Inside a “Crisis Pregnancy Center”

We’ve covered Crisis Pregnancy Centers quite a bit here on Feministe, and regular readers are probably aware of their deceptive, manipulative and sometimes dangerous practices. Tina Dupuy’s investigation into Los Angeles County CPCs reveals that these centers haven’t changed their ways, despite increasing exposure.

Avenues is a California primary clinic, fully licensed and accredited by the state. So exactly what kind of medical facility lures women with the promise of free pregnancy tests and leaves them fearing eternal damnation?

A 2006 article in The New York Times says there are anywhere from 2,300 to 3,500 of these religious-themed clinics, often referred to as “crisis pregnancy centers,” nationwide, compared with around 1,800 abortion providers. Planned Parenthood has 15 clinics in the LA area., a pro-life resource Web site, mentions 25 or more centers in the same area.

Typically, as is the case with Avenues, the religious intentions of these clinics-in-name-only aren’t publicly displayed on their sign or even on their disclosure forms. They intentionally camouflage themselves to look like medical facilities, following the advice of Robert Pearson, who — after Hawaii decriminalized abortion in 1967 — started the first crisis pregnancy center in Honolulu to combat it. The Pearson Foundation Manual, “How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center,” published in 1984, is still used today as a blueprint. Pearson writes, “Obviously, we’re fighting Satan. A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her kill her baby.”

Emphasis mine.

In other words, it’s a-ok to lie and mislead women — and even compromise their physical health — if it’ll prevent them from terminating their pregnancies.

And lie they do. At the one CPC that Dupuy visited, she was told that (1) you can only take RU-486 (mifepristone, the “abortion pill”) if you’re less than 3 weeks pregnant; (2) viruses can seep through latex; (3) the FDA is under investigation for approving RU-486; (4) 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage; (5) because 30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, she needs to get an ultrasound to see if the fetus is viable — she was then handed forms saying that no information she receives from the CPC should be considered a “clinical diagnosis.”

“Marketing should be 100 percent truthful,” says Dan Steiner, president of Avenues, when reached by phone.
Is Avenues 100 percent truthful? Says Steiner, “Absolutely.”

Mission Pre-Born (MP), is Steiner’s broad nonprofit. Its stewardship guidelines read, “Full disclosure [walking in the light] is our practice.” His “vision” is to bring more “fully disclosed” crisis pregnancy centers to LA County in what he likes to call the “Miracle Campaign.”

However, when asked about the cryptic forms that state that none of the tests should be considered a clinical diagnosis, Steiner responds, “I’m not aware of the form.”

Steiner, who could be entered in a Ross Perot look-alike contest, explains Avenues tactics and hopes for a new clinic in Hollywood on a fundraising video on the MP Web site: “This is the front door of Los Angeles City College. All the students come out here and if they have a suspicion that they have an unplanned pregnancy, day after day they will see our sign, ‘Free Pregnancy Test,’ right across the street. They’ll see it before they see Planned Parenthood; they’ll see it before they see the abortion clinic. Then they walk out and there it will be and BANG!” He slaps his hands together. “We’ve captured that woman before the abortionist does!”
Bang? We’ve captured that woman?

“Capture their attention,” Steiner attempts to clarify. Minutes later the video is taken down from the Web.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers are licensed medical clinics. They receive state and federal funding, and yet they provide absolutely no actual health services. Even more disturbing is the fact that they go through the motions of performing pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, which can lead women to believe that they’re actually receiving competent medical care. In fact, most of the people who perform ultrasounds at CPCs don’t actually know how to read them — so women believe that they’ve had a proper ultrasound done, when in fact the CPC employees can’t really tell them anything beyond, “There’s your baby!”. For uninsured and under-insured women it’s particularly problematic, as they’re going to be a heck of a lot less likely to voluntarily repeat a medical procedure as costly as an ultrasound if they think they’ve already had one.

Dupuy’s conclusion says it all:

It’s usually safe to assume that medical clinics provide medical care. But if you have the capacity to bear children, those rules apparently don’t apply. If a cancer clinic were run as a Christian Scientist front there would be anger.

There would be disgust. It would be shut down. But the distraught woman in dire circumstances — “a killer who in this case is the girl” — being routinely defrauded because she “has no right to information” has gone unnoticed by the general public.

