When Senate Republicans blocked funding to stop the Zika virus unless limits were placed on federal funding for Planned Parenthood, an old debate was revived. Should the federal government allocate any money to Planned Parenthood, America’s leading provider of affordable reproductive healthcare – including abortion?
Most Republican lawmakers support ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Democrats tend to disagree. Strangely, however, there is little to no debate over a far worse phenomenon: federal and state funding for crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), unregulated faux medical clinics which outnumber abortion providers 3 to 1 nationwide.
Crisis pregnancy centers, most of which are religiously affiliated, supposedly offer counseling and advice to pregnant women and new mothers. In practice, the volunteers who staff CPCs try to attract vulnerable women seeking abortions and purposely mislead them about how to obtain an abortion. Although most people who work in CPCs have no medical training,they often wear lab coats and attempt to seem like medical doctors by administering sonograms, having pregnant women fill out forms before seeing a counselor, and situating their centers in places that look like medical offices. Some staffers go further, lying to women that abortions are linked to breast cancer, damage fertility permanently, or cause an imaginary mental illness called ‘post-abortion syndrome’.
When a woman calls seeking an abortion, the purpose of this morally bankrupt deception is to stall women until their second trimester of pregnancy, when it becomes more expensive and (slightly more) medically risky to obtain an abortion. CPC staffers hope women will resign themselves to giving birth to a baby they do not want.
CPCs attract women seeking abortions by using deceptive advertising methods. Care Net and Heartbeat International, two of the three aforementioned umbrella organizations affiliated with most crisis pregnancy centers, spend a combined $18,000 per month on online advertising aimed at women searching for abortions on the Internet. Though some CPCs admit their anti-choice stance on their websites, many do not. In one survey of New York CPCs, 75 percent did not admit to being anti-abortion on their websites.
The majority of crisis pregnancy centers are run by one of three openly partisan religious umbrella organizations. The first, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, is a member of the anti-choice National Pro-Life Religious Council, which describes itself as a “network of life-affirming ministries” with the aim of achieving “an abortion-free America.” Care Net, the world’s largest CPC umbrella organization, gives pregnant women Bible classes instead of abortions. Heartbeat International, which is affiliated with more than 1,800 crisis pregnancy centers in 50 countries, absurdly likens abortion to racially based genocide on its website: “O that the murderous effect of abortion in the Black and Latino communities, destroying tens of thousands at the hands of white abortionists, would explode with the same reprehensible reputation as lynching.”
In some states, the ratio of crisis pregnancy centers to legitimate abortion providers is particularly atrocious. 91 percent of counties in Ohio have no abortion providers; overall, the state’s CPC-to-abortion provider ratio is 7 to 1. In Montana, there are 20 crisis pregnancy centers and 4 abortion clinics. 96 percent of Missouri’s counties have no abortion provider. This dearth of healthcare providers does not stop the state from giving tax credits to religious CPCs. But Missouri is not the only state that legitimizes CPCs. Thirty-four of America’s 50 states fund crisis pregnancy centers, but the situation is most dire in South Dakota. There, women who want abortions are required to visit an anti-abortion counselor first. After the visit, they must undergo a waiting period of three days before having an abortion – even if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.
California has some of the strictest anti-CPC laws in the country. Since February 2016, crisis pregnancy centers in California have been required to inform women of their other options for reproductive healthcare and abortions. But even in a liberal state like California, free speech laws mean that CPCs will never be shut down entirely. On the whole, courts have sided with CPCs in contentious free-speech cases.
There are two crisis pregnancy centers located near campus. The first, Foothills Pregnancy Resource Center, moralistically promises to help “teenagers … re-commit to sexual integrity before and in their marriages.” The second, Choices Resource Center, is careful not to put technically false information on its website. While it does not claim to provide abortions, it lists something vague called “abortion information” as one of the services it provides.
If you are as outraged about CPCs as I am, there are ways you can fight them. The best way is voting. Emily’s LIST, a PAC that supports pro-choice Democratic women running for office, has a list of the candidates it has endorsed on its website. These female candidates are committed to protecting federal funding for Planned Parenthood and preventing CPCs from spreading damaging misinformation.
In taking action, you can also join the newly formed Claremont League for Reproductive Justice, which meets on Saturdays at 1 p.m. in Walker Lounge. Most importantly, you can spread awareness about CPCs and demand accurate information about abortions. Every person in America has the right to a safe, legal abortion. It is tragic that not everyone knows that.
Kate Dolgenos PO '17 is a politics major from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She wears better shoes than you.