In my 9-5 job as a Hotline Counselor/Health Resource Specialist, I spend most of my days talking women who just received a positive pregnancy test result or have realized their period is weeks late off the ledge of anxiety and worry as they take their first steps into potential motherhood and navigate the world of prenatal or abortion care. Usually the first question is, “Where can I get an ultrasound to figure out how far along I am?” As I recite my spiel detailing how ultrasounds aren’t typically something you can just pop in for like a manicure, last menstrual periods, and prenatal care taking place several weeks into the pregnancy, I remind myself that most days I’m just talking to women who are overwhelmed by the idea of a tiny human growing in their abdomen and just wanting to do everything right.
Some of them are still heavily indecisive about their plans for the pregnancy and aren’t fully aware of the options available to them. I reassure and empower them about their options and the timelines there are working with depending on if they are leaning to ending the pregnancy or carrying to term. I try to remain impartial and simply guide them through what different decisions might look like for their lives specifically. For those who have decided to pursue prenatal care, I empower them with what they can do in these first few weeks of pregnancy before their first appointments like eating right, healthy remedies for morning sickness and remaining stress free. Unfortunately, many women don’t get to talk to someone like me and end up in places that have one priority in mind and that is to get them to carry to term regardless of their feelings about the pregnancy or any barriers they might be facing when it comes to the decision to become a parent. They lure them in with promises of free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds and manipulate their fear of the unknown for their own agenda.
ESSENCE recently shared several women’s stories about their experiences in crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), places that pose as fake clinics and give the illusion of prioritizing women’s health and safety but are actually in place to prey on scared and confused women who are seeking birth control, reproductive healthcare and even prenatal care. They lure women in with promises of free ultrasounds, pregnancy tests and counseling services to help them make more informed decisions regarding their reproductive health, but once the women are there, they may counsel them against abortion or even discourage them against using birth control, according to some reports.
When 16-year-old Jessica Estes visited a local clinic in her hometown of St. Louis, she expected to receive help when seeking a pregnancy test, but instead was confronted with humiliation from older White women who shamed her for having sex in the first place:
“At 16 I am carrying everybody’s shame about the situation anyway, and I am nervous and worried—she was an adult. I grew up in a family of southern Baptists who converted to Catholicism. I respected adults.”
“I didn’t feel like I could say, ‘I don’t like what you are saying to me….’ I just sat there and let her berate me.”
Estes, who is now 30 and a statewide organizer at the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) shares that CPCs take advantage of so many women like her who are at vulnerable places in their lives and without much education or support regarding their own reproductive anatomy and choices. Estes shares she’s witnessed these agencies use deceptive marketing and radio ads particularly in low-income neighborhoods populated by people of color, a factor that may also play into the increasing number of risks that plague the black community when it comes to maternal and child health.
Adrienne Kimmell, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s vice-president of communications, reports that when it comes to the nearly 3000 CPCs that can be found across the country, many of them are purposely placed in black neighborhoods. Melissa Grant, chief operating officer of carafem, a nonprofit women’s health care organization with clinics in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta says CPCs purposely target these women and don’t educate them fully about their bodies or reproductive freedoms:
“These are folks who often go into communities where there are high numbers of women of color, including Black women.”
“Instead of working to address the full cadre of social issues surrounding unintended pregnancies, the CPCs are focused on eliminating options. That’s not treating the problem. You can’t isolate abortion from other social justice and human rights issues.”
Grant reports that not only are these CPCs preying on certain communities, but tax paying citizens are funding them. She shares the Department of Health and Human Services has diverted millions of dollars from family planning programs, such as birth control services, breast exams and STD testing, to abstinence programs in the crisis pregnancy centers. The centers are often run by pro-life nurses, doctors and other employees, as well as volunteers providing free ultrasounds, counseling, education, adoptions, maternity housing and more. Unfortunately, their personal beliefs often skew their ability to provide comprehensive care. Accurate information that allows women to be aware of all of their options is often withheld if it goes against what these “providers” believe. Women often believe they are visiting actual clinics where visits count as prenatal care, but in fact often receive misinformation including miscalculated due dates as well as negative pregnancy test results in which staff try to get the women to schedule future visits to confirm pregnancy. Staff is often not equipped to provide an accurate diagnosis of issues women may be facing regarding pregnancies, but prey on women who don’t have much financial support. They are allowed to operate under the guise of free speech and the free services offered are often unregulated. However, women like Dartricia Rollins, who is now 26, have had very costly experiences because of their visits to CPCs. She shares her story of being shamed and lectured about her and her boyfriend’s sexual behavior and religious backgrounds, and despite telling the counselor they would have the baby if Rollins was in fact pregnant, were persuaded to not consider abortion:
“I came in for an ultrasound, but instead I was subjected to hours of invasive questions about my sexual and religious life. Instead of being told about prenatal care, I received hours of hurtful comments about how my loving boyfriend could never be a good father unless he had the same religious beliefs as the people in the center.”
Rollins received an ultrasound and was told she was only several weeks into the pregnancy, but learned she was much further along after visiting an actual doctor. When she began experiencing bleeding and cramping while at work one day, Rollins ended up in a hospital where she was informed of a serious condition regarding her pregnancy:
“I found out that day that I had an incompetent cervix, but because I came to him later than normal, due to misinformation I’d received earlier in my pregnancy, I did not have the proper procedure to confirm this condition and treat it, resulting in the loss of my baby. His name would have been Noah.”
She shares that even now she and her now husband D’Juan still struggle with the deception that played a part in their loss and approach pregnancy with some hesitation. They have planned meticulously to make sure they have options when it comes to prenatal care, particularly in having health insurance:
“My friend asked, ‘Do you think that is why you are afraid to have a baby now?’ And it totally is. We have been trying to make sure everything is perfect—that our health is perfect, that we have health insurance.”
“Plenty of our friends say, ‘People can get pregnant at any time. You shouldn’t worry too much.’ But I need to worry. I need to be sure of the doctor. I need to make sure I never go to one of these places again.”
You can read more about the dangers of CPCs and other women’s experiences with them here.