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Youth Leading the Way to Expose Anti-Choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers

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November 26, 2013

“Free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds!”

“Think you are pregnant? Need to make a decision?”

These quotes are from crisis pregnancy centers, also known as “CPCs.” They sound like a knock-off of Planned Parenthood, but they’re almost the exact opposite.

And young people are leading the fight against them.

Crisis pregnancy centers are anti-choice organizations posing as comprehensive medical clinics. CPCs generally only offer free over-the-counter pregnancy tests, limited ultrasound (to determine gestational age), and “options counseling.” This “counseling” consists of volunteers telling “clients” misleading information about abortion, including that it causes mental-health problems , suicide, breast cancer and infertility. They also provide literature claiming contraceptives and condoms do not work and promoting abstinence-only until marriage. CPCs are also always religious.

By their advertisement, a person who does not know what a CPC is would be deceived into thinking that is a pro-choice organization. CPCs heavily advertise in low income communities and college campuses, targeting women of color in addition to young women on college campuses, who are at a higher risk for unintended pregnancies. Organizations like Heartbeat International have been explicit about their “urban initiatives” and “campus outreach.”

And young people are not staying silent about the deceptive tactics behind crisis pregnancy centers.

From November 11th  to 15th by NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and the Feminist Majority Foundation sponsored the CPC Week of Action,  a week of activism with campuses and communities dedicated to expose the truth behind crisis pregnancy centers.

With this campaign, there has been a social media push to help people recognize tactics of these anti-choice organizations, with the hashtag #CallOutCPCs. A Tumblr ran by NARAL Pro-Choice America has revealed more stories about the horrors of CPCs, with those who have been deceived holding signs that tell their story. One woman says, “The woman at the CPC said my college would be free if I had a child.” Another says “A CPC  told me that birth control is a mini-abortion every month.”

Young people have been essential to the fight against crisis pregnancy center advertisements. CPCs often place advertisements in college newspapers, in residence halls, and even in coupon books handed out to students.

Recently, an advertisement in college newspaper at Texas A&M for a local crisis pregnancy center targeted young women by asking, “Did your night on Northgate make you two weeks late? Come to us.” This was pictured with a photo of a red cup and a tap, implying that sexual assault while intoxicated is consensual. The advertisement sparked a social media backlash and conversation around crisis pregnancy centers

One particular group, End Fake Clinics at University of California – Santa Barbara, has been working on regulating advertisement of CPCS on their campus.

Grace Morrison, the Co-Chair of End Fake Clinics, in an exclusive interview, spoke about the success was at UCSB.

“The reaction among other students at UCSB has been overwhelmingly positive. The process of collecting signatures from 10% of the student body was labor intensive but phenomenal. This project gave us the opportunity to talk one on one with thousands of students about crisis pregnancy centers. Almost no one at UCSB had ever heard of CPCs before our campaign.”

End Fake Clinics collected 2,000 signatures for the movement. The group reports that the UCSB Associated Students’ Legislative Council passed a bill that “prevents any Associated Students boards, commissions, and committees from supporting or advertising for Network Medical or other crisis pregnancy centers.”

“UCSB became the first university in the country to pass such a bill and is providing a model for other universities to follow suit,” says Morrison.

Also leading the fight is grassroots activist Katie Stack, a patient advocate at a clinic in Ohio and founder of The Crisis Project, a youth-led movement to research CPCs undercover posing as pregnant women. The videos revealing the tactics of CPCs have been featured Salon, and tallying 14,000 views on YouTube. Stack was published in The New York Times in 2011, and recently featured in a documentary called “The Abortion War” on Al Jazeera. Stack started organizing to expose clinics after she went to one herself.

“In short, I knew without a doubt that abortion was the only option that I would be able to be at peace with and I was sort of stunned by the idea that had laws been slightly different in my state, or had I been a few years younger, that may not have been a legal option for me. My experience with the crisis pregnancy center added to that in that it demonstrated to me just how many barriers there are to getting abortion care. Additionally, the CPC scared me. I remember walking away from there still certain that I wanted an abortion, but believing that it may ruin my life. I’m lucky in that I was raised with a very strong sense of self – I trust my instincts and my gut above all else.”

Exposing the truth about CPCs is especially important in states like Ohio, in which 7 out of 14 clinics are at risk of shutting down within the next year due to recent anti-choice legislation. These seven clinics have to face over 100 CPCS in the state.  This trend has been consistent all over the US, with 50 clinics across the US being forced to shut their doors due to targeted restrictions against abortion providers.

According to a recent report by NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, those who walk into a CPC in Ohio will not receive caring or comprehensive medical care.  Of the CPCs investigated, 60%  were unwilling to admit that they were not medical facilities, and less than 2% of the CPCs surveyed in Ohio had direct medical care.

Stack, who is also located in Ohio, explains how CPCs especially impact the many barriers in Ohio.

“Crisis pregnancy centers are particularly problematic in Ohio – they vastly outnumber abortion providers, especially in rural areas, and they receive state funds.” Stack explained. ”They add an additional barrier to women who are already facing a lot – 24 hour wait laws, parental consent requirements and the long distances required to travel to clinics. I see this a lot working in an abortion clinic – women call thinking they’ve see a doctor when in fact they’ve been to a CPC. These centers don’t change women’s minds, but they delay them from seeing actual providers which adds to their struggle to obtain an abortion.”

Young people who are interested in exposing CPCs can do number of things, according to Morrison.

“Our legislative activism was an incredible way to raise awareness about CPCs on campus, and to end their harmful false advertising in our community.”

This face-to-face campaigning and petitioning is just one of many creative ways to raise the consciousness of students and take action to expose crisis pregnancy centers on campus and in communities.

Morrison suggests “feminist, reproductive justice activism has served to incite broader discussions on campus (through poster campaigns, speakers, film screenings, legislation, and one on one conversations) increasing our shared awareness of the often-unknown dangers of CPCs.”

Students everywhere can make a difference by holding CPC Awareness Weeks, documentary screenings, taking legislative action or simply having conversations. Morrison and Stack’s determination and passion is just a small glimpse at the meaningful impact that young people are capable of making within their communities when it comes to exposing the truth about crisis pregnancy centers.

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