Baltimore ‘Crisis Pregnancy Center’ Case Brings Bigger Issues to Light
The Federal Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit recently decided to reopen a case regarding deceptive crisis pregnancy centers, a case that had been decided upon in June.
In that decision, Baltimore judges struck down a state ordinance that would have required crisis pregnancy centers—whose goal is to dissuade women from receiving abortions—to be more truthful in their advertising by notifying patients that they do not make referrals to abortion clinics. Last week, that decision was voided and a new hearing was scheduled for December 6.
Crisis pregnancy centers, also known as CPCs, are often falsely advertised as “abortion alternatives” and claim to offer pregnancy counseling as well as free pregnancy tests and contraception. Many women enter crisis pregnancy centers seeking sound medical advice and counseling in order to decide upon an option that will affect the rest of their lives, but can instead become victims of misleading information and unfair scare tactics.
Once inside, staff members attempt to talk the patients out of receiving an abortion, many times using Christian teachings to justify their actions. CPCs have also been found to provide misleading information about abortions, including false information about the mental effects of undergoing abortion procedures and fabricated statistics regarding health risks. Some centers show graphic pictures of unborn fetuses or videos of abortion procedures in an attempt to overwhelm women who seek their assistance with a sense of guilt. The centers often fail to provide the free contraception they claim to offer, and advocate abstinence rather than providing information about safe sex.
A young woman in this video compiled by the New York branch of NARAL, a pro-choice advocacy organization, gives her account of being misinformed about abortion and being harassed by CPC staff after she visited a center to receive help and information about her pregnancy.
The number ratio of CPCs to abortion clinics in the United States indicates a significant lack of safe, efficient access to reproductive health services: there are an estimated 2,300 to 3,500 crisis pregnancy centers throughout the country, as opposed to approximately 1,800 abortion clinics.
Crisis pregnancy centers have received over $30 million in federal funding since 2001, mostly from abstinence-only education grants. A provision of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 mandates that $50 million of federal money be allocated to abstinence-until-marriage education programs every year from 2010 through 2014. Despite the large amount of money contributed to abstinence-only education, a study based on a national survey of U.S. teenagers suggested a strong correlation between comprehensive sex education and a 60 percent decrease in teen pregnancy. Conversely, abstinence-only education seemed to make no significant impact on pregnancy rates among teenagers.
Several cities have passed legislation similar to the Baltimore bill in order to regulate the claims that crisis pregnancy centers make in their advertising, including New York City and Austin, Texas.
The question of whether or not to regulate CPCs’ advertising claims is not only a matter of false advertising and deception, it is part of the much larger issue of ensuring that women throughout the country have safe access to the quality information and services that they seek and deserve.
Amanda Fox-Rouch is a reporter for Campus Progress.