Virginia’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers – Facts and Fiction; Part I

By Kathy Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project

On July 1, 2013, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation (NPCVF) released Crisis Pregnancy Centers Revealed, Part II: An Investigative Update on Virginia CPCs. From June 2012 to June 2013, NPCVF engaged in a year-long investigation of crisis pregnancy centers throughout Virginia. Crisis Pregnancy Centers Revealed, Part II is a follow-up to NPCVF’s 2009 CPC investigation and report.  It provides updated information about the harm CPCs pose to women in Virginia. Over the next three weeks on this blog, we will highlight features of the report, discussing NPCVF’s investigative findings, recent concerning trends in other states regarding the funding of CPCs, the connection between CPCs and Virginia’s forced ultrasound law, and policy recommendations to combat the harms of CPCs.

First, what are CPCs? Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are anti-choice entities posing as comprehensive health-care clinics. CPCs seek to dissuade women from obtaining abortions under the guise of providing health advice. Regardless of how a person feels about the question of legal abortion, everyone should agree that women should never be misled when seeking information about pregnancy, birth control, abortion, or sexually transmitted infections. Yet that’s what is happening in Virginia.

NPCVF’s first CPC investigation, in 2009, gave Virginians an unprecedented look into the misleading and potentially dangerous practices employed by CPCs throughout the Commonwealth. In Crisis Pregnancy Centers Revealed, Part II, NPCVF updates us about CPC’s actions since 2009.  NPCVF found that the vast majority of Virginia CPCs continue to relay medically inaccurate information to potential and current clientele about infertility, fetal development, sexually transmitted infections, contraception, pregnancy, and abortion. Of the 56 centers identified and investigated in Virginia, 71 percent (40) shared medically erroneous information and/or propaganda to dissuade women from utilizing their full range of reproductive options, including birth-control and legal abortion. Along with other manipulative tactics, the investigation uncovered that these CPCs provide verifiably false information about the possible side effects of an abortion.

Here is some of the shocking misinformation spread by CPCs in Virginia:

•    “40 CPCs shared medically erroneous information that abortion causes long-term psychological damage, including suggesting that women who have abortions can ‘get eating disorders, become alcoholic, or become drug addicts,’ and that ‘the sound of a vacuum would always bring back flashbacks of the abortion.’”

•    “18 CPCs shared medically inaccurate information that abortion causes breast cancer, including several that issued the following warning on their respective websites: ‘A number of reliable studies have demonstrated a connection between abortion and later development of breast cancer.’”

•    “25 CPCs falsely reported a link between abortion, infertility, and later pregnancy complications. One in-person investigator reported: ‘The counselor said that if I was a certain blood type, an abortion could cause my body to create antibodies that would attack my baby the next time I got pregnant.’”

As the U.S. Supreme Court continued to uphold the constitutional right to abortion, anti-choice activists turned to CPCs as a tool for undermining access to abortion services. CPCs promote an anti-choice agenda by encouraging women to delay decision making. CPCs know that Virginia clinics can only provide first-trimester abortion care, and abortions in later stages of pregnancy are more expensive and less available. CPCs are also placed near colleges and universities and use strategic advertising to target the most underserved in our health care system, including women of color, young women, women living in rural locations, and low-income women. By advertising free services, CPCs attract women facing unintended pregnancies, but the cost to women is actually quite high when access to truly comprehensive options is cut off.

Check back next week – we will highlight recent developments in other states’ funding of CPCs, which can serve as a warning to Virginians.  We will also highlight the connection between CPCs and Virginia’s forced ultrasound law.  Want to learn more about and/or get involved with the ACLU of Virginia’s work to protect the constitutional rights of all Virginians?  Sign up for our E-News and/or Grassroots Lobbying Action Alerts.