As I walk down the street back to my car, I glance at one of the abstinence flyers Melissa gave me during her oversharing session.

“True love,” it says, “protects 100 percent of the time.”

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18 comments for “Inside a “Crisis Pregnancy Center”

  1. Bakka
    April 30, 2009 at 10:27 am

    So, if these are licensed medical clinics, doesn’t medical law apply here? There are tones of American legal cases about informed consent. For example, in Moore v. Regents of the University of California 793 P2d 479 (Cal. 1990) at 483 the California supreme court held “a physician must disclose personal interests unrelated to the patient’s health, whether research or economic, that may affect the physician’s professional judgment.” I suppose in this case the individuals in question are not physicians, but they are presenting themselves as medical personnel. So, I think a legal case could be made regarding the need for this kind of disclosure here too. Second, if they are licensed medical clinics, and the people attending patients are not medical personnel, isn’t that also illegal? It is illegal to impersonate an MD. This seems highly suspicious. If I lived in the USA, I think I would consider mounting a legal case against these Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. M.
    April 30, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    “True love,” it says, “protects 100 percent of the time.”

    What. So two married people truly love each other, but one of them has an STI from a previous relationship or even *gasp* accidentally got oral herpes from eating their parent’s food as a kid–the true love will magically protect the other one?

    Even celibacy doesn’t protect 100 percent of the time. On account of things like oral herpes and rape.

  3. Sara
    April 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Its really frustrating to me that these places are so shady about their practices. They give places who are there to actually help people (ie- Birthright, forgive the name but its a legitimate place) a bad name and the make women who often times need the most help hesitant to get it.

    Ugh. There needs to be legislation that will make their lies illegal.

  4. Sara
    April 30, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Whoops! Further googling says that they are pro-life, but don’t ‘preach’. Let just stick with Planned Parenthood then, and sorry for not googling further!

  5. April 30, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    It’s always puzzled me: if all these unborn babies are so damn important to these people, then why don’t we have “Crisis Adoption Centers” where mothers who went to “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” can place their infants in the arms of waiting Christian couples? I mean, if they’re SO CONCERNED about these babies, then why isn’t there some kind of follow-up? At the very least, a place where indigent mothers can receive food, clothes, and maybe some free childcare.

    Oh, wait. I forgot. They don’t actually give a shit about anyone once they’ve exited their mom’s sinful, sinful vagina. Silly me! And here I really thought it *was* All About The Children.

  6. April 30, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Fucking. Disgusting. Sorry Jill, that’s all I’ve got on this one. We had these ALL OVER the state I grew up in.

  7. Sara
    April 30, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    How can a CPC help a woman when they are automatically labeling her a killer? When these places do this, it isn’t coming from any sort of place of love. It is coming from a place of judgement.

    I have a feeling CPCs do just enough medical stuff (pregnancy tests, ultrasounds) to pass the medical licensing. It isn’t enough medical stuff to fully help women however.

  8. Jessica
    April 30, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    This quote just floored me: “A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her kill her baby.”
    Excuse me, but I think you don’t understand what “rights” are, Mr. Pearson. The law says that the girl woman who wants to kill her baby abort her embryo or fetus DOES have the right to do that, and has the right to obtain information about that. If you don’t want to give her that info, then stay the fuck out of her way. Misleading or lying to her is NOT your right.

  9. Ms. Annie C
    April 30, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Part of me wants to be bewildered at how these “centers” can be legal, but then I remember that places like, I dunno, New Hampshire exist. Goddamn, it’s a sad sad world we live in when we have to ask “Hey, are you guys legit?” when we walk into someplace claiming to give medical attention.

  10. Jennifer
    April 30, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Talulah- Many, many Crisis Pregnancy Centers offer adoption referrals. I would say nearly all of them do. Every one I ever have heard of- and I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household so I’ve heard of a bunch- push adoption very strongly. In fact, I would say many take that to an unethical extreme where they push women towards adoption instead of offering them the help they need to be single mothers.

  11. markd
    April 30, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    President Obama’s hand-picked chairman of the Democratic National Committee, signed a bill including state funding for crisis pregnancy centers, which abortion right advocates calls “anti-choice organizations.”

