The staff at St. Gerard's Center for Life claimed to be giving women a choice. “That's why we're here," Leticia Velasquez, a member of the clinic, told Broadly. "We want to offer a choice at the door of the abortion clinic." They are one of many similar centers peddling “choices” for pregnant women—and you need to know about them. Why? They’re called “crisis pregnancy centers” or CPCs, and they are a growing, terrifying trend in the United States. Because while they present themselves as benign, or even helpful, centers like St. Gerard’s seek to actively trick vulnerable women out of having an abortion.
CPCs are often billed as viable alternatives to nonpartisan clinics—in fact, they serve as fronts for the anti-abortion agenda, using shame tactics and outright lies to dissuade women from choosing to terminate their pregnancy. Despite spreading dangerous misinformation, CPCs often receive financial support from conservative lawmakers, and more than half the states in the U.S. send money directly to them.
Clinics like St. Gerard's often place themselves close to abortion clinics to more successfully intercept patients. St. Gerard’s opened the Hartford Women’s Center, not 30 feet from Hartford GYN Center, a genuine medical center and abortion clinic, deliberately placed in the same office complex—not to mention the fact they use the same signage as the legitimate Hartford GYN medical center. CPCs will often offer free pregnancy testing and will list themselves under “abortion” in online directories and search results.
That’s right—they consciously manipulate vulnerable women looking for help (sorry, those almost identical names, locations, and signage are no innocent coincidence). Volunteers pass out cards with messages like: "Pregnant? Scared? You're not alone.” Their website is down, but a video explains all you need to know.
What’s worse: they brag about their “services.” “By opening a pregnancy resource center in a more visible and easily accessible location—directly in the path of women in search of help for an unplanned pregnancy—the representatives of the Hartford Women’s Center are hoping to provide women with more options, namely the option to keep their baby rather than choose abortion,” says a report in the Catholic Transcript Web site. “‘Sixty percent of women going in for an abortion [later] say they had no choice,’ said Leticia Velasquez, director of both St. Gerard’s Center for Life and the Hartford Women’s Center. ‘So we want to be there to give them a choice.’”
There is nothing wrong with being given a choice—just ask anyone in the pro-choice movement. But let’s be real, everyone knows about the choice to have a baby—it’s literally the default.
But what is wrong is tricking, harassing, and bullying women into carrying out a pregnancy that they may not want, and one that may not be in their best interest. Broadly reports that these centers “bombard them with spurious information” including unsubstantiated claims “that abortions are extremely painful and perilous, that ending an unwanted pregnancy may result in permanent psychological damage, that an abortion might not even be necessary because miscarriage is so common. In some cases, staff will even lie about the fetus's gestational age in order to push the pregnancy past the legal window for termination.”
And that’s before you even get into CPC members' habitual peddling of myths that abortions are linked to breast cancer, false information about the efficacy of birth control methods and condoms, and the notion that IUDs could kill you—plus, these pamphlets are given out by someone posing as a medical authority (which they are not).
What’s even more worrying is that, despite receiving taxpayer funding, these CPCs are run in an almost completely unregulated fashion. There are often no background checks for the people in charge and certainly no fact-checking of the information dispersed. Yet, they make a conscious effort to mimic the signage and presentation of a licensed medical clinic. For a woman who hasn’t visited an abortion clinic before or had much experience going to hospitals, how will she know the difference? There are over 3,500 CPCs in America, compared to about 800 abortion clinics with more CPCs opening all the time, while legitimate abortion centers continue to shut their doors due to lack of funding.
And maybe some women would want to visit a CPC. Although doctors normally give plenty of advice on choices to keep the baby, maybe they want the religious angle. It’s understandable that people of faith would like to speak to like-minded people. But they should know what these groups are, understand that their only purpose is to dissuade women from getting an abortion—and using whatever tactics they possibly can to do it.
The issue comes down to the meaning of choice. Is it fair to say that someone is making an informed choice as to what is best for their health when they are given blatantly false information? Is it fair to bombard a woman who is already in a vulnerable state (whether she’s the victim of sexual assault resulting in pregnancy, a married woman who simply can’t handle another child, someone suffering from an illness, or any reason in between) with fearmongering and judgment and expect her to be in the right state of mind to make such a choice?
If we’re going to invoke “choice,” if we’re to engage with women at a vulnerable and confusing time, they deserve the truth. CPCs are becoming more and more common, and all women need to know that they’re out there, that they’re posing as medical centers, and that every woman has the right to make whatever choice is best for them.