How They Deceive Women:
My Visit to a "Pregnancy Resource Center"

by Linda Flores

Revolutionary Worker #1270, March 13, 2005, posted at

The posters appear on nearly every train in my city. Next to the image of a troubled young woman, big block letters spell out, "Considering ABORTION? Know Your Options," followed by an 800 number. I have looked around at the women on the train, wondering how many knew the truth about who is behind these signs. I think with horror of the women who unknowingly visit one of these centers and run smack up against a growing campaign, organized and funded by the Christian Right and designed to guilt-trip and deceive women into giving birth.

These centers are sometimes called Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), and sometimes they use more neutral- sounding names like Pregnancy Care Centers. I visited one called Aid For Women, posing as a troubled young woman afraid she was pregnant. The building was right next door to Planned Parenthood's; it would be very easy for a woman to pick the wrong door, to ask the security guard "where do I go for the pregnancy test?" and be directed instead to Aid For Women. Once I got inside, women wearing crosses directed me to a counselor's office. The first thing I saw were racks of pamphlets: "Breast Cancer: The Deadly After-Effect of Abortion"; "Condoms: Do They Really Work?"; "Secondary Virginity: The Best Choice." These materials created a whole fictionalized world where condoms and the birth control pill are dangerous, where abortion ruins lives while adoption is a happy choice.

I imagined being the kind of woman these centers target. All her life she's been bombarded with images and messages, sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, telling her that being a mother is the highest expression of womanhood. I tried to imagine her feeling the pull, the aching thought that maybe if she has a child, she'll have an identity, as someone's mother. That someone will love her. The thought that this is god's plan for her--so why isn't she happier to accept it? I thought of her fighting through all of this, struggling with the guilt and the confusion--trying to make a decision about her pregnancy.

One pamphlet called "A Real Woman" made explicit the biblically based ideology these centers want to impose: "A Real Woman: appreciates God's design of men and women, behaves like a lady, believes in God, understands chastity, is modest, pure and chaste, loves babies, finds strength in her husband, is happy and content."

Other pamphlets spread fear: one called "Women Hurt" warned of "Post-Abortion Syndrome"--an entirely invented condition which, after exhaustive studies, is not recognized by any legitimate psychological or medical organization (although they will likely face increased pressure to recognize this "syndrome"). Similar pamphlets spread more lies: that women who have abortions risk everything from drug abuse, eating disorders, major depression, to "symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder." One pamphlet, in a gross and insulting instance of turning reality on its head, likened having an abortion to being raped.1

I thought about being a young woman frightened by these lies, with no ability to compare them to the truth. In the suffocating atmosphere surrounding abortion in this country, most young women have only heard it described as a "tragic choice," when it's talked of at all. They've almost never seen a character on TV or in the movies have one, although plenty of women characters go straight from finding out they're pregnant to planning the birth, as if abortion didn't even exist--or worse, as if it were just an unspeakable option. Ironically, almost every woman likely knows someone who's had one, since it's estimated that 35 percent of all women in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45. But how many women, in the face of this onslaught, will admit to this?

The counselor I talked to asked me the name of my boyfriend and how many sexual partners I'd had. She told me that abortion carries major psychological risks "because it's against a woman's nature to kill her own baby." She then showed me a video which she said would "change my life." The video, "The Heart of the Matter," was much more sophisticated and stealthy than the bloody fetus pictures some CPCs have used. It showed digital images--purportedly photographs--of fetuses disembodied from the women carrying them, and portrayed these fetuses as fully formed miniature humans with personalities and quirks. It painted a frightening picture of abortion complications while being very careful to list almost no actual statistics (except from studies carried out by anti-abortion groups).

The video listed every possible medical complication, down to the extremely rare ones, leading women to think that if they had an abortion they might lose their fertility or their life. It claimed abortion was "the most unregulated surgery"--when in fact abortion clinics are subjected to ridiculous regulations governing everything from how wide their doors are to whether their lawns have insects.2 The video's basic message was this: abortion will cause you tremendous emotional suffering and could make you infertile or kill you--but of course we're not pressuring you or anything.

