Open Arms? The Truth About Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Note: During the 40 Days of protests at our Augusta health center, we are giving away a 4000 Years for Choice poster each week. Everyone who posts a comment on our blog during these six weeks will be entered into the weekly poster drawings.

As the 40 Days protests continue, I’ve been comparing this year’s picketers to those we had last year. So far, they seem to have toned down the rhetoric on their signage. (Of course, we’re only one week into the 40 days and things could change.)

The strategies may change but the players — and their aims — are the same. They stand at our gates, hoping to bully our clients into changing their minds about a very personal decision. Last year I wrote about the 40 Days signage spreading lies about abortion care.

This week, I’m writing about one particular sign that advertises Open Arms, a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) located in Augusta. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Open Arms.

Open Arms is one of about a dozen CPCs in Maine. Most are affiliated with national networks run by anti-choice zealots. CPCs present themselves as places where women and teen girls can get nonjudgmental, accurate information about pregnancy and sexual health.

A close reading of their websites shows what they are really doing, namely:

Spreading misinformation and out-and-out lies — The websites of nearly every CPC in Maine has the usual litany of lies about abortion — its link to breast cancer, infertility and mental health issues — all of which have been shown to be untrue.

In addition, crisis pregnancy centers around the country have been the subject of lawsuits for falsely representing themselves. Centers in North Dakota, San Diego, Fort Worth, and New York have all come under fire for false and deceptive advertising, presenting themselves as health centers or claiming to offer “options counseling” to pregnant women. In truth, none of their staff members and volunteers have medical training and they provide absolutely no information about abortion as an option. Open arms indeed.

Targeting women with the fewest resources and the most need — Advertising for CPCs is clearly designed to reach out to women and teen girls who have little support and are especially vulnerable. Anecdotally, we have heard that once a woman or teen girl comes through the door of a CPC, she may be subjected to coercion and bullying until she agrees to carry her pregnancy to term.

In 2006, Congressman Henry Waxman led an investigation of taxpayer-funded CPCs. The report states that individuals who contact these centers are often “vulnerable teenagers, who are susceptible to being misled and need medically accurate information to help them make a fully informed decision.” The report found that the majority of CPCs are “inappropriate public health practice.” Open arms? Not so much.

Judging women who choose to have sex outside of marriage — These centers promote abstinence until marriage, discounting the effectiveness of birth control and condoms. Websites for several Maine-based CPCs say, “The best way to protect yourself from a sexually transmitted infection is not engaging in sexual activity until marriage and remaining faithful to your partner after marriage.”

Trying to discredit family planning services — They do this in not-so-subtle ways. Their websites have comments like, “No one should pressure you into any decision with something as big as pregnancy.” and this one, “Because we do not perform abortions, we have no financial interest in your decision.”

Statements like these are well known to those of us working in reproductive health care. Opponents of reproductive rights insist that abortion care providers pressure women into getting abortions they don’t want because we are getting rich by providing abortion care services. Really?

Spreading lies and limiting access to all options for pregnant women is the business model of most CPCs.

What do you think? Do crisis pregnancy centers fit your definition of open arms?

~ Nancy

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