Get Real! Should I Visit a Crisis Pregnancy Center?

Heather Corinna

This week on Get Real!, Heather Corinna's sexuality advice column for teens, Heather answers questions about crisis pregnancy centers.

Jessica asks:

I heard
about a really good organization that helps girls who are pregnant and
don’t want an abortion. It’s called Birthright. I have seen one in my
town, but I can’t find it on your site. Do you have any information
about Birthright or stuff about the way the baby is developing so that
we can find out more about our options?

Heather replies:

Birthright is one of many
antichoice/pro-life organizations (like CareNet, Heartbeat
International or the NIFLA) which supports a certain kind of pregnancy
“help,” and we would not recommend anyone go to one of the
centers affiliated with them, which they help fund, or others like
them; even women who know they are pregnant and intend to remain so.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

It is (and helps fund) what is called a CPC, or a Crisis Pregnancy Center.

CPCs don’t usually discuss all available options for women, and
grossly — and knowingly — usually misrepresent both abortion and
pregnancy. CPCs like Birthright often use deceptive advertising in
order to give the impression that women can come in for help no matter
which choice they want to make: they do not advertise themselves as
only for women who do not want to terminate, but commonly do quite the
opposite, purposefully giving the false impression that even women
considering or wanting termination may be served there.

Some will purposefully delay returning the results of pregnancy
tests to women in order to make it harder for those who want an
abortion to get one within the legal window. They will often show women
images of what they claim are aborted fetuses, but which are often
something else entirely (such as stillborn fetuses or miscarriages);
they usually inform women of unsubstantiated risks of abortion but also
don’t fill them in on the actual — and important for any pregnant
woman to know, especially if she’s remaining pregnant — risks of
pregnancy. Most misinform women about emergency contraception, and most
list long-term effects of abortion which are completely false. Because
most have no medical licensure, they also are not required to provide
patient confidentiality the way an actual medical center or doctor’s
office is, which is no small deal for any woman, no matter what choice
she is making.

What CPCs do, as their job, and those staffing them very much
consider their job and their mission, is primarily talking or tricking
women out of abortions: not really serving women in any real way who
are choosing to remain pregnant. If a woman comes to an abortion clinic
saying she absolutely does not want an abortion, she’ll be given
referrals for prenatal care, financial assistance, and to adoption
resources, if she wants them. If a woman shows up at a CPC and says she
absolutely WANTS an abortion, the staff will do everything they
possibly can to try and get her to make a different choice, including
prayer and knowingly manipulative information.

As mentioned in the link just below, The Pearson Foundation has a
publication called “How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach
Crisis Pregnancy Center.” That book outlines, in detail, how CPCs
should use misleading names that make them sound like abortion clinics,
ways to present the appearance of providing abortions, and how to do
what they can to hide their pro-life/antichoice positions. For example,
the manual suggests answering the question, when a woman calls in, “Are you a pro-life center?” with “We are a pregnancy testing center. What is pro-life?” It is, quite literally, a manual on how to purposefully mislead women and how to be a fraud.

is a very good, balanced student-written article on CPCs. I have also
provided a link to an extensive report on CPCs from Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) below, but to give you a taste of what he

87 percent of CPCs reached in the investigation provided
misleading, medically inaccurate information about abortion. CPCs often
withhold essential, medically accurate reproductive health information
from women who are led to believe that they are visiting a neutral and
objective medical facility. Despite the fact that the women who come to
them are clearly sexually active and at risk for unintended pregnancy
and sexually transmitted infection, CPCs lecture them about abstinence
instead of explaining contraception, if they provide any sexual health
information at all.

A 2006 NAF report on CPCs (Crisis Pregnancy Centers: An Affront to Choice) quotes the following as reported from one young woman’s experience at a Birthright center:

When I was 17, still in high school, I missed my period
and my sister recommended what she thought was a clinic, because it had
a sign for a free pregnancy test and was called ‘Birthright.’ In the
front hallway there was a statue of the Virgin Mary. I went with a
friend, but the two counselors separated us. They had me pee in a cup
and then one said that she had to talk to me separately in her office.
The counselor asked me about my sexual activity, about why I thought I
was pregnant, then asked if I believed in God, and what I planned to do
if I was pregnant. I responded that I was Christian, my father was a
minister, and that I would have an abortion. ‘What do you think that
God will think of that?’ the counselor asked. I responded that I
believed in a forgiving God who would want me to go to college. The
counselor argued that God thinks that an abortion is murder and then
showed me pictures of fetuses.”

