Exposed: American Pregnancy Association Hides Links to CPCs

When a young woman named Jessica wrote to me on Scarleteen
to ask whether women who are pregnant should visit a crisis pregnancy center
for resources and support, I warned her that CPCs are non-medical
establishments that provide false information to women in order to scare them
away from abortion as an option. I explained
how easy it can be to be fooled by CPCs, even when you’re savvy, aware of
practices CPCs typically employ — even, I soon learned, when you’re writing an article in
protest of them. And then I offered Jessica a link to the American Pregnancy
Helpline as an option for women looking for support sustaining a pregnancy and
as an alternative to a CPC.

I proved my own point too well.

At first blush, Helpline’s website presents itself as
supportive of all pregnancy options. I found several sites I
know to be reputable and fully supportive of choice linking to the Helpline. But
I should know to be wary of any sites offering aid to pregnant women. If I had, I would have found that the American Pregnancy Helpline is affiliated
with a larger organization, the
American Pregnancy Association
(APA), whose site is linked to even by such organizations
as the National
Abortion Federation
, the Our Bodies, Ourselves blog,
the Association
of Reproductive Health Professionals
, WebMD,
the Feminist
Majority Foundation
, and, perhaps most disturbingly, MedlinePlus, a
well-vetted consumer health site that is a project of the National Library of
Medicine — all of whom are likely unaware of the extent of the APA’s connection to anti-choice causes. Once I found the link between the Helpline and the
American Pregnancy Association, I found a whole lot more.

By the end of a day of deep digging, I discovered that both
the American Pregnancy Helpline and the American Pregnancy Association and
their founders have no record of being supportive of all reproductive
options. In fact, the organizations both trace their origins to a crisis
pregnancy center. I found misleading and medically incorrect information on
both organization’s sites, including references to "partial-birth abortion" and the
suggestion that future fertility or breast
cancer has anything at all to do with having had an abortion
. I learned
that the Helpline is widely linked in CPC and anti-choice directories. And I soon noticed the strange absence of any information on contraception at the
site for teens, while links to sites
pushing ab-only
proliferate. (I emailed the site immediately asking a few
basic questions about their stance and background early but have yet to get any

"As a longtime options and abortion counselor, I am blown away to
learn that this place has sneaked under the radar to this extent," says Parker Dockray, executive director of the California Coalition for
Reproductive Freedom and the RH Reality Check reader who
first questioned my link to the American Pregnancy Association
. "I think it is a wake up
call for the pro-choice community that we cannot rely on circular referrals
without doing our own due diligence every
single time we find a new hotline purporting to do unbiased abortion or
pregnancy options counseling." After being informed of APA’s biases, the National Abortion Federation’s Vicki Saporta wrote, "This site is a prime example of how well some
crisis pregnancy centers masquerade as legitimate reproductive health care
organizations. Imagine how difficult it must be for a woman facing an unplanned
pregnancy to determine which sites and centers provide full options counseling
and comprehensive reproductive health care services…We no longer link to this organization." 

A waltz through the Helpline’s web archives reveals that
the organization was founded as a
textbook CPC
. At that time it was called America’s Crisis
Pregnancy Helpline
and didn’t claim any sort of medical accuracy or
affiliation. To its credit, the organization’s information page did
once admit that it doesn’t provide referrals to abortion services
; the
organization no longer makes that statement anywhere on the current site.

Misleading Readers Since

1999 page demonstrates a clear bias
. Note that the questions about
finances, about "long-term physical and emotional effects," knowledge
of procedures, pressuring, changing one’s mind or "looking down on"
women are asked about abortion but not about parenting or adoption. Parenting is a lifelong endeavor, so why does the options page pose no
questions at all about readiness, desire or ability to parent? Same goes with
adoption: no questions are posed; only a list of possible benefits is presented.

Abortion gets a list of "possible emotional side
effects," but none is listed for parenting or adoption, despite the fact
that abortion "side effects" also commonly occur to women who parent or give
children up for adoption. If you’re considering an abortion, the Helpline prods
you to ask yourself, "What would an adoption plan look like?" but
there is no such question about parenting, nor do the lists for adoption or
parenting ask what an abortion plan would look like.

