Exposed: American Pregnancy Association Hides Links to CPCs

Heather Corinna

The American Pregnancy Association, an organization that presents itself as an unbiased medical resource for women seeking to sustain their pregnancies, in fact acts as a funnel for crisis pregnancy centers.

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,
RAINN,
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
response.)

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"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 Rewire 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

This
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
test.

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
APA
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
International
, 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
choices.

Analysis Abortion

‘Pro-Life’ Pence Transfers Money Intended for Vulnerable Households to Anti-Choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Jenn Stanley

Donald Trump's running mate has said that "life is winning in Indiana"—and the biggest winner is probably a chain of crisis pregnancy centers that landed a $3.5 million contract in funds originally intended for poor Hoosiers.

Much has been made of Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues. In 2000, when he was running for U.S. representative, Pence wrote that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ [sic] entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also said that funds meant to help people living with HIV or AIDS should no longer be given to organizations that provide HIV prevention services because they “celebrate and encourage” homosexual activity. Instead, he proposed redirecting those funds to anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” programs, which have been widely discredited by the medical community as being ineffective and dangerous.

Under Pence, ideology has replaced evidence in many areas of public life. In fact, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has just hired a running mate who, in the past year, has reallocated millions of dollars in public funds intended to provide food and health care for needy families to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence, who declined multiple requests for an interview with Rewire, has been outspoken about his anti-choice agenda. Currently, Indiana law requires people seeking abortions to receive in-person “counseling” and written information from a physician or other health-care provider 18 hours before the abortion begins. And thanks, in part, to other restrictive laws making it more difficult for clinics to operate, there are currently six abortion providers in Indiana, and none in the northern part of the state. Only four of Indiana’s 92 counties have an abortion provider. All this means that many people in need of abortion care are forced to take significant time off work, arrange child care, and possibly pay for a place to stay overnight in order to obtain it.

This environment is why a contract quietly signed by Pence last fall with the crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization Real Alternatives is so potentially dangerous for Indiana residents seeking abortion: State-subsidized crisis pregnancy centers not only don’t provide abortion but seek to persuade people out of seeking abortion, thus limiting their options.

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“Indiana is committed to the health, safety, and wellbeing [sic] of Hoosier families, women, and children,” reads the first line of the contract between the Indiana State Department of Health and Real Alternatives. The contract, which began on October 1, 2015, allocates $3.5 million over the course of a year for Real Alternatives to use to fund crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state.

Where Funding Comes From

The money for the Real Alternatives contract comes from Indiana’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, a federally funded, state-run program meant to support the most vulnerable households with children. The program was created by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act signed by former President Bill Clinton. It changed welfare from a federal program that gave money directly to needy families to one that gave money, and a lot of flexibility with how to use it, to the states.

This TANF block grant is supposed to provide low-income families a monthly cash stipend that can be used for rent, child care, and food. But states have wide discretion over these funds: In general, they must use the money to serve families with children, but they can also fund programs meant, for example, to promote marriage. They can also make changes to the requirements for fund eligibility.

As of 2012, to be eligible for cash assistance in Indiana, a household’s maximum monthly earnings could not exceed $377, the fourth-lowest level of qualification of all 50 states, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Indiana’s program also has some of the lowest maximum payouts to recipients in the country.

Part of this is due to a 2011 work requirement that stripped eligibility from many families. Under the new work requirement, a parent or caretaker receiving assistance needs to be “engaged in work once the State determines the parent or caretaker is ready to engage in work,” or after 24 months of receiving benefits. The maximum time allowed federally for a family to receive assistance is 60 months.

“There was a TANF policy change effective November 2011 that required an up-front job search to be completed at the point of application before we would proceed in authorizing TANF benefits,” Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the state’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), told Rewire. “Most [applicants] did not complete the required job search and thus applications were denied.”

Unspent money from the block grant can be carried over to following years. Indiana receives an annual block grant of $206,799,109, but the state hasn’t been using all of it thanks to those low payouts and strict eligibility requirements. The budget for the Real Alternatives contract comes from these carry-over funds.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is explicitly meant to clothe and feed children, or to create programs that help prevent “non-marital childbearing,” and Indiana’s contract with Real Alternatives does neither. The contract stipulates that Real Alternatives and its subcontractors must “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The funds, the contract says, cannot be used for organizations that will refer clients to abortion providers or promote contraceptives as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Parties involved in the contract defended it to Rewire by saying they provide material goods to expecting and new parents, but Rewire obtained documents that showed a much different reality.

