about young or scared people going in there who think it is a legitimate resource. They use such nuanced language – they would refer to the foetus as your ‘child’. They referred to my mother as ‘Grandma’. They used emotional language to move you. I was also told outright lies. That I would have an increased risk of breast cancer if I got an abortion. That there is a higher chance of suicide if you’ve had an abortion. That I would definitely break up with my boyfriend if I got an abortion. They would ask me if I wanted kids in the future, and I would say, “Yes, I would like a family at some point”, and they would say, “Well, you may not be able to conceive in the future if you have an abortion”. Sometimes they would lie about how far along I was, and I would ask them how long I had to make the decision. They would tell me I could make the decision at any point until the 9 months mark, which isn’t true and means that if I made the decision at that point, I would be forced to carry the child to term.

The most common lie was monetary. They were misleading. They would tell me that the state would pay for my education if I had a child, or everything would be covered by state funding.

The whole idea of secret shopping is to see if they are providing medically accurate, fact-based information. A minority of them did this. I think that the majority of CPCs intentionally confuse people, and lie to and shame women. There are some services where pregnant women can go where they are provided accurate information. All of the CPCs that I have personally entered would not meet those criteria. [Editor’s note: She estimates that she has secret-shopped at about 15 CPCs throughout the state.]

“This campaign is an unfair representation of what clinics like mine do”

Angela Erickson is the executive director for Options for Women/Cornerstone, a crisis pregnancy centre in the town of St Michael in Minnesota. She recently made a video in response to the #ExposeFakeClinics campaign, in which she interviews a client of theirs, who speaks under the pseudonym “Jamie”, about her experience at a CPC.

A still from the video showing Angela Erickson (right) with one of Cornerstone's former clients, and their children.

She stressed that Options for Women/Cornerstone is privately funded and does not receive federal or state assistance. In Minnesota, CPCs do not have to be licensed or inspected, but Erickson told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that her clinic does employ medically licensed staff.

One of our former clients often comes back in when she’s in the area to spend time with the staff, because she so appreciated what we were able to do for her. We were talking about the #ExposeFakeClinics campaign and she was so upset about it, so I asked her if she would be willing to share her story. I feel like this campaign is such an unfair representation of what clinics like mine are doing.

I’m not going to say that there aren’t clinics that have used tactics that I am opposed to, but it does not mean that all clinics are like that. We follow a pro-life stance. We are very upfront about what we are offering and what we believe, so people can’t say that they feel deceived. Whether a client is Christian or not Christian, we will meet her on her level and on her terms. If she wants to discuss religion or to pray with us, we will, but if a client doesn’t want to talk about that we won’t.

#prolife #life #imageofgod

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My nurse manager and I are very clear about being honest about their options: adoption, abortion, and parenting. We encourage them to make an informed decision and to do their research. Have we had clients go and get abortions? Yes. If those clients come back to us, would we help them? Absolutely. Being compassionate is our bottom line. We are bringing God’s love to people. We will help them and be someone to talk to, but we do not perform abortions. We will not be complicit in the death of a child.

A lot of women consider abortion because there’s an obstacle of some sort that they’re facing, and we help them get rid of that obstacle. If they need pre-natal care and don’t have health insurance we can help them with that, if they are facing financial difficulty we can help them secure state funding.

Opaque links between different anti-abortion organisations

A network of anti-abortion organisations exists all over the United States. Erickson’s clinic Cornerstone is affiliated with Heartbeat International, which describes itself as a “pregnancy help network”. Heartbeat International states on its website that it reaches people who are “abortion-vulnerable” through a call-centre and website called Option Line. Option Line promises to provide information on all options available to pregnant women. But its website makes no reference to the fact that it is associated with an anti-abortion network, and that all of the service providers it will refer patients to will have an anti-abortion stance.

Some states such as California and Washington have passed laws that require CPCs to post clear signage at their facilities and to make clear in all communication that they are not healthcare providers and do not necessarily have medical licenses. But in other states, local and state authorities are cracking down further on abortion providers, while paving the way for CPCs to flourish.