Crisis Pregnancy Center Report Reveals Accidental Truths

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
medical training.

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

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  • equalist

    We’ve known what these pregnancy centers are about. The real question here is, what can be done about them and where do we start?

    Equal rights, equal responsibilities.

  • tirian

    The people operating ultrasound equipment at pregnancy resource centers under Care Net or Heartbeat International are trained professionals. Many PRCs have a medical director or advisor. True, most of the people working at PRCs are volunteers, but they’re there serving as PEER counselors, not to operate the ultrasound machines.
    Also, Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the United States, so they certainly lack "public credibility as a fair broker of evidence-based health information and comprehensive care," a broker, BTW, that receives more than $300 million a year in FEDERAL funding.

  • jgbeam

    One example of some information from the FRC report you omitted from your column:

    Medical Services
    With the nation’s concern deepening about the number of individuals and families that lack health insurance on a temporary or extended basis, America’s pregnancy help medical centers are meeting a growing need for care that promotes reproductive and sexual health. Medical services, offered at little or no cost to clients thanks to the high proportion of generous donations of time and labor, powerfully combine with a view of individual and community health that addresses the whole person. Medical pregnancy centers and clinics operate today under the license of a physician-medical director and, where required, under state licensure as well.
    Medical services are provided by numerous certified and licensed professionals as well as trained specialists proficient in a wide range of maternal and child health areas: obstetrical medical care and nursing, ultrasonography, childbirth classes, labor coaching, midwife services, lactation consultation, nutrition consulting, and social work, among others. These professionals are typically community-based volunteers. The list of services provided here is exemplary, and centers vary greatly in the number and kinds of such services offered.”

    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • upfront

    Reality check – you need to check your facts. The Care Net pregnancy center in our area does not accept any government funding and they do have a licensed physician overseeing all medical conversation. They also have a paid RN and three RN’s who volunteer their time to do ultrasounds for FREE. They also have a lactation nurse who is paid by WIC and local hospitals who gives her services for FREE to their clients and a Neonatal nurse from the local hospital that teaches infant CPR to their clients. What are you leaving out of your reporting???

  • wendy-norris

    Setting aside the ideological issues around abortion and contraception, why is $200 million per year being shunted to centers that serve very few people and are rarely located in communities experiencing reproductive health care access shortages?


    All of the services you mention are already being provided by private physicians, public health agencies and nonprofit health care facilities that use proven science- and evidence-based practices provided by trained, certified and highly regulated professionals.


    Is there some compelling need for CPCs that an existing network of medical care isn’t providing?


    A quick check of 2008 Census figures indicates there are 114 million girls and women of child-bearing age and teen-aged boys who could qualify for CPC prenatal care services and/or school-based abstinence-only education classes. According to the FRC report it’s affiliated clinics are reaching 1.9 million people (a "reach" metric that’s never truly defined in the report, BTW) which encompasses just 1.6 percent of the potential patient base nationwide.


    That’s a pretty underwhelming argument for the effectiveness and fiscal efficiency of CPCs after 40 years of operation in light of real reproductive health care access issues in this nation.

  • jgbeam

    Well, if you set aside the ideological issues as you suggest there would be no need.  But these are the issues that create the need for CPC’s.

    You would be underwhelmed no matter what the stats are but I am quite impressed with what the CPC’s are doing.

    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • wendy-norris

    But the crux of the problem, Jim, is that medicine shouldn’t be ideological.


    For instance, contraception services are glaringly missing from the medical services you cited from the FRC report.


    With the exception of abstinence-only classes for young people, failing to provide the full complement of care women need, based on a bias of any nature, is not only inconsistent with the argument that CPCs are providing a necessary community service but that they should be permitted to operate outside accepted medical norms or that federal funds should be used to support them.


    It’s akin to allowing those in the faith community who have strict edicts against blood transfusions dictate the practice of surgery for the entire community.