Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Op-Ed: Fake clinics mislead pregnant women

By Melanie Rockefeller

Editor's Note: This article was originally printed at The Maine Campus and is being reprinted here with permission from Ms. Rockefeller and The Maine Campus.

Women in the United States are at risk of receiving false information about their reproductive health and the choices available to them from fake clinics operated by anti-choice organizations.

Unplanned pregnancies can be highly stressful. Adding to this stress through intimidation and misinformation is flat-out unconscionable. Furthermore, women have the right to make their own decisions about their reproductive health and should not be intimidated into making decisions that may not be right for them.

Fake clinics often call themselves "crisis pregnancy centers" or "pregnancy resource centers." These names are intentionally vague and do not accurately describe the services they provide. Not only is the anti-choice mission of these clinics not made apparent by their names, their advertising also conceals their agenda. Advertisements for centers routinely state they provide women with information about, or services for "all options." In reality, crisis pregnancy centers are usually affiliated with at least one national anti-choice or anti-birth control organization.

A report on federally funded crisis pregnancy centers prepared for Congressman Henry Waxman of California found the clinics are "virtually always pro-life [anti-abortion] organizations whose goal is to persuade teenagers and women with unplanned pregnancies to choose motherhood or adoption. They do not offer abortions or referrals to abortion providers." Some clinics have even been known to inform women they are not pregnant, so that they will miss the period of time in which they could have obtained an abortion.

Another myth perpetuated by these clinics is that they are comprehensive women's health facilities. Ads for these clinics often tout the availability of free pregnancy tests, thereby encouraging the belief that they are in fact medical clinics. In reality, anti-choice staff or volunteers, who are not medical professionals, usually run crisis pregnancy centers. These clinics do not provide abortion or birth control services, and do not refer individuals to clinics that do. Information provided by these clinics about abortion and birth control is often false or misleading.

For example, crisis pregnancy centers have been known to present inaccurate information about condoms' ability to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. A congressional investigation on crisis pregnancy centers that received federal funding during the Bush Administration found that 87 percent of clinics presented inaccurate or misleading information on the health effects of abortion.

Chances are high you have seen an advertisement for a crisis pregnancy center. Often, these centers are located near college campuses and advertise that they provide free pregnancy tests to the student population. Also, fake clinics, with approximately 3,500 locations nationwide, are twice as prevalent in the U.S. as comprehensive women's health clinics.

Because of the prevalence of these clinics and their advertising, it is imperative that the public is educated about their mission and existence. While these clinics have a right to exist, women also have the right to decide what is best for their lives and their bodies, including the decision to have an abortion. Women should not be intimidated with propaganda and false information into making a decision that may not be their own.

Melanie Rockefeller is a senior women's studies student at The University of Maine.

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