Houston Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Called ‘Deceitful’ by Experts, Find New Spotlight After Roe Ruling

Since 2011, pregnant Houstonians seeking abortions at the Planned Parenthood Clinic off the Gulf Freeway have encountered a large blue bus parked outside the entrance, offering “free, confidential pregnancy services” and “real choices.” .

But those choices do not include abortion.

In fact, the bus, run by the nonprofit Houston Coalition for Life, is one of 22 Houston-area pregnancy crisis centers that seek to dissuade patients from terminating pregnancies, often with counseling. medically unreliable.

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These are not licensed clinics and are usually run by religious organizations. Supporters say their services – free ultrasounds, parenting classes and baby items – help low-income pregnant women who may feel they have no choice but to have an abortion. A center in Houston, run by Catholic Charities, also connects new refugee parents with help with rent and utilities. But when it comes to health care, the American Medical Association says it should be seen as sources of “propaganda” and “misinformation” that undermine women’s health.

While the medical community has criticized the centers for years, last month’s reversal of Roe v. Wade puts them in a new spotlight. Abortion rights advocates and health care providers fear their advertising methods — using neutral language that gives the impression of a clinic — will absorb a rush of misunderstanding abortion-seeking patients. the mission of the centers in states that offer no other alternative.

“As states move to ban and criminalize abortion care, it is critical that people who need abortions can access evidence-based, non-judgmental health information from trained professionals. , not to crisis-ridden pregnancy centers that use misleading advertising and misinformation to spread their ideology,” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists President Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins said in a statement supporting a new federal legislation that would crack down on misinformation related to abortion.

Government support

Crisis pregnancy centers are protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech, but Hoskins has joined a number of reproductive rights groups and religious organizations in supporting the new federal effort to regulate them. .

A group of Democratic congressmen announced the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act on June 23, the day before the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down federal abortion protections.

The bill would create civil penalties, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, for anyone who advertises misleading or misleading statements about abortion. A violation would warrant a fine of $100,000 or 50% of an entity’s revenue earned in the previous 12 months.

The announcement follows an outpouring of government support for crisis-stricken pregnancy centers in Texas and other states seeking to ban abortion. While the centers have existed in the United States since the 1960s, public health researchers from the University of Georgia noted a recent increase in centers in states that introduced legislation in 2018 and 2019 to curb or ban the abortion. During the same period, the Trump administration diverted $5.1 million in family planning funds to an anti-abortion group that runs crisis pregnancy centers.


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In 2020, researchers found more than 2,500 centers in the United States, three times as many as abortion clinics, with the highest concentration in the South and Midwest. Some of their findings have been published on a map of all known centers in the country, including 198 in Texas – a number that could increase. The state injected an additional $100 million into Alternatives to Abortion, a program that supports the centers, last year, the Texas Tribune reported.

One of the University of Georgia researchers, Dr. Andrea Swartzendruber, said she started looking at the clinics in 2015, when they received little public attention.

“I knew about the centers and didn’t think they were in the best interest of public health, so I went to the basis of the scientific literature,” she said. “There were maybe a handful of articles. So even though they’ve been around for decades, public health hasn’t paid attention to them.

There are no universal identifiers for a pregnancy center in crisis, Swartzendruber said. Some clearly state that they are a “pro-life” group on their website. Many are touting “abortion reversal” — a treatment that isn’t based on science — and “post-abortion recovery groups,” which perpetuate the unsubstantiated theory that abortion causes mental health issues.

Research has shown that the opposite is true: People who face barriers to accessing abortion care have more symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, according to the American Psychological Association.

“Medical Facts”

The Roe ruling put the spotlight on pregnancy centers in crisis for Norri Leder, a Houston gun rights activist with Moms Demand Action. She staged a small protest on July 5 outside the Blue Blossom Pregnancy Center, the Houston Coalition for Life’s brick-and-mortar center on TC Jester.

“I got mad,” Leder said. “I knew (the Crisis Pregnancy Centers) existed, because I knew Texas funded them. I just didn’t understand to what extent.

Five abortion-rights protesters joined Leder’s protest, holding signs accusing the center of manipulating women and acting as a “fake medical clinic.”

But Houston Coalition for Life executive director Christine Melchor says her organization is being honest with the people who walk inside. It does not market itself as a clinic, she said, and does not advertise medical services beyond ultrasounds and free pregnancy tests. The center offers free parenting classes on breastfeeding and nutrition. He donates baby items such as diapers, strollers and toys. It also provides the documented proof of pregnancy needed to apply for Medicaid coverage in Texas.

The center does not receive public funds, she said, but receives a mix of private donations and grants from foundations, which she declined to identify.

She said if someone arrives to request an abortion, the volunteer staff will explain that they do not offer this service or provide referrals.

“And we tell them why, because it’s a horrible procedure, not just for the baby but for the women,” said Melchor, who before coming to Texas worked for anti-abortion lobbying organizations in California and in Arizona. “We know that women are hurt mentally, psychologically, spiritually and often physically during abortion.”

Melchor argues that there is no clear evidence that restricting abortion is more psychologically harmful than terminating a pregnancy – “you cannot say that women are not impacted psychological” – and claims that more than 90% of women who seek an abortion change their mind during an ultrasound performed by specially trained volunteers.

“It’s something that comes very easily when you show them their baby,” she said. “A lot of women may think it’s just a ball of fabric.”

Melchor, who has served as the organization’s executive director since 2005, said volunteers only deliver ‘medical facts’ by showing clients the heartbeat of the fetus and explaining how far along they are. pregnancy.

But, she added, “we can’t tie anybody up and have them have their baby.”

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