The Problem with Linking Abortion and Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Last week, the New York Times published an opinion piece called “The Problem with Linking Abortion and Economics” by Lori Szala. The bio at the bottom of the piece says, innocuously: “Lori Szala is the national director of client services at Human Coalition.” Sarah Jones at The New Republic, among others, has pointed out that Human Coalition is a faith-based “crisis pregnancy center”, or CPC.

Ms. Szala tells some sad stories in her piece, and the Human Coalition website is full of others, but the plural of anecdote is not data. There is a reason why CPCs and their advocates rely upon anecdotes — they lack scientific data and peer-reviewed research to support their mission.

Crisis pregnancy centers are founded on a pernicious lie: that people who seek abortions are in crisis. In fact, research shows that nearly 90% of people seeking abortions have made their decision when they arrive at a clinic. Another study found that state laws requiring a waiting period or forcing the patient to undergo and view an ultrasound do not lead to them changing their minds. Forcing a wait is actually harmful to the patient, because the longer a pregnancy continues, the more dangerous it becomes to terminate it. Of course, carrying a pregnancy to term is much more dangerous than abortion, so when a group specifically attempts to delay a patient’s decision, it is clear that it does not have the best interests of the patient at heart.

Crisis pregnancy centers are funded by taxpayer money in thirty-four states, which they are entitled to because they theoretically have as their goal “abstinence-only education”. Eleven of those states use Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funding, originally intended to cover shelter and food. In a time when people who can become pregnant are facing unprecedented economic challenges, including the threat of forcing them to pay much more money for health insurance for the “pre-existing condition” of childbirth, it is particularly galling that our tax money is going to fund CPCs. CPCs explicitly present pregnancy as something it is not — a crisis — using lies rather than factual medical information, deliberately endangering the lives of patients.

All of that has been well-documented. Research by Your Body Not Your Choice, published in December 2014, provides the locations of CPCs in the United States. At the Abortion Access Hackathon held this March in San Francisco, our research group, Visualize Access, created maps using Redivis demonstrating how widespread CPCs are compared to medical offices providing abortion of any kind. Many of the clinics mapped in our research only provide the abortion pill, which is effective up to twelve weeks of pregnancy, further highlighting the time sensitivity of finding a real clinic.

For example, in Szala’s own state, Pennsylvania (which uses TANF funding), 99.8% of women are less than an hour by road from a CPC — but only 79.9% are the same from a clinic.

Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana, which also uses TANF funding for CPCs, is an even more stark picture of this misuse of taxpayer funds in contrast to legitimate healthcare:

It’s not just these “red” states, with their state funding, that have seen a proliferation of CPCs. For example, Colorado, a “blue” state since 2008 that provides no state funding to CPCs, still has better coverage from them than from legitimate abortion clinics:

Most disturbingly, CPCs prey upon those seeking abortions in states and counties with low income. Mississippi, the state with the lowest median household income, presents a stark picture:

It is incredibly disappointing that the New York Times would give a voice on their editorial page to a representative of a predatory industry that actively spreads disinformation to people in a time-sensitive, potentially life-threatening medical situation — especially those who are most economically vulnerable.