Crisis Pregnancy Centers Offer Help—With Ideology Attached

As they grow in popularity, crisis pregnancy centers also attract controversy for pushing an anti-abortion perspective.

baby on the board

Pictures of babies with pro-life slogans fill a bulletin board at Alternatives Pregnancy Center, about 20 miles from Independence, Iowa. (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Sara Benincasa is a blogger, comedian, and author of 'Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.'

Perhaps you’ve seen the signs along your local highway. Often, they carry messages like, “Pregnant? There’s help out there!” followed by a phone number. Other times, the slogans are more strident—a picture of a mother with a baby, emblazoned with the words “Love Them Both. Choose Life!”

Unsurprisingly, this signage is not provided by local Planned Parenthood affiliates or NARAL Pro-Choice America. Advertisements of this type generally come from pro-life organizations, some of which fund so-called crisis pregnancy centers (now sometimes referred to simply as pregnancy centers).

Pregnancy centers, which are usually run by Christian conservative organizations, bill themselves as the compassionate, loving alternative to such abortion providers as Planned Parenthood.

MORE: (VIDEO) College Students Have Sex to Save Planned Parenthood

For example, Westside Pregnancy Clinic, located in Santa Monica, California, states that its mission is “Empowering individuals to make informed pregnancy and sexual health choices.”

The pitch is not too dissimilar from Planned Parenthood’s claim that it “has promoted a commonsense approach to women’s health and well-being, based on respect for each individual’s right to make informed, independent decisions about health, sex, and family planning.”

But while the organizations use some of the same language to describe their work, their underlying agendas are quite different.

Like many Planned Parenthood health centers, Westside offers such medical services as pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, routine pelvic exams, and sexually transmitted infection testing. But while many Planned Parenthood health centers offer abortion referrals, or may even perform abortions on site, pregnancy centers like Westside Pregnancy Clinic aim to dissuade women from obtaining abortions. Witness the “testimonial” from a participant in its “Abortion Recovery” program:

The after-effects of my abortion were more traumatic than the abortion itself. It was painful and devastating. There were times when these emotions become so intense that I felt like I just couldn’t make it one more day. Those days seemed long & neverending but the truth is that I found hope and healing and laughter has replaced the sadness that once filled my heart. –Tiffany

Westside lists symptoms experienced by “those hurting from a past abortion:”

  • Deterioration of self-worth
  • Feelings of helplessness or powerless
  • Grief
  • Isolation
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Regret
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

This in spite of the fact that an American Psychological Association research review “found no evidence that a single abortion harms a woman’s mental health.” The report does, however, recommend that more research be done in order to draw a conclusion about the effect of multiple abortions on a woman’s mental health.

While centers like Westside have been subject to accusations of deliberately providing misleading information to pregnant women (for example, claiming a causal link between abortion and breast cancer), the New York Times reports that the centers are growing in popularity. And an increasing number of pregnancy centers receive state financing:

Thirteen states now provide some direct financing; 27 offer “Choose Life” license plates, the proceeds from which aid centers. In 2011, Texas increased financing for the centers while cutting family planning money by two-thirds, and required abortion clinics to provide names of centers at least 24 hours before performing abortions. In South Dakota, a 2011 law being challenged by Planned Parenthood requires pregnancy center visits before abortions.

Many centers do not offer Westside’s selection of medical services, instead simply providing free pregnancy testing, free ultrasounds and free “counseling,” the goal of which seems to be to persuade women to carry their pregnancies to term.

However, some pregnancy centers also serve as places for education about nutrition, prenatal care, and other topics relevant to new or expectant mothers. Viewed from this angle, it’s easy to see how a scared, young and low-income woman might come to regard a pregnancy center as a port in a storm.

What seems certain is that most if not all of these places of refuge come with ideological strings attached.

If you had a pregnant friend, would you recommend that she go to a pregnancy crisis center or to Planned Parenthood? Explain your choice in COMMENTS.

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