Pregnancy Crisis Center Scare Tactics

Choices Medical Clinic, dedicated to prevention of abortion
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In order for you to make the best decision about your unplanned pregnancy, you need to receive comprehensive, unbiased and medically accurate information. Many pregnant women visit pregnancy crisis centers, that typically look like medical clinics, trying to seek advice and counseling. Yet they often leave feeling betrayed after discovering the center's anti-choice philosophy. Many pregnancy crisis centers have been criticized for misinforming and intimidating pregnant women in order to achieve the center's goal or preventing the woman from obtaining an abortion.

Pregnancy crisis centers tend to be run by organizations whose goal is to promote their ministry and pro-life ideology. Many of these pregnancy crisis centers use billboards and advertisements with slogans like:

  • "Pregnant? Scared? You're Not Alone"
  • "Pregnant? Considering an Abortion? Consider Your Options"
  • "Pregnant? Free Pregnancy Tests. Caring and Confidential"
  • "Considering an Abortion? Information on a Woman's Choice"
  • Pregnant? Need Help? You Have Options"
  • Unplanned? Overwhelmed? Confidential Help"

These marketing techniques are purposely devised to attract "abortion vulnerable" women. Pregnancy crisis centers have names and use advertisements that can give the impression that they are neutral, nonjudgmental, healthcare providers. For example, they may have names like Crisis Pregnancy Center, Pregnancy Aid, Pregnancy Resource Center, Pregnancy Counseling Center, or Pregnancy Care Center. These centers may also use names that sound similar to the names of real family planning clinics in the neighborhood (for example, the pregnancy crisis center "Plan Your Parenthood" may be located next to a "Planned Parenthood"), and choose locations that are close to legitimate health centers. This makes it easier for women to go to the pregnancy crisis center by mistake.

Some pregnancy crisis centers do provide an open and honest atmosphere while offering neutral support and information, and though many of these centers are pro-life, some are more upfront about their philosophies and services than others. Pregnancy crisis centers almost always operate intending to prevent a pregnant woman from having an abortion. Extensive investigation, research and personal testimony of patients have consistently shown that the majority of crisis pregnancy crisis centers leave women feeling deceived by their scare tactics, manipulation, and religious philosophy.

Major Complaints Against Pregnancy Crisis Centers

These pregnancy crisis centers have been found to falsely advertise that they offer abortion services or counseling—when, in fact, it has been found that the main objective of these centers is to discourage women from exercising their option to have an abortion. Many pregnancy crisis centers will not discuss abortion options or make abortion referrals. Even though these centers provide no help or support for abortion, the organizations running them admit that part of their marketing strategy is to reach more abortion-vulnerable women. They accomplish this by advertising that they are comprehensive women’s health clinics, and are often listed under "abortion services" in the Yellow Pages. Additionally, they are now trying to increase their internet presence by securing top placement on search engines. So, when a woman is searching for abortion information, pregnancy crisis center ads and sites come up.

Family Research Council (a group who over the past decade has engaged in a variety of research and public policy activities designed to support, enhance and defend the work of the nation's pregnancy crisis centers) participated in a project to help pregnancy crisis centers improve their marketing strategies since these centers were not reaching as many "abortion-minded" women as they had wanted. FRC conducted a nationwide poll of women ages 18-34. When analyzing the results, they examined which words pro-choice women facing an unplanned pregnancy were most likely to use when searching the Yellow Pages for pregnancy help. Then in a report, the FRC recommended that pregnancy crisis centers make sure to list their clinics under these categories.

This poll also found that the term "crisis" evoked a strong negative reaction (especially among upper socioeconomic class women). FRC advised that the name "Women’s Resource Center" (which gives the impression that the facility provides a full range of services) had the most strategic value in reaching wealthier women and those at risk for abortion. Their report also provided advice on the best terminology the centers should use, advertising imagery and language, and location suggestions. According to FRC, this report was widely distributed to the pregnancy crisis centers and explained to them at annual meetings. Since then, "hundreds of centers across the country changed their marketing practices and service emphasis as a result of this FRC study."