Pregnant women — or women who suspect they may be pregnant — can
get accurate, truthful and compassionate advice — help no matter WHAT
choice they want to make, and in considering their options to determine
which is the right choice for them, not by anyone else’s standards —
through their general physician, gynecologist and/or through family
planning clinics. Abortion clinics — which are staffed with real
medical professionals — also usually provide options counseling for
women who want to discuss all their options. I assure you, no
abortion clinic wants a woman to have an abortion who is not sure that
is what she wants, and all take many steps to BE sure that is truly
what a woman wants, even when she has come in expressly for an
abortion procedure. If and when a woman comes to an abortion clinic and
clearly is not sure she wants an abortion, the general procedure is to
make clear to her that she then cannot be given an abortion that day,
and only if she changes her mind and DOES want one should she return.

CPC does not operate that way: they feel only one choice — remaining
pregnant — is acceptable, and if a woman who comes to one is not sure
if she wants to remain pregnant (or comes in thinking, based on their
deceptions, she can obtain an abortion there and wanting one), they
will employ all sorts of methods to convince her to do otherwise, based
on what they want, not that woman. So, while you can get
accurate, unbiased counseling on ALL your options even at an abortion
clinic: you cannot at a CPC.

In addition, the most CPCs can usually offer pregnant women
medically is a pregnancy test, the kind any woman can buy at a
drugstore for herself. Most of what they offer is simply anti-abortion
propaganda. There are rarely real medical staff at these centers, and
they can’t often provide things like needed sonograms or prenatal care.
(Because ultrasound technology is only supposed to be used as a
diagnostic tool by medical providers, and CPCs don’t provide actual
medical services, few of them have ultrasounds or provide them, and for
the most part, they aren’t supposed to be using them when it comes to
ultrasounds and medical/legal policies.) For women who go in and
discover they are not pregnant, they also cannot offer birth control,
and most CPCs oppose birth control outright. Plenty of CPCs
fraudulently advertise that they CAN provide these kinds of services
even when they cannot just to lure women in.

Many CPCs have violated state laws or had fraud charges filed
against them for these reasons and more. CPCs like Birthright are not
an appropriate place to go for prenatal care, and in some respects, can
even endanger women’s health, particularly those which promise medical
care fraudulently they know they cannot and do not provide. When a
pregnant woman needs medical care, a delay in that care can create
health risks for her and her pregnancy.

No matter WHAT reproductive choice women are going to make — or
even what choices they are personally opposed to — they need bonafide,
accurate information that is not intended to influence them
emotionally, and they need real medical care. Even a woman who is
pregnant, who knows she intended to sustain her pregnancy, and who is
against abortion is not helped by inaccurate information or a lack of
real medical care. And I think we can agree that it’s really
insensitive and inappropriate to show a newly-pregnant woman bloody
propagandist images of stillborns. How is that helpful?

We don’t get much into embryonic and fetal development here at
Scarleteen because it’s a bit outside our scope — most of our users
are trying to avoid/prevent pregnancy — and fetal development is
usually only an issue for women who are pregnant and who have decided
to continue their pregnancies. Certainly, when a woman who is pregnant
and asking about abortion asks about fetal development, we talk about
stages of development with her truthfully and refer her to good
additional resources. We also counsel pregnant women asking for help in
making a reproductive choice based on their questions, and they don’t
tend to ask about development, save when they are well into a
pregnancy, intend to remain pregnant, and are either just curious or
asking about prenatal health. Since it’s best a pregnant woman directs
these kinds of questions to her healthcare provider, that is who we
will generally refer her to if she is asking about prenatal issues

There are a lot of resources for pregnant women on the internet
about pregnancy, embryonic and fetal development and growth (and I’ll
give you some links to a few of those below). Because that need is so
widely and well served elsewhere, there’s just no reason for us to
invest a lot of time and energy in that arena here. In my book, I do, in my extensive chapter
on reproductive choices, outline the basic processes for all three
choices, which for continuing a pregnancy, includes information on a
developing pregnancy and childbirth.

For women who are certain they want to continue a pregnancy, the
right place to go first is to a doctor, OB/GYN or general public health
clinic. Besides telling you what you need to know about what to expect
during a pregnancy, and how to take care of yourself, they can also
talk in-depth with you about fetal development and help direct you
towards any resources you may need in terms of financial or other
practical assistance.

Once you know you are pregnant and know you intend to bring a
pregnancy to term, going to a medical professional — such as your
family doctor or your gynecologist — or a real medical clinic is the
best first step, for both your health and that of your developing fetus.

So, that is where we would advise you — and advise other pregnant
women who want to remain pregnant — to go to find out about fetal
development and pre-natal care. We don’t suggest CPCs not only because
they simply rarely provide that, nor just because we don’t send our
users to any source we know to be medically inaccurate. We also do not
endorse CPCs because any business in the practice of fraud, misleading
or tricking women, and not honoring a woman’s right to choose for
herself what is right for her is not in line with our ethics when it
comes to understanding that it is not our right, or anyone else’s, to
do anything but respect an individual’s own right to choice and the
right to factual reproductive health information. For more on why we
feel that way, see here.