As I left the center, the counselor said she wanted to talk to me about abstinence. She handed me a pamphlet about "secondary virginity" and told me that if my boyfriend really loved me " he would respect my decision not to have sex until marriage." Together with the pamphlets warning that "the only safe sex is no sex until faithful married sex," the backwards, Christian morality of these clinics becomes painfully clear.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers are a crucial element of the effort by Christian fascists and others in the right wing to tighten tradition's chains on women. They deliberately use deception to lure women in when they are at their most vulnerable. Their print ads have a "feminist" look and use phrases like "information on a woman's choice." ( is the website of the National Abortion Federation, but is actually a pro-life website, as are, and Their names and logos mimic legitimate women's clinics, and CPCs are often placed right by the legitimate clinics. And they refuse, unless directly asked, to tell whether or not they provide abortions or give referrals for them. Instead, they tell women: "you'll be able to talk about all that when you come in."

One huge draw for women are the free pregnancy tests--although since most CPCs have no medical staff or laboratories, the test a woman hopes will be clinically accurate is usually an over-the-counter test that can be bought for $10 at a drugstore.

The latest weapon in the arsenal of these CPCs is showing pregnant women ultrasound images of the developing fetus, and it seems to be having a major effect on women. Focus on the Family, a Christian fascist organization that funds and promotes CPCs and has spent nearly $1.2 million on ultrasound machines, claims that nearly 70 percent of the women shown ultrasound decide against abortion.3

For a woman who is looking forward to giving birth, seeing an ultrasound image of her developing fetus can be a joyful thing. But the use of ultrasound to trick women into motherhood has nothing to do with providing decent medical care. It is an ugly act, using modern technology to yank women back into the ancient role of mothers and producers of babies. CPCs play on the fact that most women who grow up in this society have little knowledge about their bodies and that there is a certain mysticism attached to ultrasounds. The sound of the fetus's heart, amplified through the ultrasound machine to much louder than in real life, is used to tap into the enormous pressure so many women face from the cult of motherhood and the superstitious awe surrounding pregnancy. The CPCs tell these women that this is a baby they will be killing.

Sometimes women are all but forced to watch graphic images of aborted fetuses and listen to anti-abortion propaganda, unable to leave because the staff at the clinic hold their test results hostage, waiting 30 minutes when the tests take no longer than 10. One woman took her teenaged daughter to a CPC, and when they found out the young woman wanted an abortion, they gave her a cloth doll and told her to cut it up with scissors, saying "this is what you'll be doing to your baby."4

Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are overwhelmingly organized and funded by Christian right-wing groups, are not new: they've been around since just after abortion was made legal in 1973. But while access to legitimate abortion clinics is rapidly shrinking--six out of seven U.S. counties have no abortion providers--CPCs are growing. There were 2,000 centers in 1994 and nearly 4,000 today. Crisis pregnancy centers are not medical clinics, and so there is no requirement that they have any knowledge or training in women's health, sexual health, counseling, or even basic anatomy. The only "training" they receive is the propaganda promoted by anti-abortion think tanks and associations. But the Department of Health and Human Services gave $1.2 million to CPCs in 2001, which more than doubled to $2.8 million in 2003. Money from Bush's "faith-based initiatives" is being channeled to CPCs, while at the same time funding for abortion providers is shrinking. In Florida, the Department of Motor Vehicles sells "Choose Life" license plates, the proceeds of which go to pro-life groups--including CPCs.5

Make no mistake: these centers are not about helping women. They are not providing legitimate services. They give women literally deadly lies and misinformation. They prey on women when they are at their most vulnerable, promising to "care and nurture"--but in truth they are carrying out what they openly trumpet as god's plan for women--which is that they give birth.

How many women have had their futures ruined by unwanted motherhood? How many have found themselves with yet another child they can't afford and don't want? How many lives have been wrecked by this calculated deception and enforcing of "God's plan"? How many women have been frightened away from condoms and guilt-tripped into abstinence, and therefore have no understanding of how to protect themselves against STDs or pregnancies?

And what would society be like if the people behind these CPCs were running things?


1 "Conceived in Rape: A Story of Hope." This argues that even rape victims should have the baby.

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2 Center for Reproductive Rights, "Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers: Avoiding the `TRAP'," 2003.

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3 Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine, cited in Esther Kaplan, With God On Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George Bush's White House , 2004.

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4 National Abortion Rights Action League, "Deceptive Anti-Abortion Crisis Pregnancy Centers," 1999.

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5 Kaplan, Chapter 5.

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