What’s wrong with crisis pregnancy centers?

Perhaps you have already heard of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). I see highway billboards for them on most of my long drives throughout the rural midwest. Recently, I received an email from a student interest group offering medical students to tour them. That inspired me to write this because, as health care professionals, we have a lot of privilege and responsibility and are hopefully trained to respect facts and evaluate issues as critically as possible. The intention of this post is not to change any opinions on abortion. This is an earnest effort to share salient truths about CPCs and raise some ethical questions about them to answer for yourself — no matter where you land on the abortion debate.

The first CPC opened in the 1960s, but they have since ballooned to far outnumber abortion clinics, and unlike abortion clinics, they can and often do receive public funding. CPCs present themselves to women as health care facilities, but they are often unlicensed and unregulated. Certain U.S. cities, like Austin and Baltimore, and states, like California, have attempted to combat this with their own measures, such as requiring unlicensed CPCs to simply disclose the fact that they are unlicensed, but a recent Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that such laws infringe on First Amendment rights.

Furthermore, we should be concerned that CPCs often share misleading or outright inaccurate medical information with women. For example, one study of 254 websites referring to 348 CPCs found that 203 “provided at least one false or misleading piece of information”. These CPC websites often linked abortion to risks of breast cancer and/or future infertility, statements which are just not true — the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists also denies these claims.

Here are some useful links if you want to learn more: The American Medical Association published an article in their Journal of Ethics: “Why Crisis Pregnancy Centers Are Legal But Unethical.” I am also including “The Public Health Risks of Crisis Pregnancy Centers.” Two OB/GYNs at Stanford have a podcast, “The V Word,” that discusses CPCs in length in episode 17. Most shocking to me was when they mentioned a CPC practice where ultrasound technicians (often not properly trained to perform them) tell a woman her pregnancy is much earlier than it actually is in hopes that she misses the abortion window.

We must ask ourselves if the ends here justify their means: Is it OK for CPCs to not be truthful with women to achieve their goals? Should unregulated organizations that are not held to any formal standard of care be able to present themselves as health care facilities or dispense medical information?

Nickey Jafari is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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