It’s been 40 years since Roe v. Wade, but the abortion war rages on.
It’s out on the streets, in the courts, in state legislatures.
But there’s also a quieter fight going on, in the waiting rooms of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), places created to discourage women from getting abortions.
Sometimes called pregnancy resource centers, they are non-profit organizations that generally provide peer counseling related to abortion, pregnancy and childbirth. Some also provide non-medical services like financial assistant or adoption referrals.
The majority of CPCs are run by pro-life Christian organizations.
They have commercials like these all over the country:
Pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood have criticized CPCs for posing as medical facilities, and using intimidation to disseminate false medical information to clients.
“IT WAS A LOT OF SLUT SHAMING”
“A woman walking into this facility would definitely think this could be a medical facility,” says Munson, “there were white lab coats, they did have the model fetuses out, they did have a lot of pamphlets that looked like medical pamphlets.”
Munson says she was quickly ushered into a room to talk privately with a counselor who told her she was too pretty to be having sex before marriage.
“They build up a great trust with these women, they’re really nice, they’re really friendly, but at the end of the day, you’re a slut who got pregnant and we have to help you so that you never get in this situation again.
But pretty soon, according to Munson, it went from slut shaming to outright misinforming.
“It was a lot of heavy lecturing about breast cancer being implanted in breast cancer and these things that have been scientifically refuted.”
Munson’s experience inside a CPC is echoes the findings from undercover investigations conducted by NARAL Pro Choice chapters all over the country.
A GODSEND TO WOMEN IN NEED
Rai Rojas, Latino Outreach Director for Right To Life, defends the crisis pregnancy centers’ practices.
These resources are a godsend for a pregnant woman in need, says Rojas, “We hook her up with food stamps, aid from the state, the city and the federal government.”
And Rojas insists, the CPCs aren’t set up to mislead women.
“Crisis Pregnancy Centers aren’t set up to be health care centers, we’re there to provide information that they do not receive at abortion clinics,” says Rojas.
WHERE DOES THE LAW STAND?
But the New York City Council didn’t see it their way.
In 2011, it passed a consumer protection law requiring CPCs to openly specify the services they don’t provide and to disclose whether or not they have a medical doctor on staff.
“The law we passed here in this city is pretty simple,” says former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, “It says, ‘say what you are, say whether you’re a medical office, say if you provide abortion services, say if you provide emergency contraception.'”
The American Center for Law And Justice, which is like a Christian version of the ACLU, argued that the law was violating the crisis pregnancy center’s First Amendment rights.
A federal court first blocked the law, but in January, most of it was upheld by a federal appeals court.
Both sides interpreted this as a victory.
Now, the centers don’t have to disclose whether they provide referrals for emergency contraception, abortion or prenatal care.
“They sided for the most part on the side of the crisis pregnancy centers and said you can’t legislate freedom of speech,” says Rai Rojas from Right to Life, “It’s guaranteed in the first amendment that we can say pretty much what we want and the government can’t prohibit us from saying what we need and want to say.”
But they do have to say whether or not they have a doctor on staff, what kind of services they don’t provide, and they have to protect their clients’ privacy.
“A woman has a right to know when she walks into an office if it’s a medical facility or it’s not,” says former New York City councilwoman Jessica Lapin, “these women give incredibly personal information to these centers and this bill requires them to treat that confidentially.”
NO CLEAR WINNER OR LOSER
More than two dozen crisis pregnancy centers are still operating in New York City:
And their day-to-day looks pretty much the same.
During the appeals court hearing, the CPCs admitted to purposefully setting up shop as close as possible to registered women’s health clinics.
They also place Spanish-speaking volunteers out on the street to usher Latina women into their doors.
It’s a moral war they’re waging, says Rojas.
“I’ll make it easy for you, the single most dangerous place for a Latino in these United States today is in his mother’s womb.”
And as long as they believe that to be true, this fight’s not going anywhere.
Before coming on board as an associate producer with Latino USA, Brenda Salinas was awarded the highly competitive Kroc Fellowship at NPR. She has reported pieces for Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Weekends on All Things Considered and for KUHF Houston Public Radio. In college, she started her campus’ only student run foreign-language publication, Nuestras Voces. Brenda has a B.A. in Economics from Columbia University.