A new VICE documentary reveals that publicly funded, religiously motivated crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) represent a growing national problem. Hosted by Fazeelat Aslam, Misconception tackles the misleading advertising tactics used by many, if not most, CPCs to disguise their true intentions: To dissuade women from accessing legal abortion, and to proselytize anyone who comes through the door.
The documentary begins by noting that CPCs themselves are multiplying, principally due to a crop of new state laws placing crippling regulations on abortion clinics. These laws, which, according to professional bodies like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, aren’t based on scientific evidence, shutter clinics by forcing them to adhere to minute restrictions on hallway width, parking lot size, and as Aslam explains, even the height of the clinic’s grass.
That paves the way for CPCs. And that’s where the church/state trouble begins.
Aslam starts her investigation by touring a Frederick, Md., CPC owned by CareNet. Superficially, little appears troubling about the facility, which resembles a medical office and keeps a stock of donated children’s clothes and toys available for expectant mothers. It doesn’t advertise itself as a Christian ministry, and CareNet’s CEO doesn’t describe it as one to Aslam as he’s showing her its sonogram room. But according to CareNet itself, that’s exactly what it is.
From its website: “CareNet is a Christ-centered ministry whose mission is to promote a culture of life within our society in order to serve people facing unplanned pregnancies and related sexual issues.”
And arguably, the CareNet CPC Aslam toured wouldn’t look quite as cozy without the assistance of the state of Maryland, which created a funding channel for CPCs via the sale of “Choose Life” license plates. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Maryland’s law dictates that funds raised from the sale of the plates must go to CPCs, and cannot be used for facilities that provide abortion referrals.But this isn’t just a Maryland problem. It’s national, as Aslam finds out when she travels to Texas. There, she meets a woman named Donna who described being duped by staff at the White Rose Women’s Center, a CPC in Dallas.Donna tells Aslam she called the White Rose to ask about abortion pricing, only to be told they don’t provide that information over the phone, and that she should visit the facility to see if she qualified for a free sonogram. She did, and thanks to a staff member named Penny, she received a helping of good, old-fashioned Christian evangelism along with her sonogram.“Penny was very insistent on God in my life,” she said, quoting, “’You really need God in your life.’”The sonogram went on for twenty minutes. Donna says that when she tried to leave, Penny reacted physically. “She pushed the sonogram machine back into my stomach and held it down,” she said. “I had to physically remove her hand and I said, ‘We are done here.’”
Donna returns to the White Rose with Aslam (and a hidden camera) in tow. There, another staff member apologizes for misleading her — sort of. “But we have to fight for each other,” she tells Donna. “That’s what God wanted us to do.”Texas CPCs like the White Rose Women’s Clinic directly receive federal funding through the “Texas Alternatives to Abortion Program.” As I reported in Church & State last year, the program received $26.3 million from the state in 2012 alone. That amount will likely only grow as abortion clinics across the state close due to draconian regulations passed in July of last year. RH Reality Check reports that if a legal battle to repeal the regulations fails, 33 of the state’s 41 clinics will close. That would leave more women reliant on CPCs.No matter what you think about abortion or the women who choose it, it’s obvious that CPCs that proselytize shouldn’t receive funding from states—directly or indirectly. It’s time for these facilities to advertise themselves for what they really are: Religious ministries.
Until that happens, women will be duped into evangelism sessions, often at taxpayer expense.