    I got the above from a blog called This begs the question as Femisex notes: what the hell was Obama thinking giving Tim Kaine the head of the party of choice. Tim Kaine is very anti-choice and is in favor of making abortion against the law in his state!

    here is a link. The site is social liberal andf fiscal conservative, which may be more in keeping with my XY chromosome.

  12. Morgan
    April 30, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    What really kills me about these centers is we really have a need for real pregnancy crises centers. For women who choose to have their baby, but they are poor or addicted to drugs. But no, we can’t help women who choose for themselves to keep the baby. We have to spend federal money harassing people who don’t want to be pregnant and leave those that actually want a baby out to dry.

  13. Amanda
    May 1, 2009 at 1:26 am

    But, nice white families, need nice white babies! All those sluts are killing the good babies.

  14. Jessica
    May 1, 2009 at 2:07 am

    These CPCs are disgusting. At our clinic, we had a girl who actually chose to go with the protesters after they screamed at her that they could give her ‘everything she needed to keep her baby’. They promised her clothes, a crib, diapers, bottles, formula, money, etc etc etc.

    You know what she got in the end? A single pack of diapers. She wound up coming back to us so that she could make a truly informed decision about her pregnancy and what was best for her.

    It’s sad. I’ve been saying for awhile now that somebody needs to do a “Live Action” (google it, i’m not giving them traffic) undercover expose of these places for awhile now. Anybody game?

  15. May 1, 2009 at 7:26 am

    If I didn’t have a job, I would stand outside of CPCs with signs warning women not to go there, and telling them the address to the nearest Planned Parenthood.

    Planned Parenthood offers all the services a CPC does, plus more.

  16. May 1, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Scary, scary, scary. The mother of a friend of mine used to work for one of these places, answering the phone at a CPC and then “counseling” people not to get abortions.

    The part about location (capturing people’s attention before they can get to Planned Parenthood) really made me think about how much of this is just about getting correct information out there. I teach in a school where most of the students are Catholic, and every time they are asked to write a persuasive essay at least a third of the papers are about how abortion is wrong and should be illegal. The saddest thing is how much of the information they put into their papers is dead wrong, like abortion causing health problems and preventing you from having children in the future. In neighborhoods like mine there is an innundation of misinformation coming from churches, familial “wisdom”, and word of mouth. I try to confront this misinformation with facts, but it feels like just a drop in the bucket when faced with this wave of anti-choice propaganda and the mainstream silence on the topic.

    Here in New York, a CPC has an advertisement on the subways, boasting “free abortion alternatives.” There is no such thing. The alternative to an abortion is a pregnancy, which, even if you put the kid up for adoption is not “free”.

  17. Debbie Robertson
    July 13, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    I have visited a local pregnancy center on numerous occasions and have referred friends. Their services are professional and each time I was seen by an OB-GYN. I never felt pressured by them to carry or anything like that. I’m sorry for the experiences others may have had elsewhere but it’s not like McDonald’s.

  18. Nicole
    August 28, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I work at a pro-life pregnancy resource center and would like to clear the air at least for our center. It’s possible that other centers may operate in ways that some of you have described and I apologize for that. Since we are pro-life, obviously our center strongly encourages women to keep their babies. We do not, however, force anyone to choose against abortion-obviously that is impossible. For the women that do choose to deliver their baby, we provide all the support possible, both during and after the pregnancy. We do all we can to make sure they know where to go to get quality healthcare, we provide them with maternity clothes and infant supplies, and after the child’s birth we provide assistance with baby formula and diapers. If a mother is too young or financially unable to have a child, we connect them with quality adoption agencies. The many women and couples who come to us out of poverty situations are greatly helped by education and resources for economic development. Our hope is not that we would just convince a woman not to abort and leave her to fend for herself after that-we exist to give her emotional and financial relief. Since we are also followers of Jesus Christ, we also address spiritual matters because we believe that beyond this life there are matters of even greater concern. At the same time, we respect our clients and if they do not want us to address spiritual matters, we will not press the issue. Even though many of you strongly oppose what we are doing, I would like to be as bold as to say that many people who come to us walk through our doors because they do not want to abort and need places like our center to make it possible to have a child.

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