End the Lies: Activists Confront Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Duluth
On Thursday, March 22nd, activists gathered at the Women’s Care Center in Duluth, MN to draw attention to Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). The event was organized by the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Student Advocates for Choice as part of NARAL’s national End the Lies campaign. The student organized event in Duluth was also attended by members of several local feminist groups, including H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia, Feminist Action Collective, and Feminist Justice League. On March 21st and 22nd, similar events were held across the country as part of an effort to expose CPCs. These fake clinics use tactics such as deceptive advertisements, websites, and misinformation to deny abortion and other reproductive health services. The March 22nd protests coincide with NIFLA v. Becerra, a Supreme Court Case which is set to decide whether or not a California law which requires crisis pregnancy centers to post information about abortion and contraceptive services offered by the state and whether or not staff are licensed by the state is constitutional. NIFLA or National Institute of Family Life Advocates has sued the state of California for their right to mislead women as a matter of free speech.
The Women’s Care Center in Duluth was chosen as the site of protest because it is located across the street from the Women’s Health Center, one of six abortion clinics in Minnesota (State Facts About Abortion: Minnesota, 2018). In addition to performing abortions, the Women’s Health Center offers STI testing, cancer screening, a variety of contraceptives, annual gynecological exams, menopause care, and other reproductive health services. The Women’s Health Center has provided abortion and other reproductive health care since 1981 to Duluth, as well as large swaths of northern and central Minnesota and Wisconsin as the nearest abortion provider. In contrast, the similarly named Women’s Care Center was launched in 2012 across the street from the Women’s Health Center (Rupar, 2012). While the Women’s Care Center offers free pregnancy tests, parenting classes, and baby items, it can only be described as an anti-abortion center due to its strategic location, similar name, vague website, and pro-life affiliation. Furthermore, the Women’s Care Center is the annual launching point of the 40 Days of Life Campaign, an annual 40 day anti-choice protest outside of the Women’s Health Center. Although protesters are commonplace outside the Women’s Health Center on clinic days, the 40 Days of Life means that each fall there are larger numbers of protesters outside of the building and that they are there for longer hours.
Unfortunately, Duluth is hardly an exception when it comes to crisis pregnancy centers. As of 2012, there were over 90 crisis pregnancy centers in the state of Minnesota. These fake clinics receive over $2.4 million of state money through the Positive Alternatives Act. The Naral-Pro Choice Minnesota Foundation found that 73% of the CPCs that they investigated provided false medical claims about the association between abortion and breast cancer, 87% lied about the connection between abortion and severe mental health problems, and 67% provided misleading information about the connection between abortion and infertility. None of the CPCs investigated referred women to birth control and 67% provided misleading information about the health risks of birth control (State-Funded Deception: Minnesota’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers, 2012). This is just a small sample of the ways in which CPCs use deception and lies to promote an anti-abortion agenda.
Nationally, CPCs have operated since 1969, when Robert Pearson founded the first center in Hawaii. Pearson created the template which has been used for decades by CPCs across the country. His manual explicitly called upon CPCs to falsely portray themselves as abortion providers to lure abortion seekers away from actual providers. His manual instructed “councilors” to never counsel for contraceptives. In a 1994 speech, he said that a women seeking abortion has no right to information that will help her from killing her baby. Make no mistake, CPCs were founded on a concerted effort to deceive. These fake clinics have flourished in recent decades as they have found support from Focus on the Family and Care Net. They have also obtained state funding through federal “abstinence only” programs, “choose life” license plates, and through tax credits and direct funding allocations (Stacey, n.d.).
With 2,300 to 3,500 Crisis Pregnancy Centers across the country and fewer than 800 abortion clinics, it is vital for activists to fight the tide of shrinking abortion access. To this end, feminists should demand an end to state funding to crisis pregnancy centers and work to educate the public about their deceptive tactics with the demand of increased state oversight. Abortion itself should be destigmatized, state funded, and added to the canon of regular healthcare. It should be safe, legal, and accessible. At the same time, choice cannot exist so long as we live in a society defined by poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, transphobia, and the myriad of oppressions that divide and immersate us. Choice cannot exist so long as women are paid unequal wages, bear the burden of unpaid labor, and endure the high cost of childcare. Child care should be provided free of charge at facilities that are open all hours and all days. Some Crisis Pregnancy Centers provide clothes and diapers for babies. Lying, anti-abortion organizations should not be left to fill the gaps of our deficient, war mongering state which gives tax breaks to the rich while denying a living wage to the poor. Housing, healthcare, child care, parental leave, living wages must also be a part of the larger campaign to finally realize the true meaning of choice and thwart the anti-abortion forces once and for all.
Rupar, A. (2012, July 2). Duluth’s only abortion clinic braces for anti-abortion center to open across street. Retrieved March 24, 2018, from http://www.citypages.com/news/duluths-only-abortion-clinic-braces-for-anti-abortion-center-to-open-across-street-6546494
Dawn Stacey. (N.D.). The Pregnancy Center Movement: History of Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Crisis Pregnancy Center Watch. Retrieved MArch 24, 2018 from http://www.motherjones.com/files/cpchistory2.pdf
State Facts About Abortion: Minnesota. (2018, January 05). Retrieved March 24, 2018, from https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/state-facts-about-abortion-minnesota
State-Funded Deception: Minnesota’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers (pp. 1-26, Rep.). (2012). St. Paul, MN: NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota Foundation.