Here are a few more links and articles for you on CPCs:

The FWHC offers this sound advice on how to find a reliable, bonafide clinic, no matter what choice a woman is making:

  • Select clinics that provide the full range of contraceptive alternatives.
  • Ask on the phone if they provide or refer for abortion services. Avoid centers that refuse to give a straightforward answer.
  • Do not use the ones listed in yellow pages under Abortion Alternatives.

• Be cautious when surfing the web. Often you will find anti-abortion
religious-based websites disguised as pro-choice information. Keep
searching for reliable information.
• Select clinics that have clearly established reputations. Avoid
centers with ambiguous descriptions. Avoid clinics whose staff do not
provide full, clear answers regarding their services. Ask friends or
relatives you trust!

And here are some excellent online resources about the process of pregnancy, embryonic and fetal development:

If you are looking for information about practical or financial
assistance for a pregnancy in your teens, or general information about
all your options, Backline has an excellent page
of resources here. They also have a toll-free hotline at: 1-888-493-0092.

If you’re in the United States and are looking expressly for practical/financial help, here in the government’s page for WIC, the programs available to help low-income women, infants and children, including pregnant women. Lastly, we have long loved Girl-Mom.com for all kinds of support for teen mothers, from other young Moms.

Obviously, you have the right to think whatever opinion you have
CPCs, but I’d encourage you to do some of this reading to make up your
mind informedly. I’d also encourage you, if advising other women who
are pregnant and in need of help, to direct them to services which DO
provide the kind of real help they need, without bias or any agenda
other than making sure that they are able to be assisted in taking the
best care of themselves, no matter their choice. If we can’t trust
women to make sound choices for themselves, we can’t very well trust
women to be parents, and make sound choices for their children, either.

Commentary Politics

Democrats’ Latest Platform Silent on Discriminatory Welfare System

Lauren Rankin

The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

While the Republican Party has adopted one of the most regressive, punitive, and bigoted platforms in recent memory, the Democratic Party seems to be moving decisively in the opposite direction. The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. It calls for a federal minimum wage of $15; a full repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion care; and a federal nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

All three of these are in direct response to the work of grassroots activists and coalitions that have been shifting the conversation and pushing the party to the left.

But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the party platform draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

It’s been 20 years since President Bill Clinton proudly declared that “we are ending welfare as we know it” when he signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. welfare system. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 implemented dramatic changes to welfare payments and eligibility, putting in place the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In the two decades since its enactment, TANF has not only proved to be blatantly discriminatory, but it has done lasting damage.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

In one fell swoop, TANF ended the federal guarantee of support to low-income single mothers that existed under the now-defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. AFDC had become markedly unpopular and an easy target by the time President Clinton signed welfare reform legislation into law, with the racist, mythic trope of the “welfare queen” becoming pervasive in the years leading up to AFDC’s demise.

Ronald Reagan popularized this phrase while running for president in 1976 and it caught fire, churning up public resentment against AFDC and welfare recipients, particularly Black women, who were painted as lazy and mooching off the government. This trope underwrote much of conservative opposition to AFDC; among other things, House Republican’s 1994 “Contract with America,” co-authored by Newt Gingrich, demanded an end to AFDC and vilified teen mothers and low-income mothers with multiple children.

TANF radically restructured qualifications for welfare assistance, required that recipients sustain a job in order to receive benefits, and ultimately eliminated the role of the federal state in assisting poor citizens. The promise of AFDC and welfare assistance more broadly, including SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps) benefits, is that the federal government has an inherent role of caring for and providing for its most vulnerable citizens. With the implementation of TANF, that promise was deliberately broken.

At the time of its passage, Republicans and many Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, touted TANF as a means of motivating those receiving assistance to lift themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, meaning they would now have to work while receiving benefits. But the idea that those in poverty can escape poverty simply by working harder and longer evades the fact that poverty is cyclical and systemic. Yet, that is what TANF did: It put the onus for ending poverty on the individual, rather than dealing with the structural issues that perpetuate the state of being in poverty.

TANF also eliminated any federal standard of assistance, leaving it up to individual states to determine not only the amount of financial aid that they provide, but what further restrictions state lawmakers wish to place on recipients. Not only that, but the federal TANF program instituted a strict, lifetime limit of five years for families to receive aid and a two-year consecutive limit, which only allows an individual to receive two years of consecutive aid at a time. If after five total years they still require assistance to care for their family and themself, no matter their circumstances, they are simply out of luck.

