Sunday, January 22, 2012

Blog for Choice Day: A Look Inside Crisis Pregnancy Centers

This past summer, I interned with a pro-choice organization that was performing investigations of crisis pregnancy centers in order to reveal their deceptive tactics, aid in the creation of legislation that would regulate these pseudo "clinics," and educate women about what really lies inside these centers that advertise for abortion counseling. To contribute to this important initiative, I performed several of these investigations. With a fake name and story, I pretended to be pregnant, vulnerable and poor (okay maybe I didn't have to pretend all that much on that last one. Hello, unpaid internships.)

The reality of what goes on inside crisis pregnancy centers is scary. I wasn't even pregnant and knew all about the trap I was walking into, but it was still terrifying. I also knew that most of the information they were telling me was false--anything they could do to convince me not to have an abortion--which is the scariest part of these places. The medical misinformation that they preach to pregnant women is a threat to their health.

I was told by several crisis pregnancy centers that birth control and condoms cause cancer. I was even presented with fake, yet real looking, medical pamphlets "proving" this. If I had been an actual "patient", not an investigator, and didn't know better, I could have walked out of these places convinced that protected sex would give me cancer. Of course the crisis pregnancy center staff (not medical professionals) told me to be abstinent and thus avoid having to use birth control and condoms in order to protect myself from deadly cancers. But the ineffectiveness of the abstinence-only message has been proven over and over. It is a threat to women's health to instruct sexually active women to abandon methods of safe sex.

Crisis pregnancy centers use deceptive and false advertising to convince women that they provide abortion counseling and referrals. However, once they have abortion-seeking women inside their doors, they go to great lengths--desperate lengths--to convince them not to have an abortion. The number one tactic that they use is to lie about the risks of abortion. Abortion causes breast cancer, internal bleeding, infection, and depression, they told me. If I expressed my wish to finish my college education and worries about the cost of raising a child, they promised me free food, diapers and baby clothes--sometimes even free housing and childcare.

Then came the moral guilt trip. Religion was always brought up during my appointments at crisis pregnancy centers. Sometimes they asked me if I wanted to pray and the beginning and end of the appointment, which I declined. God and morality were brought into the conversation to try to make me feel guilty about having sex in the first place and to convince me that I could correct this wrongdoing by not choosing abortion, but instead choosing to have a child that I expressed that I did not want to have and that would derail my educational and career plans. Gender pronouns and sometimes even baby names were assigned to the imaginary fetus inside of me. If I had actually been pregnant and seeking an abortion, with little knowledge about abortion and choice, this rhetoric of personhood would have only made my decision more confusing.

Crisis pregnancy centers attack a woman's right to choose from angles of "morality" and "science," steeped in a conservative, religious, pro-life agenda.

Another scary aspect of crisis pregnancy centers is that most people are completely unaware of their mission and tactics. The best thing you can do is tell your friends about them, and tell them to tell their friends. Also, please urge your representative to cosponsor the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act and prevent CPCs from deceiving women.

People often ask me what's wrong with crisis pregnancy centers, as having a child is part of choice. They are absolutely right that choosing to have a child is an option that the pro-choice movement supports as much as it supports the option of abortion. The problem with crisis pregnancy centers is that they use false advertising, false medical information, and other deceptive tactics to persuade women to not have an abortion, despite their wishes to do so. Pro-choice medical institutions, like Planned Parenthood, offer counseling and medical services for all of a woman's options: adoption, abortion and parenting. That's real choice.

I plan to do many different things to help elect pro-choice candidates in 2012, including being engaged with the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance's "Get Out Her Vote" campaign, but a simple and effective thing I will be doing is sharing my experiences inside crisis pregnancy centers to shed light on the scary, harmful rhetoric that the pro-life movement espouses. Electing pro-choice candidates in 2012 is vital for protecting women's health, their right to choose, and their right to receive abortion counseling that does not in any way mirror that of crisis pregnancy centers.

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