Finding out you are pregnant could potentially be a stressful life event requiring an evaluation of all possible options for your unique situation, with one of these options being the choice to end the pregnancy. For some this may be a clear choice, and for others, it may take a lot of processing and researching. Whatever your process and whatever your emotions, your choice is valid. What isn’t okay is being fed deceptive information during a crucial decision-making time in your life from a resource you presumed to be helpful, safe, and medically accurate. Unfortunately, this is what Crisis Pregnancy Centers, or CPCs, do.
CPCs are essentially anti-choice establishments claiming to be non-judgmental sexual health resources for those who become pregnant. These centers typically have names that sound like harmless “pregnancy resources” and claim to offer a variety of services, such as life counseling, STD testing, pregnancy tests, and sexual health education. However, CPCs are much more problematic than meets the eye. While they allegedly offer these services in a supportive manner, looking closer reveals their biased motives. This is clear when coming across a statement often hidden on their websites: they do not provide abortion referrals or any non-natural forms of birth control.
The truth is, CPCs target emotionally vulnerable and under-resourced populations, and then disseminate information that plays into moral panic or is straight up medically inaccurate. For example, CPCs are commonly strategically located near Planned Parenthoods, or near vulnerable populations, such as college campuses or marginalized communities. Sadly, these are locations where their harmless facade may be successful, as they simply advertise helpful services, such as free pregnancy and STD testing to lure people in.
We are now seeing CPCs blatantly target the University of Minnesota campus. Recently, some have purchased advertisement space in the Gopher Guide, a resource manual dispersed to the entirety of the incoming student population. This means incoming students, who are potentially pregnant or may become pregnant, are exposed to resources that do not provide them with the comprehensive information they deserve. Rather than letting this go unnoticed, let’s get some facts straight and dismantle this misinformation at its core.
CPCs are statistically proven to give out medically inaccurate information. First, let’s look nationwide. After using dishonest advertising to bring people into their centers, CPCs intentionally provide misinformation to strongly dissuade a pregnant person from choosing to have an abortion. For example, a congressional investigative report, False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers, revealed that 20 of the 23 investigated CPCs “provided false or misleading information by claiming–contrary to the scientific evidence–that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, that abortion harms future fertility or that abortion increases a woman’s risk of suffering severe mental health problems” (3).
Now, let’s look at Minnesota CPCs. Over 90 CPCs identified in Minnesota, with the vast majority being medically unlicensed. According to a 2012 report by NARAL Pro-choice Minnesota Foundation:
- 73% of CPCs investigated falsely claimed there is a link between abortion and a higher risk of breast cancer
- 87% of CPCs investigated claimed abortion leads to severe mental health problems
- 67% of CPCs investigated claimed a link between infertility and/or miscarriages due to an abortion
- The majority of CPC websites do not plainly state their stance on abortion, and only disclose their stance when the person visits the clinic
- None of the investigated CPCs provided birth control, and provided misleading information about birth control risk and Emergency Contraception
- Research by the NPCMF affirmed that the majority of CPC representatives are medically untrained volunteers.
CPCs benefit from loopholes that allow them to perform sonograms even though their organizations are not medically licensed to do so. Since CPCs are unregulated and medically unlicensed, they should not be able to provide such services as sonograms. CPCs are staffed by non-licensed volunteers, yet have started hiring licensed medical professionals available only for specific days just to provide sonograms as a scare tactic (2).
This may be overwhelming information, especially when you or someone you know may be going through a stressful decision making process, but don’t worry – there are real resources that exist to truly give you the options, support, and medical information you need without ulterior motives. Chloe Vraney, Legal Advocacy Coordinator at the University of Minnesota Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, speaks to the importance of trauma-informed advocacy that centers comprehensive information to all available legal options and a safe space for students to make an informed decision. Vraney explains:
“At the Aurora Center, we don’t provide any health care or medical services, but we may have clients who seek information on those things, and my role as an advocate is to lay out all their options for them and support them in whatever decision they make. Right now, abortion is a legal procedure, and it needs to be included in options for people to talk about it in a safe space where those options are appropriately represented, and from what we’ve seen in some of the language that’s used on [CPC] websites and the fact that they don’t make referrals to abortion services, I’m not sure if that’s exactly represented. We at the Aurora Center are funded by Student Service Fees, and all of the campus systems are here to serve students, and students are going to come from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, so we want to have all options available for all students and the direction that they want to take their lives available to them. If somebody does not ever want to hear or talk about abortion in their life, that’s not something we would do, but if somebody [is considering abortion] and meets with someone that is not giving them that as an option, that can be very harmful experience.”
How can you avoid crisis pregnancy centers that may not provide you with all of your available options? Do your research carefully. When looking at an organization you suspect may be anti-choice, analyze the wording they use on their website and the actual procedures they offer. Is their language applying guilt to those considering abortion? Is the organization only mentioning the possible medical risks associated with abortion? Does the website plainly state that the organization does not provide abortion referrals or abortions? These are all red flags. When in doubt, reach out to a trusted campus-based office or community center for advice on finding a comprehensive pregnancy resources, such as those listed at the end of this post.
Fortunately, there are still trustworthy resources on the University of Minnesota campus for people who aren’t pregnant, but are still looking for options to take control of their sexual health. Kate Elwell, SHADE Advisor and Health Promotion Specialist at Boynton Health Clinic, speaks to the importance of comprehensive resources when it comes to all forms of sexual health:
“Access to comprehensive sexual health information is critical. Studies have shown that abstinence-only education is ineffective at preventing pregnancy, preventing sexually transmitted infections, and delaying onset of sexual intercourse. According to SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) comprehensive sexual health education uses a ‘holistic approach to provide young people with complete, accurate, and age-appropriate sex education that helps them reduce their risk of HIV/AIDs, other sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancy.’ Comprehensive sex ed includes ‘medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality including human development, relationships, decision making, abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention.’”
Fortunately, SHADE (Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education), a student health promotion group from Boynton Health, provides many services on campus for access to reliable and comprehensive sexual health information. Trained peers distribute a variety of safer sex supplies, provide support to answer sexual health questions, and help students access reliable sexual health information. Additionally, SHADE offers free confidential HIV testing as well as free condoms, dental dams and lubricant.
Why offer such services on a college campus? Elwell says:
“The free services and resources provided by SHADE fill an important role on campus. By providing trustworthy and accurate information about sexual health through peers trained by Boynton, SHADE increases access to information. Research from University of Minnesota researcher Marla Eisenberg, ScD, has shown that students expect their college/university to provide access to information and resources; we know that students want the school to provide free supplies for safer sex as well as information that they can trust.”
So although there are tricky CPCs out there, there are still reliable options to help you access information about sexual health and locate real pregnancy resources.
Overall, CPCs only prolong the process of finding a safe and supportive medically licensed clinic that will actually provide pregnant individuals with all their options. Not only does this impose unnecessary stress, but by delaying access to real medical professionals, it potentially affects the health of the pregnant individual (1). Give yourself and the people you care about the support they need, by ensuring that the pregnancy and sexual health resources you choose are options that offer full support of whatever decision you make for your body and whatever care your body needs.