As more and more rural hospitals close or shutter their obstetric wards, rural women often find themselves with few choices for local maternity care. Faith-based crisis pregnancy centers are increasingly presenting themselves as a source for medical care and counseling, Eliza Griswoldreports
for The New Yorker. Though CPCs often provide practical advice on breastfeeding and government aid, they often use misleading tactics to steer women away from abortion.
CPCs first rose to prominence in the late 1960s as states considered legalizing abortion. CPC owners were provided with pamphlets and other materials, many featuring gory images of aborted fetuses, meant to dissuade women from choosing abortion. "CPCs employed various deceptive techniques to attract women, often advertising themselves as abortion providers. Centers were sometimes established next to abortion clinics and were designed to resemble them," Griswold reports.
After a wave of lawsuits and a 1991 congressional investigation that condemned their tactics, anti-abortion organizations Heartbeat International and Care Net standardized the training and materials for CPCs and presented them as places that offered women medical advice and support. The federal government awarded CPCs millions to teach students abstinence-only sex ed programs in the early 2000's, though such programs have not proven very successful. "In the past decade, CPCs, which are at the forefront of the grassroots anti-abortion movement, have identified a new sense of mission and authority as rural health-care providers have struggled with a lack of funding," Griswold reports.
However, CPCs still often use deceptive tactics to persuade women not to abort. NARAL Pro-Choice America did an undercover investigation last year of 45 CPCs in California and found that CPC employees frequently presented misleading or false information about abortion, claiming that abortion was linked to breast cancer, infertility and miscarriage, for example. However, most women don't go to a CPC for advice about abortion. "These days, as few as four percent of the women who visit CPCs are pregnant and undecided about whether to have an abortion. Most come for social services, including the pregnancy verification required to sign up for maternal and infant Medicaid," Griswold reports.