Apparently, only
"when it comes to abortion" — not parenting or adoption — "there are many issues to consider when making a decision."

The Helpline’s current online pregnancy test
— which reports that you may be pregnant no matter how you respond — offers you
the opportunity to see a "baby" in the womb "at every
stage," though that link leads to a page
with no gestation dates listed for the few select photos it provides. It
suggests access to free pregnancy testing through the Helpline but does not
instruct readers to purchase a home test or to see a healthcare provider for a

Birth of the Helpline

According to the 1999 site archive
, the Helpline was
established by Mike and Anne Sheaffer in 1995. The couple advertised their
desire to adopt a baby on two billboards in Dallas and set up a hotline to respond to the
calls from pregnant women the billboards provoked. Says the site archive:

In the 1,100
calls the Sheaffers subsequently received, many were from women facing
unplanned pregnancies who did not know where else to turn. Recognizing this
unfulfilled need in society, the Sheaffers envisioned a confidential crisis
line where women could receive the help they desperately needed. [America’s Crisis Pregnancy Hotline] functions
in this capacity today as its trained staff provides counseling,
pregnancy-related information, and referrals for community resources. ACPH is
an independent, non-profit entity and is funded primarily by corporate and
private donations.

The Schaeffers started the CPC called America’s Crisis Pregnancy Helpline in 1995;
that CPC was later renamed America’s
Pregnancy Helpline. In 2003, that organization
spawned the American Pregnancy Association. Both the Helpline and the APA
continued to exist, ostensibly as separate entities; in reality, at one call center, at the same address.

But the current Helpline site provides no organizational
background, nor does it make any reference to the Sheaffers or to a direct
affiliation with the APA — even though the current site for the
tells the story of the Sheaffers and notes that,

In 2003, the
Helpline became the American Pregnancy Association, a foundation of health
services for the public, including education, research, advocacy, public policy
and community awareness. Utilizing a Medical Advisory Committee, and
collaborating with other reproductive and pregnancy health organizations, APA
is a recognized leader of reproductive and pregnancy health information.

The organization’s named president, Dr. Phillip B. Imler,
seems to exist only on a site profiling Christian Adoption International. A Dr. Brad Imler,
whose doctorate
is in psychology
, is listed as their contact for corporate partnerships,
and appears elsewhere online — in press quotes and in his profile at the
forums for the site. I couldn’t find any background, practice or resume
for Brad previous to the APA, either — as the President of the APA, not
Philip. Dr. Brad Imler is interviewed
here in a publication for the American Life League

On an exceptionally difficult-to-find page, the founders
of the APA are listed as J. Michael Sheaffer and Dr. Brad Imler.
J. Michael Sheaffer can be found in a
tax-exempt organization listing as the director of Pastors for Life
, an organization listed as a Right to Life organization in Texas with a return last
filed in 2002. The website for PFLI appears to have gone dark in 2005. Until
2002, the web archive of the domain shows J. Michael Sheaffer of the
organization. In an archive of the site during the time Shaeffer was listed as
a Founding Director, a page lists ways pastors or congregations could get involved
with the mission of PFLI. Those include:

Start a pregnancy center or maternity home.
Create a "Mentoring Mothers" network for pregnant teenagers.
Start a post-abortion reconciliation ministry.
Refer women who are unexpectedly pregnant to pro-life safetynets.
Create web links to pregnancy, adoption, and post-abortion resources.

Those goals are paired with contact links, and the Helpline is listed as a contact to "Help individuals gain access to
pro-life safety nets," and "Identify and support a local pro-life
agency (prayer, material assistance, financial, or volunteer)."

In June 2006, Charisma magazine reported
that the American Pregnancy Association had collaborated with a pregnancy test
manufacturer to add inserts providing its Helpline number in 3.5 million test
kits. The article quotes "APA President Brad Imler," who tells the magazine, "What we find is that most women, when they receive information,
desire to carry a child to term." Charisma writes,

Statistics have shown that 70 percent of
women did not have enough information before deciding to abort a pregnancy,
Imler said. The APA compiles statistics based on its
own data, as well as research coming from other reliable sources, Imler said.

