Every year, millions of taxpayer dollars go toward funding Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), organizations that often use misleading information to draw women away from seeking abortions. Yesterday in Cosmopolitan, Meaghan Winter published an inside account of the annual conference of one of the biggest coalitions of CPCs, Heartbeat International, revealing the extent to which CPCs are willing to mislead their clients in order to prevent them from accessing abortion.
Winter quotes Frank Pavone of Priests for Life warning that “abortion poisons everything” for women:
[A]t least 10 conference sessions focused on the "risks" of premarital sex, contraception, and abortion. During the panel "What's So Bad About Abortion?" Janet Morana and Father Frank Pavone, of the organization Priests for Life, asserted that abortion causes an array of spiritual, psychological, and medical problems.
Pavone said, "Abortion poisons everything" because after an abortion, a woman thinks, "Others can't possibly esteem me, child-killer that I am." Those women, he said, suffer a "failure to bond" with future children, often thinking, "I killed one child; I'm afraid that something bad will happen to the next one." He and the other speakers in the session said abortion increases a woman's risk of miscarriage, cancer, substance abuse, suicide, and domestic violence, among other problems.
"The fact that [abortion] dismembers a child, the fact that it goes against everything the human body and human psyche are meant to do when a woman is pregnant is the cause, is the root of all of these other physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual problems," Pavone said.
Conference speakers also gave false information about the supposed risks of contraception:
The importance of framing abortion and contraception through "risks" also came up in the talk given by Bri Laycock, the director of Option Line. In her session, "Answering the Hard Calls and Tough Questions," Laycock recommended that staff answer callers' questions about medical and surgical abortions by saying, "Both options can pose risks to your health," without saying the center is against abortion. She recommended pregnancy center staff present select medical information and disclaimers from the fine print on pharmaceutical packaging to present using contraception as a high-risk gamble. When callers ask about emergency contraception, for example, even if there might be an opportunity to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, Laycock said staff can just say it's "not 100 percent effective." She recommended telling callers, "You might not be at a fertile time in your cycle, and it's not worth taking hormones for no reason."
Throughout the conference, I asked at least a dozen pregnancy center staff if seeing so many unplanned pregnancies ever tempted them to suggest birth control pills or IUDs. Again and again, they mentioned claims, which have been debunked, that abortion sterilizes and birth control pills cause cancer. "All those chemicals can be dangerous," one staff person told me, and she seemed to believe it.
One piece of advice given to attendees was to maintain two websites for their CPCs, one for potential donors touting their anti-choice credentials, and another for potential clients obscuring them:
In her session, "Do I Really Need Two Sites?" [Heartbeat International’s Lauren] Chenoweth explained that, yes, in fact, pregnancy centers do. She recommended that centers operate one that describes an anti-abortion mission to secure donors and another that lists medical information to attract women seeking contraception, counseling, or abortion. An audience member offered that her center swapped out an anti-abortion-seeming name for Pregnancy Options. "That is an excellent point," Chenoweth replied. "Use a more attractive name to someone who is seeking services."
Finally, Winter writes, the CPC leaders at the conference put a strong emphasis not just on luring women away from abortion, but on bringing them into the church:
Over the course of the three days of the conference, I chatted with a few dozen pregnancy center workers. Multiple women told me it was their job to protect women from abortion as "an adult tells a child not to touch a hot stove." Another oft-repeated catchphrase was, "Save the mother, save the baby," shorthand for many pregnancy center workers' belief that the most effective way to prevent abortion is to convert women. In keeping with Evangelicalism's central tenets, many pregnancy center staff believe that those living "without Christ"— including Christians having premarital sex — must accept Christ to be born again, redeem their sins, and escape spiritual pain. Carrying a pregnancy to term "redeems" a "broken" woman, multiple staff people told me.
One conference attendee, a center volunteer in her early 30s, told me that she has protested outside her state's only surgical abortion clinic for several years. "I don't think it's disrespectful to shout, 'You're killing your baby,'" she said. "That's not saying, 'You dirty whore.'" But she prefers counseling at the center: "When I started, I remember thinking, This is so awesome! I don't have to feel mean, but I can still talk to women!"
Read Winter’s full account over at Cosmopolitan .