Real Alternatives is an anti-choice organization run by Kevin Bagatta, a Pennsylvania lawyer who has no known professional experience with medical or mental health services. It helps open, finance, and refer clients to crisis pregnancy centers. The program started in Pennsylvania, where it received a $30 million, five-year grant to support a network of 40 subcontracting crisis pregnancy centers. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale called for an audit of the organization between June 2012 and June 2015 after hearing reports of mismanaged funds, and found $485,000 in inappropriate billing. According to the audit, Real Alternatives would not permit DHS to review how the organization used those funds. However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in April that at least some of the money appears to have been designated for programs outside the state.

Real Alternatives also received an $800,000 contract in Michigan, which inspired Gov. Pence to fund a $1 million yearlong pilot program in northern Indiana in the fall of 2014.

“The widespread success [of the pilot program] and large demand for these services led to the statewide expansion of the program,” reads the current $3.5 million contract. It is unclear what measures the state used to define “success.”

 

“Every Other Baby … Starts With Women’s Care Center”

Real Alternatives has 18 subcontracting centers in Indiana; 15 of them are owned by Women’s Care Center, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers. According to its website, Women’s Care Center serves 25,000 women annually in 23 centers throughout Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Women’s Care Centers in Indiana received 18 percent of their operating budget from state’s Real Alternatives program during the pilot year, October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015, which were mostly reimbursements for counseling and classes throughout pregnancy, rather than goods and services for new parents.

In fact, instead of the dispensation of diapers and food, “the primary purpose of the [Real Alternatives] program is to provide core services consisting of information, sharing education, and counseling that promotes childbirth and assists pregnant women in their decision regarding adoption or parenting,” the most recent contract reads.

The program’s reimbursement system prioritizes these anti-choice classes and counseling sessions: The more they bill for, the more likely they are to get more funding and thus open more clinics.

“This performance driven [sic] reimbursement system rewards vendor service providers who take their program reimbursement and reinvest in their services by opening more centers and hiring more counselors to serve more women in need,” reads the contract.

Classes, which are billed as chastity classes, parenting classes, pregnancy classes, and childbirth classes, are reimbursed at $21.80 per client. Meanwhile, as per the most recent contract, counseling sessions, which are separate from the classes, are reimbursed by the state at minimum rates of $1.09 per minute.

Jenny Hunsberger, vice president of Women’s Care Center, told Rewire that half of all pregnant women in Elkhart, LaPorte, Marshall, and St. Joseph Counties, and one in four pregnant women in Allen County, are clients of their centers. To receive any material goods, such as diapers, food, and clothing, she said, all clients must receive this counseling, at no cost to them. Such counseling is billed by the minute for reimbursement.

“When every other baby born [in those counties] starts with Women’s Care Center, that’s a lot of minutes,” Hunsberger told Rewire.

Rewire was unable to verify exactly what is said in those counseling sessions, except that they are meant to encourage clients to carry their pregnancies to term and to help them decide between adoption or child rearing, according to Hunsberger. As mandated by the contract, both counseling and classes must “provide abstinence education as the best and only method of avoiding unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”

In the first quarter of the new contract alone, Women’s Care Center billed Real Alternatives and, in turn, the state, $239,290.97; about $150,000 of that was for counseling, according to documents obtained by Rewire. In contrast, goods like food, diapers, and other essentials for new parents made up only about 18.5 percent of Women’s Care Center’s first-quarter reimbursements.

Despite the fact that the state is paying for counseling at Women’s Care Center, Rewire was unable to find any licensing for counselors affiliated with the centers. Hunsberger told Rewire that counseling assistants and counselors complete a minimum training of 200 hours overseen by a master’s level counselor, but the counselors and assistants do not all have social work or psychology degrees. Hunsberger wrote in an email to Rewire that “a typical Women’s Care Center is staffed with one or more highly skilled counselors, MSW or equivalent.”

Rewire followed up for more information regarding what “typical” or “equivalent” meant, but Hunsberger declined to answer. A search for licenses for the known counselors at Women’s Care Center’s Indiana locations turned up nothing. The Indiana State Department of Health told Rewire that it does not monitor or regulate the staff at Real Alternatives’ subcontractors, and both Women’s Care Center and Real Alternatives were uncooperative when asked for more information regarding their counseling staff and training.