Calling the Helpline

So, knowing all of this, what else could I do but take America’s
Pregnancy Helpline for a test drive? Scarleteen volunteer S. called them up.

The Helpline staff answered as the American Pregnancy
Association. S. reported that she was seven weeks pregnant and needed an
abortion because her parents would put her in danger if they found out she had
gotten pregnant. The staffer on the line refused to give her a referral for any
abortion services or any abortion counseling or information (nor did the staffer suggest that she get somewhere safe), but asked where she was and offered the
phone number of "somewhere nearby she could go to get information on
abortion." That number was for the Monroeville
Crisis Pregnancy
Center, which also calls itself the Monroeville Pregnancy Care
Center and Crossroads
Pregnancy Services. The organization, a member of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life
Federation, has at least two different
websites despite being one business
and clearly fails to provide any accurate information about
abortion. We can safely presume my volunteer was not given this number by
accident — when pressing for more information, the staffer on the phone
refused to give any other resources, even though a Planned Parenthood is
located nearby as well.

That Helpline number is the only hotline number offered for
questions about abortion procedures on the APA’s abortion information pages.

What We Know Now

I cannot say whether the APA exists solely or primarily
as a way to feed CPCs. Plenty of the information at the APA certainly is
medically accurate, and the organization may very well be as passionate about
maternal health as they are about the pro-life cause. But given all of this
information, given the personal bias involved, and the extent to which these
links and affiliations are disguised, I think it begs the question.

In many
ways this is a sadly perfect object lesson about CPCs. I’m streetwise, and I have a keen eye for
bias, for things that don’t quite fit, and for deception when it comes to
reproductive options and aid. What I don’t have is unlimited time, so, like any
busy, stressed woman fearing pregnancy would also do, I relied on not hearing
anything bad about these organizations from the pro-choice groups I trust. "Exposing [CPCs] for
what they are takes constant attention," cautions Judy Norsigian, executive
director of Our Bodies, Ourselves.

I hope my readers understand that this was a sincere
error on my part, for which I take full responsibility. I am certainly glad to
have discovered all of this about these organizations and to have the
opportunity to reveal this information about them. I didn’t learn this lesson,
after all, as a woman in the midst of an unwanted pregnancy seeking help and
the accurate, supportive information I was assured I’d be given for all of my

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  • invalid-0

    It’s disturbing that this organization has been given legitimacy by the NAF, WebMD, etc.

  • scott-swenson

    We did alert by email or phone organizations that linked to this deceptive group prior to publication so they were not blind-sided by this news. We may not have caught all links so encourage groups that are supportive of allowing women to make the best decisions for themselves, their families and their health by considering all options to check their web sites for any links to this group.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    You’re right– this one is “a doozy”! I did notice the link from the NAF page ( and thought about adding the Helpline to CPC Watch’s resources page, but figured since I’d already added NAF I could let that one go. I’m glad I did. But I do remember looking at the Helpline’s website and thinking there was something a little fishy about it. I think at one point I saw that it linked to OptionLine, which I thought was weird.

    I’m putting this up at on our News and Action alerts page. People need to know about this, especially because the CPC support isn’t quite as in your face as it is with other organizations.


  • amanda-marcotte

    And reported that I was NOT sexually active.  It still told me that I needed a pregnant test and that I should go to a CPC to get one.  Fascinating.  I guess even virgins need to be told not to use birth control if they do have sex.

  • invalid-0

    I laughed so hard i almost pulled a muscle.

  • invalid-0

    Except not so much. LMFAO!

    The same thing goes with the site: . A friend gave it to me when I needed some examples of false advertising by a movement that claims to hold “Teh Truth(tm)” for a paper. At first, the page looks good and informative, until you scroll down just a little bit. And then it becomes obvious that the “real options” they want Women to choose are birth and parenting or birth and adoption. The usual “risks of abortion” are there but there is absolutely NO discussion of the very real risks of pregnancy and childbirth. It’s as if they think pregnant Women have magical forcefields that make pregnancy a safe and healthy thing for their bodies.

    Anywho, Really great reporting on this one.

