State lawmakers, experts discuss deceptive practices, misinformation from anti-abortion centers

While there are just 17 clinics remaining that provide abortion care in Pennsylvania, there are approximately 156 crisis pregnancy centers in the commonwealth

By: - September 6, 2022 4:50 pm

Lawmakers hear from experts about “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” in Pennsylvania at a joint Democratic Policy Committee Hearing on Sept. 6, 2022 (Screen capture).

On Tuesday, Democratic state lawmakers heard from a panel of reproductive health activists and experts about the deceptive and misleading practices crisis pregnancy centers use to persuade pregnant individuals to carry a pregnancy to term.

State Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, called the centers “a serious issue” in post-Roe Pennsylvania, adding that with very little state oversight, anti-abortion centers deprive women of the ability to make an informed decision about whether to keep or terminate a pregnancy.

Cortney Bouse, state field director for Planned Parenthood PA Advocates said that the centers, also referred to as anti-abortion centers, have continued to spread misinformation regarding patients’ risk for infertility and certain types of cancer if they receive abortion care.

Bouse said that some centers have also touted abstinence as a way to prevent pregnancy and repeated misleading claims about contraceptives acting as abortifacients.

While there are just 17 clinics remaining that provide abortion care in Pennsylvania, there are approximately 156 CPCs in the commonwealth, 27 of which are state-funded under the umbrella of Real Alternatives, a Pennsylvania-based anti-abortion organization that has faced scrutiny from abortion rights activists and good government groups who say that it has continually misused millions of dollars in taxpayer funding.

Watchdog group calls on Wolf, state officials to ‘terminate’ contract with anti-abortion organization

In 2017, Real Alternatives was the subject of a report by then-Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that revealed the organization was using public money to expand its operations in other states. 

“We will never know how much money was taken out of the commonwealth nor how many Pennsylvania women and children may have been affected because this company channeled our tax dollars to other states,” DePasquale said at the time. “But, we need to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again.”

State Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-Chester, is the prime sponsor of legislation that would eliminate state funding for crisis pregnancy centers, which has been a contentious part of the state budget since the 1990s. 

“Crisis pregnancy centers are organizations that purport to provide medical services to pregnant women but instead engage in deceptive practices to prevent women from having abortions,” Shusterman wrote in a memo to her colleagues seeking co-sponsors for her proposal. “Women deserve an honest, full set of options and services when they turn for help when managing their pregnancy.”

Shusterman did not mince words at the hearing as lawmakers and experts discussed whether re-allocating the state funds or requiring the centers to have licensed medical staff give patient care was the best option for addressing the concerns around the misinformation and deceptive practices used at the centers.

“We don’t have to give second chances,” Shusterman said, arguing that these organizations have been taking millions of dollars in state funding for years while not providing women with the medical health care they need. 

These are the reproductive health bills currently before Pa.’s General Assembly

Melissa Weiler Gerber, president and CEO of AccessMatters, a sexual and reproductive health organization, called on lawmakers to take action by defunding the centers.

“It is vital that the Commonwealth take immediate action to redirect these resources to where they can have the most impact and ensure provision of service in Pennsylvania is not based on ideology but instead evidence-based, comprehensive care,” Weiler Gerber said. 

Tara Murtha, director of strategic communications for Women’s Law Project, a legal nonprofit, said that re-allocating the state funding away from crisis pregnancy centers is the “first step” to addressing the concerns, but agreed with Shusterman that requiring the addition of a medical professional to its staff “isn’t going to solve the problem.”

Murtha said that in addition to re-allocating state funds, lawmakers need to address issues that make people, especially people of color and low-income individuals, susceptible to the crisis centers in the first place, such as barriers to accessing healthcare and the state’s $7.25/hr minimum wage. 

“Public dollars should go toward state programs that actually help Pennsylvanians and their families; not anti-abortion propoganda,” Ashley Underwood, director of Equity Forward, a reproductive rights watchdog organization that recently lost a years-long court battle for Real Alternatives’ records, said.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.