Bethany Christian Services and Heartline Pregnancy Center, Real Alternatives’ other Indiana subcontractors, billed the program $380.41 and $404.39 respectively in the first quarter. They billed only for counseling sessions, and not goods or classes.

In a 2011 interview with Philadelphia City Paper, Kevin Bagatta said that Real Alternatives counselors were not required to have a degree.

“We don’t provide medical services. We provide human services,” Bagatta told the City Paper.

There are pregnancy centers in Indiana that provide a full range of referrals for reproductive health care, including for STI testing and abortion. However, they are not eligible for reimbursement under the Real Alternatives contract because they do not maintain an anti-choice mission.

Parker Dockray is the executive director of Backline, an all-options pregnancy resource center. She told Rewire that Backline serves hundreds of Indiana residents each month, and is overwhelmed by demand for diapers and other goods, but it is ineligible for the funding because it will refer women to abortion providers if they choose not to carry a pregnancy to term.

“At a time when so many Hoosier families are struggling to make ends meet, it is irresponsible for the state to divert funds intended to support low-income women and children and give it to organizations that provide biased pregnancy counseling,” Dockray told Rewire. “We wish that Indiana would use this funding to truly support families by providing job training, child care, and other safety net services, rather than using it to promote an anti-abortion agenda.”

“Life Is Winning in Indiana”

Time and again, Bagatta and Hunsberger stressed to Rewire that their organizations do not employ deceitful tactics to get women in the door and to convince them not to have abortions. However, multiple studies have proven that crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women from the moment they search online for an abortion provider through the end of their appointments inside the center.

These studies have also shown that publicly funded crisis pregnancy centers dispense medically inaccurate information to clients. In addition to spreading lies like abortion causing infertility or breast cancer, they are known to give false hopes of miscarriages to people who are pregnant and don’t want to be. A 2015 report by NARAL Pro-Choice America found this practice to be ubiquitous in centers throughout the United States, and Rewire found that Women’s Care Center is no exception. The organization’s website says that as many as 40 percent of pregnancies end in natural miscarriage. While early pregnancy loss is common, it occurs in about 10 percent of known pregnancies, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Crisis pregnancy centers also tend to crop up next to abortion clinics with flashy, deceitful signs that lead many to mistakenly walk into the wrong building. Once inside, clients are encouraged not to have an abortion.

A Google search for “abortion” and “Indianapolis” turns up an ad for the Women’s Care Center as the first result. It reads: “Abortion – Indianapolis – Free Ultrasound before Abortion. Located on 86th and Georgetown. We’re Here to Help – Call Us Today: Abortion, Ultrasound, Locations, Pregnancy.”

Hunsberger denies any deceit on the part of Women’s Care Center.

“Clients who walk in the wrong door are informed that we are not the abortion clinic and that we do not provide abortions,” Hunsberger told Rewire. “Often a woman will choose to stay or return because we provide services that she feels will help her make the best decision for her, including free medical-grade pregnancy tests and ultrasounds which help determine viability and gestational age.”

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky told Rewire that since Women’s Care Center opened on 86th and Georgetown in Indianapolis, many patients looking for its Georgetown Health Center have walked through the “wrong door.”

“We have had patients miss appointments because they went into their building and were kept there so long they missed their scheduled time,” Judi Morrison, vice president of marketing and education, told Rewire.

Sarah Bardol, director of Women’s Care Center’s Indianapolis clinic, told the Criterion Online Edition, a publication of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, that the first day the center was open, a woman and her boyfriend did walk into the “wrong door” hoping to have an abortion.

“The staff of the new Women’s Care Center in Indianapolis, located just yards from the largest abortion provider in the state, hopes for many such ‘wrong-door’ incidents as they seek to help women choose life for their unborn babies,” reported the Criterion Online Edition.

If they submit to counseling, Hoosiers who walk into the “wrong door” and “choose life” can receive up to about $40 in goods over the course their pregnancy and the first year of that child’s life. Perhaps several years ago they may have been eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but now with the work requirement, they may not qualify.

