Montana crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) examined in a recent undercover study by NARAL Pro-Choice Montana provided “biased and incorrect information” and “failed to abide by applicable regulations to protect consumers.”
As part of the study, volunteers (as “secret shoppers”) visited several CPCs throughout the state and found that the centers often masquerade as comprehensive health-care clinics but provide inaccurate information about abortion, birth control, and contraception.
NARAL Pro-Choice Montana Executive Director Maggie Moran noted that the study’s findings mirror what CPCs are doing around the country, as evidenced by other undercover investigations conducted by NARAL.
Moran noted that the pro-choice volunteers who participated in the Montana investigation were trained prior to entering the centers on which questions to ask. They were also given accurate information about birth control and abortion.
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After visiting the CPCs, volunteers completed a questionnaire about what they saw and heard. “My overarching feeling from reading all the surveys was a feeling of intimidation and fear that the volunteers felt in these centers. They weren’t pregnant, and knew they weren’t pregnant, and they still felt intimidated,” said Moran.
Rewire spoke with one woman who went undercover for the study to six CPCs. “I didn’t expect blatant misinformation,” she said.
“In most of these places, you walk in and it’s generally very homey,” she said. “None of these places really felt like medical facilities to me. Several of them were in renovated homes.” She said that usually a secretary gave her forms to fill out after she said she thought she was pregnant. Most of the information requested on the forms was not medical information, she said; rather, the questions asked about race, religious background, marital status, and the types of support systems the women have in their lives.
She said that people who identified themselves as volunteer nurses would ask to hear about her situation. “They always asked if I was considering having an abortion,” she said. And “they were never reluctant about giving you negative information about abortion.”
“There [were] two different options they would go over with you: keeping the baby or adoption,” she said. “They would tell you about all of the things you could give this potential child … pushing you in that direction. If I was reluctant and said that I wasn’t sure if I could do that, they would push me to adoption.”
The study found that the majority of CPCs provided inaccurate information about abortion; 67 percent claimed that abortion was linked to breast cancer, while 78 percent said abortion causes serious psychological damage, and 44 percent said abortion would cause irreversible damage to the vagina and the uterus.
“Every CPC gave me information that said that abortion causes breast cancer,” said the volunteer. “They all definitely made that statement as a fact.”
The study found that 69 percent of CPCs used developmentally inaccurate “fetal dolls” as a tool to convince the undercover women not to choose abortion.
“They would show you fetal models that would have tiny little smiles painted on them,” said the volunteer.
“In a couple of those [CPCs], I was asked if I wanted to watch an abortion,” she said. “The videos were extremely disturbing. There was horror music playing in the background.” She said that she couldn’t speak for the legitimacy of the video, and that it never showed a woman’s face. “They were extremely graphic.”
She said that the CPC visits could last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. “After negative pregnancy tests, they would not refer you [for] birth control,” she said. Instead, “they would give you negative information about contraceptives.”
“I knew there would be religious overtones, but I expected it to be a little more medical,” the volunteer told Rewire. “I thought there would be actual doctors providing information. I expected more medical professionals.”
“Since I am aware of the information and studies, I thought I could be resistant to them,” she said. “But I felt instantly vulnerable to the information that they were providing.”