Because of this deception, it can be tricky deciding which pregnancy crisis center to visit. Though some of these resource centers do provide accurate and neutral information, others can be coercive and deceptively appeal to pregnant women through false advertisement or misleading names. The Centers for Disease Control, Planned Parenthood, New York Metropolitan Religious Coalition for Abortion, National Organization for Women, the Texas Attorney General, American Civil Liberties Union, the North Dakota Supreme Court plus various politicians and researchers have publically all gone on record calling these pregnancy crisis centers as being "deceptive."

Reported Scare Tactics Used

Once a woman has been misled into a pregnancy crisis center, she may be subjected to a variety of coercive, emotional, manipulative, and offensive scare tactics that are designed to convince her to not seek an abortion. It has been reported that these centers may scare women by crying, sharing personal stories, and use inaccurate fetal models or videos to show fetal development. Pregnancy crisis centers try to manipulate a woman's emotions and thoughts by referring to the fetus as a "baby" and use phrases like, "congratulations, you're a mother." Women who have visited these centers often share that after having a sonogram, the staff member will give them the ultrasound photos with messages typed on them like, "Hi Mom," "Can't Wait to Meet You," and "I Love You." Staff at pregnancy crisis centers will also typically refer to abortion as killing or murder.

The following are compiled examples of various people's reported experiences while at a pregnancy crisis center. Please note that these examples are typical of what one may expect and are, by far, not the exception:

  • According to a 2002 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a woman at a pregnancy crisis center was told that she "had the devil inside her." She was then "bombarded with graphic images of disfigured babies and aborted fetuses."
  • Amy Sutnick, a Planned Parenthood employee visited one of the Manhattan Pregnancy Services centers that advertised it offers "accurate abortion information." Ms. Sutnick reported that at all three of their pregnancy crisis centers, women were required to watch the slideshow, Caring while waiting for their pregnancy test results. The slideshow contained numerous untrue statistics about the dangers of abortion, all of which have been disputed by the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Liz Nazario, a volunteer at a pregnancy crisis center, admits that in an attempt to shake the smugness of women seeking an abortion, she starts by showing black-and-white photos of the quickly developing fingers of a fetus; then, she will take out a big, color photo of a fetus with closed eyes and a smile. Finally, she shows another full-page color picture of bloody fetuses in a trash bin. She further reveals that she would sometimes take a pregnant woman into a tiny chapel to pray before a marble altar. She tells Alan Cooperman, of the Washington Post, that she always invites these women to watch a video on a big-screen TV. "I like to use Abortion Procedures. It explains second- and third-trimester abortions," she explains (referring to relatively rare and traumatic abortion procedures). "Some girls need Silent Scream. Silent Scream is softer. I like to go gradually." Nazario also shares, "A lot of times when a girl comes in and says she wants an abortion, she's just being selfish... She's really not thinking about the baby. She's thinking about herself."
  • In Arizona, a father brought his 16-year-old daughter to a pregnancy crisis center after she had been raped. The teenager was shown "brutal footage" including pictures of dismembered fetuses. The father reports that the center, "just emotionally raped her. They [the pregnancy crisis center] are advocates for the unborn, and to hell with the troubled person. They had an ax to grind, and just terrorized her."
  • Nancy Weinstock, a NOW volunteer, visited the Options Resources Center, whose advertisement promises "birth control information." She was told that "birth control doesn't work because Mother Nature doesn't intend our bodies to be controlled." She was also informed that urine and blood pregnancy tests were "identical" and equally effective (information that is also false).
  • Courtney Barbour, an administrative assistant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, brought a pregnant urine sample with her to a nearby pregnancy crisis center, Birthchoice. Barbour explained that while waiting for the test results, the counselor showed her plastic fetuses at various stages of development and informed her that her fetus has a heartbeat immediately (which is not accurate). The counselor further asked about Barbour's religious convictions, to which Barbour answered, "Well, I don't go to church, but my grandfather was a Methodist minister." The counselor responded, "Well I bet that your grandfather really would like you to have this baby." Barbour then recounts that the woman (who had performed her pregnancy test) came back into the room and presented her with a pair of soft blue, hand-knit booties and said, "Congratulations! You’re a mother."
  • In Minnesota, Robbinsdale Women's Center, an anti-abortion pregnancy crisis center is located across the street from the Robbinsdale Clinic, which offers a range of medical care including abortion services. Several women who accidentally went to the center instead of the clinic complained that the center pressured and deceived them. One woman even filed a complaint with the Minnesota attorney general claiming, "In trying to find the Robbinsdale Clinic, I mistakenly went into the women's clinic across the street. When I told them my name and appointment time, they had me take a seat and had a counselor talk to me about anti-abortion. At which time, I learned I didn't have an appointment there at all. They then said they did not know of the Robbinsdale Clinic."
  • In an excerpt from the publication Legal But Out of Reach, a mother shares that while at a pregnancy crisis center, after the staff members asked what our decision will be, "my daughter and I said we decided the best thing for her to do was have an abortion and how much would that cost?" The two ladies said, "please wait a minute" and left us... They came back with a doll and scissors and said, "this is what your baby looks like now and we want you to start cutting her up because that’s what will happen if you get an abortion—so start cutting!"

