Crisis Pregnancy Centers Gain Sway Within Antiabortion-Rights Movement

January 7, 2013 — Crisis pregnancy centers -- aided by new strategies, state funding and legislative support -- are playing an increasingly influential role in the movement to restrict abortion-rights, the New York Times reports.

CPCs are not women's health clinics, according to the Times. Rather, the centers -- which are primarily run by conservative Christians -- offer services such as no-cost pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, advice about adoption, Bible study, parenting classes and sometimes temporary housing. Abortion-rights advocates have long claimed that strategies employed by CPCs are deceptive and manipulative. Medical and other experts note that some dispense misinformation about abortion's risks, including its alleged correlation to breast cancer and mental health.

Nonetheless, CPCs in recent years have steadily expanded, now numbering about 2,500, compared with 1,800 abortion providers. As they multiply, clinics are adding on-call or on-site health care personnel, while also employing "sophisticated strategies" to attract women, according to the Times.

For instance, CPCs are utilizing Internet search optimization services to bolster the centers' visibility when individuals search online for abortion care. Some have stopped calling themselves "crisis pregnancy centers" because of the belief that the term "crisis" makes women feel like victims. Other CPCs have set up mobile units or locations near abortion clinics.

National pregnancy center organizations also have attempted to appeal to black and Hispanic women. Heartbeat International's Urban Initiative Web page reads, "O that the murderous effect of abortion in the Black and Latino communities, destroying tens of thousands at the hands of white abortionists, would explode with the same reprehensible reputation as lynching."

State Funding, Legislative Support

Currently, 13 states offer some type of direct financing to CPCs. For example, 27 offer "Choose Life" license plates, with the proceeds going directly to the centers. In 2011, Texas increased financing for the centers, reduced funding for family planning services by two-thirds and passed a measure requiring that abortion clinics provide women considering abortion with the names of centers 24 hours prior to performing an abortion. In South Dakota, a 2011 law, which Planned Parenthood is currently challenging, requires a woman to visit a CPC before an abortion.

Ordinances in Austin, Baltimore, New York City and San Francisco have sought to ensure that CPCs do not mislead women about the services they provide or their position on abortion. However, with the exception of San Francisco's, all laws have been blocked by courts or weakened after the centers claimed free speech violations. Lawsuits against "Choose Life" license plates also have largely floundered, with one court in North Carolina ruling that alternative views must be offered as well (Belluck, New York Times, 1/4).