Anti-Abortion Centers Mislead People at Their Most Vulnerable

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Reproductive justice: the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.

This past January, on the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective convened a summit to envision new futures for reproductive justice. The original framework, established in 1994 by Black women including SisterSong’s co-founder Loretta Ross, insisted that the fight for reproductive rights be combined with human rights and social justice activism. The right to an abortion, for example, while foundational, does not address the broader circumstances under which a person chooses to keep or end a pregnancy. Thirty years after first calling for reproductive justice, the 2023 summit reaffirmed their commitment while envisioning “a future rooted in human dignity and worth, bodily autonomy, joy, love, and rest.”

One aspect of the summit’s “Visioning New Futures for Reproductive Justice Declaration” includes liberation through “being able to have healthy and supported pregnancy options, and prenatal, birth, and postpartum care. This is birth justice.” The work of anti-abortion centers (AACs), also known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), undermines this liberatory goal.

The following information draws on a teach-in held at Channing-Murray Foundation during the inaugural Urbana-Champaign Reproductive Justice week in April. The event in part utilized materials created by Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights, an organization based in Maine, which provides free online training for grassroots organizers. The teach-in aimed to educate community members about some of the tactics used by AACs and to encourage increased collaboration locally to fight the negative influence of these centers.

Faith-based, anti-choice AACs have existed in the United States since the establishment of the first abortion clinic in the late 1960s. In the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe one year ago, their numbers have grown to between 2,500 and 4,000, outnumbering legitimate medical clinics three to one. The primary goal of AACs is to prevent people from accessing abortion care, and they will use any and all means to do so. In order to achieve birth justice, we must understand and fight back against their harmful impact.

The majority of AAC staff are not medically licensed, regardless of how the centers present themselves online or in person. Consequently, AACs are not subject to federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protections of patients’ privacy. AACs advertising practices are also not subject to the Federal Trade Commission Act, because they do not sell anything, allowing them to use false advertising. Legitimate reproductive health clinics are bound by these laws. Various cities and states are attempting to mitigate the harm caused by AACs through new regulations. In Illinois, SB1909, the Deceptive Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers Act, has passed both houses and is waiting for Governor J. B. Pritzker’s signature.

AACs use a variety of tactics to delay and confuse people seeking pregnancy options. Illegitimate centers often locate themselves in close proximity to licensed medical clinics and use naming conventions that mimic real health centers (e.g. the Women’s Care Clinic of Danville is an AAC). AACs also target low-income people and those without regular health insurance by advertising free goods and services such as pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, “abortion” consultations, diapers, and even food during prenatal visits. These centers, however, never refer patients to abortion providers, despite claiming they are “committed to providing you with everything you need to make an informed pregnancy decision.” Furthermore, these “free” services designed to lure people into the AACs are widely available in Urbana-Champaign through other non-faith-based, unbiased organizations, including CU Public Health District (CUPHD), McKinley Health Center, Planned Parenthood, and Cunningham Township. Each of these organizations will protect clients’ privacy and refer them to abortion care, if that is what the patient wants.

Decisions regarding an unplanned pregnancy are time-sensitive. Because staff at AACs are determined to prevent abortions, they use delaying tactics to push off decisions as long as possible. The website for Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resource Center, one of the two AACs located in Urbana-Champaign, encourages people to call for an appointment before taking Plan B: “Before taking any medication, you should understand what it is, what it could mean to your health, and how it works. Call for an appointment and one of our staff will be happy to discuss it with you, confirm if you’re pregnant, and advise you on your options.” Emergency contraceptives such as Plan B, ella, or Julie, should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex and at most within 72 hours. Pregnancy cannot be confirmed until well after this period has passed. In another case, the anti-abortion center ABBA Women’s Choice, suggests you “stop, take a deep breath, and think about your future,” confirm the pregnancy a second time, get an ultrasound, evaluate your life, etc. Twelve states currently ban abortion as early as six weeks after conception, sooner than most people know they are pregnant. AACs aim to delay, confuse, and scare those seeking accurate information about their choices, creating unnecessary risk to pregnant people’s lives; each week that passes in a pregnancy can result in comparatively higher-cost, higher-risk abortion procedures.

AACs regularly lie about the medical implications of abortion. The Living Alternatives website provides vague information about “what abortion will do to your body,” but encourages—above all—clients to personally go to the center to access complete information. In contrast, Equity Clinic, C-U’s new independent abortion clinic, has FAQ pages for both medication and surgical abortions with common questions and detailed, medically accurate answers. Living Alternatives also claims that abortion “may have various side effects, including . . . uterine scarring causing future infertility, . . . pre-term birth, and emotional and psychological impact.” These claims directly contradict the medical consensus that abortions are safe and do not impact future fertility.

The primary tool available to anti-abortion centers is money. Research by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) shows that AACs “are backed by billions of dollars and institutional ties to larger groups that provide financial security and significant organizational infrastructure.” Donations from local anti-abortion activists are sought. Living Alternatives will be holding their Champaign/Rantoul fundraising banquet on October 20, 2023, to “remember what God has done in 2023 and dream for the coming year.” Sponsorship levels offered include Protector, Guardian, Defender, and Rescuer. Most AACs are part of larger, extremely well-funded national or even international organizations. Birthright of Champaign is a “chapter” of Birthright International, which is guided by the belief that “it is the right of every pregnant woman to give birth . . . and the right of every child to be born.” Federal and state dollars from sources such as “Choose Life” license plates and Alternatives to Abortion (A2A) programs, also flow to AACs.

The Birth Justice framework envisions a future where all pregnant people receive accurate, patient-centered care that includes access to safe, affordable abortion services without barriers or stigma. Anti-abortion centers seek to force all pregnant people to take their pregnancies to term, elevating the “right of the unborn” above all other considerations. The concept of reproductive justice centers bodily autonomy and trusts that pregnant people understand their own social, economic, and personal context better than any external authority. Systems centering reproductive justice protect individuals and result in better outcomes for our communities than those that seek to control and manipulate.

Legitimate Reproductive Health Clinics in Urbana-Champaign

Champaign Health Center (operated by Planned Parenthood), 302 E Stoughton St., Suite #2, Champaign

Equity Clinic, 2111 W. Park Ct., Champaign

Resources/Further Reading

Essay collection: Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundations, Theory, Practice, Critique (The Feminist Press, 2017)

Visioning New Futures for Reproductive Justice

The website crisispregnancycentermap.com is a free resource mapping AACs around the country

California Women’s Law Center Report

Equity Forward’s Anti-Abortion Center Campaign

Article in AMA Journal of Ethics: “Why Crisis Pregnancy Centers are Legal but Unethical

Reproductive Transparency Now (RTN): Chicago-based volunteer organization focused on protesting and raising awareness about anti-abortion CPCs

Unwanted Pregnancies: Outcomes for Children Research

Julie Laut (she/her) is a local activist and founder of Urbana-Champaign Reproductive Justice. She has a PhD in transnational feminist history from UIUC.

 

Celia Barbieri (they/she) is an Urbana native currently pursuing a degree in creative writing.

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