How Pregnancy Crisis Centers Mislead Women

Since the goal of most pregnancy crisis centers is to stop a woman from having an abortion, it has been found that in addition to using scare tactics, these centers also try to manipulate women by giving out false information.

There appear to be several common types of misinformation that pregnancy crisis centers frequently tell pregnant women:

  • It is not uncommon for these centers to suggest to a pregnant woman, as an alternative to abortion, to wait a little while because there is a very high possibility that she will have a miscarriage (and therefore will not need an abortion).
  • Pregnancy crisis centers are also known for not being honest about contraception. Women are often told that birth control is not effective at preventing pregnancy and that hormonal contraceptives and condoms cause cancer. Some women even report being told that all condoms have holes and don’t provide any STD protection. The religious philosophies of many of these centers lead them to promote abstinence over contraception.
  • One of the greatest myths that pregnancy crisis centers try to convince pregnant women is that abortion is not safe. Typically, they falsely exaggerate abortion risks and will incorrectly claim that abortions can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, future ectopic pregnancies, excessive bleeding, infertility, future preterm births, and even death. They do not discuss how women are 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth than to die from abortion complications. Some pregnancy crisis centers go as far as to inaccurately suggest the opposite—that terminating a pregnancy is way more dangerous than carrying a baby to term.
  • Other misinformation these centers commonly use as scare tactics for discouraging abortion is falsely claiming that abortion leads to or causes breast cancer. Investigators have found that pregnancy crisis centers may tell women that it is a 100% proven fact that abortions cause breast cancer. A volunteer at one of these centers in North Carolina actually cites a non-existent Australian study where "every single 18-year-old woman who chose to have an abortion was diagnosed with breast cancer." Women may also be told that if they have a family history of breast cancer, they would most certainly get cancer and die should they have an abortion.
  • Many pregnancy crisis centers will also try to convince women that having an abortion will result in psychological problems. There have been countless reports of women who have been mistakenly told that having an abortion can lead to anything from "post-abortion stress" or "post-abortion syndrome" to depression, suicide, sexual and relationship dysfunction, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and even increases the chances that the woman will be abusive towards her future children.
  • Finally, these centers rely on shame as a scare tactic to frighten and overwhelm pregnant women. Many of volunteers as these centers use biblically-based arguments to encourage women to not have sex until marriage. They will try to preach religion to pressure worried or uncertain women into continuing the pregnancy and not seek an abortion.
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