Wendy Norris, a Denver-based freelance reporter, is a regular contributing writer working on special assignment to RH Reality Check.
The Family Research Council’s report Wednesday commemorating
40 years of crisis pregnancy centers inadvertently confirms a dirty
little secret of public health: $200 million per year is being spent on
reproductive health care provided by amateurs.
Between the soothing tones of lavender pages and key words
punctuated in a lovely stylized script, the FRC and four partner anti-choice
groups claim that among the 2,300 nationwide anti-choice centers affiliated
with its tight-knit conservative religious network, the average clinic sees
300-350 women annually— or less than one woman per day.
Crisis pregnancy centers were founded in the pre-Roe v Wade 1960s to dissuade women from
seeking abortions by giving them blatantly false information and relying on
scare tactics about cancer risks and infertility. In recent years, the centers
expanded their services as the Bush Administration’s faith-based federal grant
program grew and restrictions decreased on Medicaid provider reimbursement
Factoring in the centers’ latest lucrative cottage industry,
federally-supported abstinence-only education programs, the FRC notes its
networked "pregnancy resource centers reach some 1.9 million people each
And it’s here where a little back-of-the-napkin math tells
the real story: the document cites a conservative estimate of $200 million in
annual taxpayer and philanthropic funding for the crisis centers aligned with
FRC, Life International, Heartbeat International, CareNet and the National
Institute of Family and Life Advocates. That equals a misplaced public health
investment of $105.26 per client to push wildly inaccurate, non-scientific and
biased information on pregnancy and contraception in schools and at facilities
staffed almost exclusively by volunteers.
The FRC cheerfully explains that it further minimizes the
public cost burden of unplanned pregnancies because "29 out of every 30
people engaged in pregnancy center work are volunteers."
In other words, people with a clear theo-political agenda
are operating ultrasound equipment and providing intimate information to women
and teenaged girls about sexuality, prenatal development and medical issues
outside the scope of public regulation or expert supervision.
This logic is especially troubling when one considers that
no other health care service is delivered under the guise of lay people without
The report also unwittingly reveals another curiosity of the
faith-based crisis pregnancy center movement — it’s lack of public credibility
as a fair broker of evidence-based health information and comprehensive care.
In an apparent tactic to portray a sense of legitimacy, the
60-odd page report contains 41 individual references to the accuracy, honesty,
trustworthiness or similarly-termed descriptions of its services. Yet, that
flowery language stands in stark contrast to decades of peer-reviewed research,
public health analysis and investigative reporting that debunk the clinics’
deceptive claims about abortion and contraception.