That alone is an egregious violation of our inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Still, TANF went a step further: It also allowed states to institute more pernicious, discriminatory policies. In order to receive public assistance benefits through TANF, low-income single mothers are subjected to intense personal scrutiny, sexual and reproductive policing, and punitive retribution that does not exist for public assistance recipients in programs like Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs, programs that Democrats not only continue to support, but use as a rallying cry. And yet, few if any Democrats are crying out for a more just welfare system.

There are so many aspects of TANF that should motivate progressives, but perhaps none more than the family cap and forced paternity identification policies.

Welfare benefits through the TANF program are most usually determined by individual states based on household size, and family caps allow a state to deny welfare recipients’ additional financial assistance after the birth of another child. At least 19 states currently have family cap laws on the books, which in some cases allow the state to deny additional assistance to recipients who give birth to another child. 

Ultimately, this means that if a woman on welfare becomes pregnant, she is essentially left with deciding between terminating her pregnancy or potentially losing her welfare benefits, depending on which state she lives in. This is not a free and valid choice, but is a forced state intervention into the private reproductive practices of the women on welfare that should appall and enrage progressive Democrats.

TANF’s “paternafare,” or forced paternity identification policy, is just as egregious. Single mothers receiving TANF benefits are forced to identify the father of their children so that the state may contact and demand financial payment from them. This differs from nonwelfare child support payments, in which the father provides assistance directly to the single mother of his child; this policy forces the fathers of low-income single women on welfare to give their money directly to the state rather than the mother of their child. For instance, Indiana requires TANF recipients to cooperate with their local county prosecutor’s child support program to establish paternity. Some states, like Utah, lack an exemption for survivors of domestic violence as well as children born of rape and incest, as Anna Marie Smith notes in her seminal work Welfare Reform and Sexual Regulation. This means that survivors of domestic violence may be forced to identify and maintain a relationship with their abusers, simply because they are enrolled in TANF.

The reproductive and sexual policing of women enrolled in TANF is a deeply discriminatory and unconstitutional intrusion. And what’s also disconcerting is that the program has failed those enrolled in it.

TANF was created to keep single mothers from remaining on welfare rolls for an indeterminate amount of time, but also with the express goal of ensuring that these young women end up in the labor force. It was touted by President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans as a realistic, work-based solution that could lift single mothers up out of poverty and provide opportunities for prosperity. In reality, it’s been a failure, with anywhere from 42 to 74 percent of those who exited the program remaining poor.

As Jordan Weissmann detailed over at Slate, while the number of women on welfare decreased significantly since 1996, TANF left in its wake a new reality: “As the rolls shrank, a new generation of so-called disconnected mothers emerged: single parents who weren’t working, in school, or receiving welfare to support themselves or their children. According to [the Urban Institute’s Pamela] Loprest, the number of these women rose from 800,000 in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2008.” Weissmann also noted that researchers have found an uptick in “deep or extreme poverty” since TANF went into effect.

Instead of a system that enables low-income single mothers a chance to escape the cycle of poverty, what we have is a racist system that denies aid to those who need it most, many of whom are people of color who have been and remain systemically impoverished.

The Democratic Party platform draft has an entire plank focused on how to “Raise Incomes and Restore Economic Security for the Middle Class,” but what about those in poverty? What about the discriminatory and broken welfare system we have in place that ensures not only that low-income single mothers feel stigmatized and demoralized, but that they lack the supportive structure to even get to the middle class at all? While the Democratic Party is developing strategies and potential policies to support the middle class, it is neglecting those who are in need the most, and who are suffering the most as a result of President Bill Clinton’s signature legislation.

While the national party has not budged on welfare reform since President Bill Clinton signed the landmark legislation in 1996, there has been some state-based movement. Just this month, New Jersey lawmakers, led by Democrats, passed a repeal of the state’s family cap law, which was ultimately vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. California was more successful, though: The state recently repealed its Maximum Family Grant rule, which barred individuals on welfare from receiving additional aid when they had more children.

It’s time for the national Democratic Party to do the same. For starters, the 2016 platform should include a specific provision calling for an end to family cap laws and forced paternity identification. If the Democratic Party is going to be the party of reproductive freedom—demonstrated by its call to repeal both the federal Hyde and Helms amendments—that must include women who receive welfare assistance. But the Democrats should go even further: They must embrace and advance a comprehensive overhaul of our welfare system, reinstating the federal guarantee of financial support. The state-based patchwork welfare system must be replaced with a federal welfare assistance program, one that provides educational incentives as well as a base living wage.

Even President Bill Clinton and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton both acknowledge that the original welfare reform bill had serious issues. Today, this bill and its discriminatory legacy remain a progressive thorn in the side of the Democratic Party—but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time for the party to admit that welfare reform was a failure, and a discriminatory one at that. It’s time to move from punishment and stigma to support and dignity for low-income single mothers and for all people living in poverty. It’s time to end TANF.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.