By Hannah Herbert and Marissa Baron
Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are anti-abortion organizations that claim to help pregnant people though they have been shown to utilize misinformation to coerce, deceive, and manipulate women.
They are widely considered to be unethical by healthcare professionals and the American Medical Association (AMA). A staggering number of these unprincipled institutions receive Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars.
As medical students, we learn to utilize evidence and standards of care as we partner with our patients to accurately inform and help them make the best health decisions.
While CPCs often intentionally pose as healthcare organizations, they are typically not qualified to provide any form of medicine and do not follow the standards that are so ingrained in our education. Rather, they shame and judge women for exploring alternative choices to continuing their pregnancy and often tell barefaced lies to promote their organizations’ agenda.
As future OB-GYNs, we know a key tenant of the medicine is the importance of respecting our patients’ autonomy. We seek to educate our patients with the most accurate and complete information about their options and the risks and benefits they are likely to experience.
We listen to their thoughts, answer their questions, and carry out the plan they choose for themselves. Crisis Pregnancy Centers have been shown to hurt women through lies, deception, and betrayal of trust. Many are purposefully designed to appear as full-service clinics and aim to lure in vulnerable pregnant women who they label as “abortion minded.”
They encourage trust through their false offers of education and support while sometimes going to extreme lengths to prevent unsuspecting women from accessing abortion services.
A Joint Position Statement from the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine and the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology points out that this practice of providing fake healthcare would be illegal if it were sold as a service. Crisis Pregnancy Centers get around these regulations by not charging for services.
Undercover investigations led by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) have documented numerous patient horror stories from women who have visited CPCs across the country.
These women reported being confronted with intentionally inaccurate ultrasound dates to encourage them to “wait to make a decision,” false allegations about the “pain they would be putting the baby through,” and even claims that family members would be called and informed of patients’ decisions.
These investigations also describe CPCs spreading falsehoods about birth control, unsupported claims about severe depression resulting from receiving an abortion, and lies regarding health risks and compromised future fertility after abortions.
CPCs are infamous for their utilization of scare tactics with the intention of frightening women into either carrying their pregnancy to term or delaying abortion care.
These tactics are unethical and, more importantly, can lead to harmful consequences such as making abortion care more expensive, more difficult to access, and in some cases even impossible to obtain.
The Turn Away Study from Advancing New Standards In Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) documents harms experienced by people who were denied wanted abortions. These harms include being four times more likely to live below the federal poverty level and being more likely to experience serious complications from the end of pregnancy, among others.
In 2020, the state of Pennsylvania spent over two times more on CPCs than on actual reproductive health care (“20-21 DHS Blue Book.pdf,” n.d., pp. 163–168).
Taxpayer dollars are given to the organization “Real Alternatives”, which distributes money to CPCs, who are in turn responsible for shaming and misinforming women. Real Alternatives has faced allegations of misuse of funds leading to several investigations. Last year, the state of Michigan terminated their funding after a public complaint was filed detailing alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars and failure to provide the services promised.
As medical students, we are dedicated to the ethical practice of medicine. No one appreciates the overwhelming complexity and need for competence in healthcare more than we do.
State funding of CPCs is a direct roadblock to women receiving the unbiased information they need to make informed decisions.
As future physicians, we fear our patients visiting CPCs and being coerced and shamed, their autonomy and relationship with the healthcare field jeopardized. We urge you to join us in demanding the termination of Pennsylvania’s contract with Real Alternatives and to stop the funding of CPCs.
Hannah Herbert is a second year medical student at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine. Marissa Baron is a fourth year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. They both are members of Medical Students for Choice and plan to pursue careers in obstetrics and gynecology.