Years ago, pro-life advocates began setting up facilities designed to provide the pro-life perspective to women who were considering abortion. These facilities, which were run by volunteers, were originally referred to as “problem pregnancy centers.” Later, they came to be known as “pregnancy resource centers” or “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPC). Today there are as many as 4,000 CPCs in the United States, compared to the approximately 1,000 clinics that provide abortion services. CPCs also are prevalent throughout Canada where there are more than 150 centers.
Like abortion facilities, CPCs come in all shapes and sizes. Generally, the CPCs provide information related to abortion, pregnancy and childbirth and may also offer additional non-medical services such as financial assistance, child-rearing resources, and adoption referrals. CPCs that qualify as “medical clinics” may also provide pregnancy testing, sonograms and other services, however, the vast majority are not licensed and provide no medical services. They are typically run by pro-life Christians and most operate in affiliation with one of three non-profit organizations: Care Net, Heartbeat International and Birthright International. Care Net denounces “any form of deception in its corporate advertising or individual conversations with its clients,”
In the early 1990’s many of these centers came under attack, particularly from pro-choice groups that suggested that women were being “lured” into these facilities and subjected to harsh treatment designed to talk them out of having an abortion. In 1991, Congressman Ron Wyden held a hearing “exposing” the tactics of some of these facilities that got women into their facilities. Wyden offered as evidence a manual published by the pro-life Pearson Foundation which offered suggestions on how to make the CPC appear to be an actual abortion clinic. For example, the manual suggested that the workers dress in white to look like medical personnel, that the facility advertise in the Yellow Pages under “Abortion Services” and to try not to answer any questions that might give away the fact that abortions are not performed there. Pro-choice groups argued that women were being manipulated and, worse, put into an emotional state by being forced to watch explicit videos of the abortion process. Upon the completion of the hearings, the Yellow Page Publisher’s Association suggested the formation of a new category entitled “Abortion Alternative” where the CPCs would advertise in the future and, under the heading, they included a disclaimer letting customers know that the centers listed in that category were pro-life. For many years thereafter, the amount of complaints from women who unwittingly went to the CPCs reduced dramatically but, with the onset of Internet advertising (and the lack of regulation), the number of women entering the facilities started to rise again. This had led to more calls for action from the pro-choice groups.
Over the years, battle lines have been drawn between those who support the work of the CPCs and those who feel they should be regulated. For example, at least 20 U.S. states provide funding for CPCs. Then, a report prepared by Congressman Henry Waxman found that from 2001 to 2005, 50 CPCs received $30 million in funding from the federal government. By 2006, the CPCs had received more than $60 million dollars of federal funding, including some funding earmarked for abstinence only programs. In 24 states, individuals can support CPCs by purchasing “Choose Life” license plates where motorists can request these plates and pay an extra fee, a portion of which is used by the state to fund crisis pregnancy centers.