  • invalid-0

    I did further research on this topic. You do know that many of the CPCs are connected to adoption agencies. With many of the Right to Life organizations pushing to end abortion and contraception, this further feeds the adoption industry. The adoption industry is currently a $15 billion dollar industry. Their main connection to the adoption industry is Bethany Christian Services even though many others are connected. They earned over $68 million dollars in 2006. Add to it the Heartbeat International is connected to CPCs in 42 countries. This leads to international adoption.

  • invalid-0

    How does one find a pro-choice (or at least non CPC-affiliated) adoption agency?

  • invalid-0

    Thanks for this info – I know that I have looked at the American Pregnancy site before and nothing immediately jumped out at me as suspicious. Thanks for persistence in digging. :)

  • invalid-0

    Why do you write abortion “side effects” in quotations? You make it sound like there’s no such thing.

  • invalid-0

    Surprise, surprise. Another white dude obsessed with women’s fertility.

  • invalid-0

    The links to the adoption services — and the personal bias which clearly seems to be tough to look past (the Sheaffers started all of this with the adoption billboards, and Imler is an adoptee who ran/runs an adoption agency) — struck me as a whole story onto itself, Amy. I didn’t go there mostly due to scope and time, but also because it seemed to hurtle me into some really slippery territory about these individuals that would have left me feeling very unprotected.

    However, I certainly couldn’t shake feeling very handmaid’s tale about that aspect, and those links — not just with the APA, but with all CPCs — are certainly very, very unnerving.

    If you ever do more research or a bigger story on this aspect yourself, I hope you’ll let me know about it.

  • invalid-0

    Because the effects they list are not in any way exclusive to abortion, and there is no such list for the other choices, even though we know full well that things like (from that list) anger, regret, shame, loneliness, depression and relationship issues are things many women deal with no matter what choice they make with a pregnancy.

    Had those effects been listed as possible effects with any pregnancy, with termination OR childbirth, post-partum and with parenting or adoption; had there been also any positive effects in there as well (as we can say, with abortion or other choices we also know women often experience things like relief, happiness, empowerment, etc.) I would not have put that phrase in quotes.

  • invalid-0

    …that choice was also due to the very use of the term “side effects,” which implies a proven/medical direct relationship/cause between a given procedure or medication and whatever effects are being listed.

    In other words, some typical and medically accurate side effects of an abortion procedure (or a delivery), are vaginal bleeding, nausea or cramping. Infection (again, which is also true with delivery) is also a possible side effect which would be accurate to list. We could certainly accurately say depression — understanding there is a lot of disagreement in the medical community about how one diagnoses it — is a known possible side effect, but once more, with all we know about postpartum depression and the rates of such, stating depression to be a possible side effect for abortion but not having such a list for delivery and including it is obviously misleading.

    Same goes with listing feelings, or listing lifestyle issues which women experience for TONS of reasons (again, and no more with abortion than just with pregnancy, period), and which have not in any way been proven to be ABOUT abortion or in any way more prevalent with abortion than anything else is very clearly biased and inaccurate.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks so much for your research on this, Heather! We had linked to the organization just once at Our Bodies, Our Blog, and I’ve just added an update to the entry, explaining that the American Pregnancy Association is affiliated with the anti-choice movement and linking back to your article here.

    Thanks for your perseverance in exposing this!

  • invalid-0

    she was seven weeks pregnant and needed an abortion because her parents would put her in danger if they found out she had gotten pregnant.
    Sure sounds like forced abortion to me. And you complain that the CPCs engage in pressure tactics?
    What do the oh-so-trained counselors at Planned Parenthood say when some teen comes in and says “My mom sent me here to get an abortion and says she’ll slap me around if I’m still pregnant when I get back home”?

  • invalid-0

    My volunteer did not state her parents were forcing her to have an abortion.

    Sounds like a very typical situation to me, one which anyone who works in a clinic will often hear from young people, as well as from women in DV relationships. (We will also hear women say given their finances, they have no other choice, or given their living situation they have no other choice…) The idea that arranging an appointment or visit is absolutely assuring an abortion will occur is false and not at all realistic. There is no reason that caller could not schedule an appointment and discuss all of this, or be asked if she’d like to schedule an options visit instead right off the bat.

