Abortion Access

Crisis Pregnancy Centers: A threat to separation of church and state

  Crisis Pregnancy Centers: A threat to separation of church and state

By Laila Salaam

Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), also known as anti-abortion fake clinics, portray themselves as medical facilities that provide comprehensive reproductive care. In reality, they are driven by religious convictions opposing abortion and do not provide patients with a full spectrum of reproductive options. Instead, they deceive patients and delay or dissuade them from accessing abortion care.

CPCs’ deceptive practices have long been a target of the reproductive rights movement, and they are tied to the Shadow Network of organizations undermining church-state separation. The first CPCs were established in the late 1960s, with explicit instructions in their founding materials on how to dissuade and deceive abortion seekers. In our current moment, CPCs have only become more dangerous, especially considering they now outnumber abortion clinics nationally by an average of three to one, a trend that is expected to worsen with increasing abortion restrictions following the fall of Roe v. Wade. CPCs are not only a danger to pregnant people, their explicit connection to anti-abortion Christian Nationalist groups and funding from state governments makes them a threat to church-state separation.

CPCs don’t offer real medical care

CPCs are notorious for presenting themselves as medical institutions without offering legitimate medical care. Often lacking trained medical professionals on staff, the primary service they provide is basic “stick”-style pregnancy tests, similar to those available at drugstores. Some CPCs have been approved to perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds on pregnant people, allowing them to utilize fetal imagery to dissuade individuals from seeking abortions.

To further their deceptive practices, many CPCs strategically position themselves near actual abortion clinics, adopting misleading names that include terms like “choice” and “care” to intercept individuals seeking genuine abortion services. Their deceptive practices also extend to their online presence, as CPCs (and their funders) invest heavily in online advertising. This ensures that when individuals search for information related to abortion, CPCs appear as top results, regardless of the legality of abortion in their respective states.

The danger posed by CPCs extends beyond their misleading practices to the primarily Christian Nationalist organizations funding and supporting them. Key funders, like Heartbeat International, Care Net and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, openly declare their faith-based opposition to abortion and how it influences the care they provide. Heartbeat International, for instance, identifies as an “interdenominational Christian association” and emphasizes promoting traditional beliefs about sexuality and morality, advocating for “God’s Plan” for marriage between one man and one woman.

CPCs: fonts of proselytization

While these organizations claim to provide unbiased information, their religious messaging and adherence to specific moral and sexual values are deeply concerning in a medical setting. People seek out these institutions for what they believe will be unbiased medical care and are instead met with proselytization that prevents these facilities from providing a full spectrum of reproductive health care.

Despite the evident influence of religion in Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ practices, these facilities receive significant state funding. Taxpayer funding currently stands as the most significant and stable source of support for CPCs, with at least 29 states providing consistent financial aid. This widespread funding raises serious church-state separation concerns.

Even in states where CPCs are not directly allocated funds in state budgets, they still access public funds through alternative channels, such as “right-to-life” license plates, state grant programs, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding. The allocation of TANF funding, intended for families in need, particularly those with assets below $1,000, to anti-abortion CPCs instead of addressing broader health care disparities, is deeply troubling. This highlights a choice by states to redirect resources meant to directly support families and children to organizations with clear religious motivations.

Undermining abortion rights

Some states’ financial backing of organizations that actively undermine and deceive abortion seekers raises undeniable concerns about the integrity of our democracy. The Christian Nationalist groups funding and otherwise supporting the majority of CPCs are the very same groups that are chipping away at abortion rights nationally through legal challenges and advocacy. The Alliance Defending Freedom, the group that ensured the fall of Roe and “one of the most aggressive members of the Shadow Network,” lists Care Net and Heartbeat International as its primary partners on its website.

CPCs are deeply entangled in the plot to completely end access to abortion and contraception in the United States, and we can’t wait until it is too late to treat this threat with the severity that it deserves. Those championing church-state separation must recognize the inherent dangers posed by CPCs. We must expose the considerable influence their funders wield over our government and explain the threat they pose to the future of abortion access.

Laila Salaam is a member of Americans United’s Youth Organizing Fellowship.

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