In a February 2016 interview with National Right to Life, one of the nation’s most prominent anti-choice groups, Gov. Pence said, “Life is winning in Indiana.” Though Pence was referring to the Real Alternatives contract, and the wave of anti-choice legislation sweeping through the state, it’s not clear what “life is winning” actually means. The state’s opioid epidemic claimed 1,172 lives in 2014, a statistically significant increase from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV infections have spread dramatically throughout the state, in part because of Pence’s unwillingness to support medically sound prevention practices. Indiana’s infant mortality rate is above the national average, and infant mortality among Black babies is even higher. And Pence has reduced access to prevention services such as those offered by Planned Parenthood through budget cuts and unnecessary regulations—while increasing spending on anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence’s track record shows that these policies are no mistake. The medical and financial needs of his most vulnerable constituents have taken a backseat to religious ideology throughout his time in office. He has literally reallocated money for poor Hoosiers to fund anti-choice organizations. In his tenure as both a congressman and a governor, he’s proven that whether on a national or state level, he’s willing to put “pro-life” over quality-of-life for his constituents.

News Abortion

Leading Anti-Choice ‘Expert’ Suggests Women Turn to Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Cope With Abortion Restrictions

Ally Boguhn

Though crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women to persuade them not get an abortion, Priscilla Coleman suggested that people dealing with the additional financial and geographical barriers imposed by waiting periods turn to those organizations for help.

A leading anti-choice “expert” suggested during an interview with Rewire at the National Right to Life Convention last week that women should turn to crisis pregnancy centers to cope with the barriers to abortion care, including obstacles she helped create.

Priscilla Coleman, one of the “False Witnesses” previously featured on Rewire for her egregious falsehoods about the supposed link between abortion and mental health, said that the “scientific information” she provides in her speaking engagements and through her nonprofit, the World Expert Consortium for Abortion Research and Education (WECARE), has helped get anti-choice bills passed in states, particularly South Dakota.

Though her work has been widely discredited by the scientific and medical community, Coleman has nonetheless frequently appeared as an “expert witness” in trials and hearings. As Coleman told Rewire, she is “not a medical doctor” but has nonetheless “been really involved for ten years now with South Dakota” and its anti-choice legislation. This included the South Dakota Informed Consent Law (HB 1166), and what she deemed to be an “anti-coercion bill,” seemingly referring to HB 1217, which requires that a woman seeking an abortion wait 72 hours and visit a crisis pregnancy center prior to the abortion.

Coleman acknowledged that the anti-choice laws in the state such as the waiting period had created barriers to care, as “women have to … get a hotel, you know, or find a way back” to clinics.

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“And that’s the complaint on the other side, that it’s making access more difficult,” Coleman went on, “but as all the data out there is showing the long-term effects of abortion, spending three more days to make the decision is in the women’s best interest, no matter what side you’re on.”

When pressed to respond to those who note that anti-choice restrictions make accessing abortion more difficult, Coleman replied that she “would just say that it’s worth a three-day hotel room and … if you’re going to pay for an abortion, allow an extra couple hundred dollars … to take some time because it has lifetime implications.”

Coleman, however, struggled to account for how one might come up with that money.

“Well, they’re somehow coming up with the money for the abortion,” said Coleman. “I’m not familiar enough with fees and things, but my understanding is that most women, no matter how poor they are, still have to pay for the procedure. Is that correct?”

Though crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women to persuade them not get an abortion, Coleman suggested that those dealing with the additional financial and geographical barriers imposed by waiting periods turn to those organizations for help.

“I’m sure that if they contacted crisis pregnancy centers … women could find a place to stay for a couple of days,” said Coleman. “I’m sure that many people affiliated with those centers would be happy to house the women in their own home if there is a room for them.”

The other anti-choice law Coleman connected herself with, HB 1166, uses the same falsehoods she claims her research supports. South Dakota’s so-called informed consent law requires doctors to receive consent prior to performing an abortion, and mandates that physicians provide those seeking care with written information that, among other things, falsely claims there is a connection between abortion and both “depression and related psychological distress” and “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.”

Coleman “served as an expert in South Dakota” after Planned Parenthood affiliates challenged the legislation, according to WECARE’s website.

As the Guttmacher Institute explains, all states already require patients consent prior to receiving medical care, and materials provided by the states that require mandated abortion counseling often offer “information that is irrelevant or misleading.”