    What do we say? (Bear in mind, I don’t personally work for PP, but for a FWHC, but this is standard operating procedure for most clinics.) Usually, before anything else, we will ask if their living situation is unsafe, pregnant or not, and if it is, we will do our best to connect them with resources which can provide them with a safe place to stay. We might even start a social services connection for them right there and then, or get them connected with a shelter right there and then if that is what they want.

    When a young adult comes and says that the only reason they want to abort is because of something like this, after addressing their safety, we will ask them what THEIR choice would be were that not the situation, and we’ll usually get varied answers. Some will say they feel abortion is best regardless, in which case we will provide them that service. Some will say they aren’t certain, in which case we’ll say that we should probably have them take a little more time, give them some materials to help with that choice, assure they’re safe in the interim, and have them call back later if they want to either schedule an options visit to talk in more detail OR if they become certain an abortion is what they want, to call back to schedule that for another day. Some will say they absolutely do not want a procedure and want to remain pregnant but the sole issue is abuse, and we will make whatever connects we can for them with social services, other shelters, other resources.

    Here’s the point, which really should be glaringly obvious. NOT addressing the lack of safety where she was, at all, and ONLY trying to put her in touch with “services” which a) have their own agenda in mind above hers by design, b) will often knowingly endanger youth-at-risk if they decide THEY want to abort by disclosing a pregnancy to parents or threatening to do so and/or c) cannot/will not offer them unbiased information on all their choices and help them to get what services they need TO make whatever that choice may be? Not helpful, and most certainly another kind of force and coercion altogether.

    But you knew that already.

  • invalid-0

    When a young adult comes and says that the only reason they want to abort is because of something like this, after addressing their safety, we will ask them what THEIR choice would be were that not the situation, and we’ll usually get varied answers.
    Once she’s stated that she “needs” to abort, what business is it of yours what the “reason” is? You only do abortions for the “good” reasons? And what’s this about about making sure they’re “certain” that they want abortion, and otherwise imposing some sort of waiting period? Are you sure you’re not secretly running a CPC?
    We will also hear women say given their finances, they have no other choice
    In those cases, do you ask them what THEIR choice would be if they did have money, and work out a way to finance the child if that’s what they’d prefer?

  • invalid-0

    It’s our business because some women ARE actively coerced or forced into any given choice about a pregnancy, and earnest consent is not a minor issue for providers, just as it isn’t for anyone who provides an actual medical service. It’s also our business as an organization who — for more than abortion alone — is long in the business of helping women by doing what we can to connect them with other resources they may need besides or in addition to abortion when we are able.

    We need to assure — for ourselves and for the woman at hand — that her choice is just that: hers, even if the circumstances which surround that choice — like finances, like an abusive relationship, like a genetics issue with a wanted pregnancy — are not her choice or within her control. And if, in a conversation like the above, a woman then says that she still would rather not abort, but that given her situation, she sees terminating as her best choice in her best interest, then she will be provided the service she is requesting. There are no flashlights involved, no videos or bloody photographs: it’s merely a conversation which is as long or short as that woman would like to have and which needs to happen to assure consent if and when someone walks in stating they are being forced against their will.

    Comparing obtaining consent for a medical procedure, or addressing the duress of a woman who states she is under duress by providing resources for practical help to what happens at a CPC is just plain silly.

    In terms of finances, we engage in those conversations if a woman initiates them, but that’s not the same issue — legally, practically — as another individual attempting to force or coerce a woman into a choice which she, otherwise, would not want to make.

    If you’d like to see how this goes yourself, then by all means, make an appointment at a clinic and state one of these conditions and see how it goes.

    Again, I’m quite sure you know this, so I’ll let someone else state the obvious during the next round.

  • invalid-0

    Did the response to Heather’s last comment get deleted? I was going to reply to it this morning, but it seems to have disappeared.

  • invalid-0

    Did the response to Heather’s last comment get deleted? I was going to reply to it this morning, but it seems to have disappeared.

  • invalid-0

    “finance the child” ??? It’s not buying a car man.

  • invalid-0

    I don’t think that’s what it’s saying. Mom and Dad aren’t dragging Daughter down to Planned Parenthood. Mom and Dad have given Daughter reason to believe, based on past behavior, that her life will be in danger if Mom and Dad find out that Daughter had sex.