By: Anna North
That’s already happening. “If at some point Roe v. Wade is overturned, we’re going to have to step up and fund places like these centers to be able to reach out to all those women who are now going, ‘I need help,’” Arkansas state Rep. Cindy Crawford, a Republican, told the Associated Press in March. Edmonds, the Louisiana representative, is backing a bill that would earmark $1 million from the state budget to help the centers build an online service network.
That’s on top of money that the centers already get from Louisiana and other states around the country as part of “alternatives to abortion” programs, which have been around since the 1990s and have grown in recent years. The largest, in Texas, received $100 million over two years in the latest budget cycle, and abortion opponents hope to see that grow further. “We always are working toward the increase in funding for the alternatives to abortion program,” said Amy O’Donnell, director of communications for the group Texas Alliance for Life.
“Our goal is to help women remove obstacles that they may face in going through an unplanned pregnancy so that they can successfully give birth to the baby and then keep that baby with support or place that baby for adoption, if that’s their choice,” O’Donnell said. “With that, we recognize that they’re going to need support both before and after birth.”
Critics say the anti-abortion safety net … isn’t one
Pregnancy resource centers do offer some forms of support to the people who visit them. In a small study published in 2020, Kimport found that women who visited the centers got things like baby clothes and prenatal vitamins, as well as services like pregnancy tests. Especially for low-income people, the centers can fill some of the gaps in states where more conventional social services, from Medicaid to food stamps, have been cut to the bone.
However, researchers and reproductive rights advocates have deep concerns about the idea that pregnancy resource centers could step in to become a substitute for the right to an abortion.
At the most basic level, the centers do not provide abortion, which is something a lot of people want. Reproductive rights groups argue that support during an unplanned pregnancy is no substitute for the choice of whether to carry that pregnancy to term. “There’s nothing that a crisis pregnancy center can offer that is equal to getting an abortion,” said Morgan Moone, strategic data and advocacy manager for the New Orleans-based Reproductive Justice Action Collective (ReJAC). “Abortion is providing opportunity; it’s providing autonomy over an individual’s body.”
People who are seeking abortion may not be interested in goods and services to help them carry the pregnancy to term instead. Kimport’s research suggests that pregnancy resource centers are not especially popular. During a two-year period of recruiting study participants at prenatal clinics, she and her team were able to find only 21 people who had been to such a center and were willing to talk about the experience (and only a handful who had visited one but didn’t want to talk).
The majority of people who had visited the centers were not considering abortion; they just needed assistance continuing a wanted pregnancy. After Texas passed the restrictive abortion law SB 8, abortions among Texans fell by only about 10 percent, suggesting that most people in the state who wanted abortions found a way to get them — they did not visit a pregnancy center for support in giving birth and raising a child.
Another concern is the actual services that pregnancy resource centers provide. Research from the University of Georgia has found that while the centers sometimes present themselves as medical providers and offer services like ultrasounds, they also often spread misinformation about abortion, such as the false claim that it causes breast cancer. The centers often are not staffed by medical personnel. One 2007 study conducted by the NARAL ProChoice Maryland Fund found that just 18 percent of Maryland centers had staff with medical training. In addition, anti-abortion centers may spread misinformation about sexually transmitted infections and contraception, or provide no information at all.
“That’s harmful,” said Obiekea, of the Black Women for Wellness Action Project. “This is information about your health.”
The centers are also not subject to the same ethical and privacy regulations that govern medical clinics. The centers can collect and store data on clients’ sexual and reproductive history, test results, ultrasounds, and more, according to Time. That data could then be turned over to law enforcement to sue or prosecute abortion providers or even pregnant people themselves.
Most pregnancy resource centers remain affiliated with churches or other Christian groups, and Christian religious messages are typically part of their counseling. Anti-abortion advocates say the centers are still open to all, regardless of religion: “There are some who may look for an open-door opportunity to share their Christian views, but they are also very happy to navigate around that,” O’Donnell said. According to Kimport, however, while people don’t have to be Christian to visit a center, hearing the religious messages is typically “not optional.”