The Truth about Crisis Pregnancy Centres



Positionality Statement

​My name is Brittany Pompilii, and my pronouns are she/her. I reside on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabewaki, Attiwonderonk, Mississauga, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations peoples. This land is currently known as Niagara, Ontario. As the author of this post, I acknowledge how my privilege and experiences inform my perspectives on crisis pregnancy centres. I am a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender woman and in researching this piece I was affected by the complex, problematic nature of the content matter. As a sexual and reproductive rights advocate, this is a topic that I am passionate about and in writing this piece I valued the nuances in folks’ perspectives on and experiences with abortion services. Additionally, I want to acknowledge that much of the literature on CPCs centers heterosexual, cisgender women’s experiences with pregnancy and abortion, and does not discuss gender- and sexually diverse folks’ experiences. In writing this piece, I use gender neutral terms to emphasize the reality that all gender identities’ can be negatively impacted in their experiences with CPCs. Furthermore, I explored intersectional experiences with CPCs, however, this topic is vastly under researched and often does not explicitly include perspectives from gender-diverse folks. It is possible that some of the research cited in this piece include LGBTQ2S+ voices, however the data published on this topic did not include segregated demographic information, meaning there is no confirmation that these research findings represent all folks’ experiences with accessing CPC services.

 

What is a crisis pregnancy centre?

Crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs) are non-profit organizations* that provide resources, support, and prenatal counselling to pregnant folks (1). Or so it seems...

CPCs are actually anti-abortion clinics that dissuade pregnant folks from getting an abortion, and often provide inaccurate information about pregnancy and abortion (2). These organizations do provide resources and supplies to pregnant folks, such as diapers, baby clothes, and counselling, but these supports have strings attached. For example, some women reported that they could only receive support from a CPC if they attended workshops or classes, which are centred around pro-life and religious themes (3; 4).

Ultimately, CPCs are designed as anti-abortion interventions, and they deliberately interfere with pregnant folks’ agency in decision-making. These centres persuade folks to carry their pregnancies to term through false information, intimidation, and instigating shame around abortion (5).


*Some CPCs are granted charitable status from the Government of Ontario, thus receiving federal funding. The Liberal government has promised to remove such status to these organizations, although this action remains to be seen (10; 11).

How do CPCs mislead pregnant folks?

While CPCs position themselves as medical clinics that offer peer support groups, pregnancy counselling, and medical services (e.g. ultrasounds, pregnancy testing, etc.), these services intend to intercept pregnant folks from getting an abortion (6). These centres are structured to ‘look’ like medical centres (e.g. a waiting room, ultrasound machines, etc.) when they are not, in fact, medical centres and may not even employ medical professionals (5; 7).

In some cases, CPCs are advertised online as abortion clinics, to attract people who are looking for an abortion to access their services. For this reason, it can be very difficult for folks to find a real abortion clinic, especially considering there are more crisis pregnancy centres than abortion clinics in Canada (2). Folks reported that when they inquired about abortions via telephone, CPCs dodged these questions and urged folks to meet with a counsellor in-person (7). These centres use language such as "non-judgemental” and “we can help discuss the options available to you”, when they do not provide full, accurate information about reproductive options. Additionally, CPCs intentionally target structurally vulnerable youth and low-income folks with their outreach and try to delay pregnancy decision-making for as long as possible through medical misinformation, fear tactics, and harassment (7).


One fear tactic that CPCs use is to tell pregnant folks that abortion is a life-threatening procedure that will evoke lifelong negative psychological effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mental illness, and regret (8). Other examples of CPCs providing misinformation include linking abortion to breast cancer, infertility, and “post-abortion stress disorder” (which is not a recognized medical condition) (9). There is no an established link between abortion, infertility, and cancer (5; 13; 14), although, there can be an increased risk of mental health outcomes (12). However, these centres manipulate, distort, and weaponize this health information for their own agenda rather than providing non-judgemental, accurate, neutral information about pregnancy options. Access to safe, affirming abortion services are associated with better mental health outcomes when service providers validate, empower, and respect their patient’s choices to seek abortion (15).

CPCs are an ethical violation of healthcare, as they use manipulative, deceptive techniques to stop pregnant folks from having an abortion (5). These centres capitalise on folks who may be stressed, scared, and uncertain about their choices. Oftentimes, it is difficult to recognize which centres will provide full options and true non-judgmental support, until you attend an appointment - although this should not be the case. Unfortunately, CPC websites and Google results are carefully constructed to provide the illusion that these centres will provide non-judgemental support with reproductive decision-making, when in reality CPCs will do everything they can to get folks to carry their pregnancies to full term - regardless of if the pregnant person wants to or not.

The overall issue with CPCs is that they are dishonest about the services they provide (4; 5). These centres need to be transparent about their mission and their service provisions, instead of contributing to abortion stigma and taking advantage of structurally vulnerable people.


In order to avoid CPCs when seeking pregnancy support, please visit Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights: https://www.actioncanadashr.org/resources/services. This is a directory of pregnancy help centres in what is currently Canada that provides full-option pregnancy support and/or medical or surgical abortions.

References:

  1. Rosen JD. The Public Health Risk of Crisis Pregnancy Centres. Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2012 Sept;44(3):201-205.

  2. Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights. “What’s the situation with crisis pregnancy centres”. Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights. 12 Feb 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.actioncanadashr.org/ways-to-help/appeals/2020-12-02-whats-situation-crisis-pregnancy-centres#:~:text=Crisis%20pregnancy%20centers%20(CPCs)%20are,about%20abortion%20or%20pregnancy%20options.

  3. Vox. “What ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ actually do”. Vox Media. 2 Mar 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.vox.com/2020/3/2/21146011/crisis-pregnancy-center-resource-abortion-title-x.

  4. Borrero S., Frietsche S., & Dehlendorf, C. Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Faith Centers Operating in Bad Faith. J Gen Intern Med. 2019 Jan;34:144–145.

  5. Bryant AG & Swartz JJ. Why crisis pregnancy centers are legal but unethical. AMA J. Ethics. 2018 Mar;20(3):269-277.

  6. Montoya MN, Judge-Golden C, Swartz JJ. The Problems with Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Reviewing the Literature and Identifying New Directions for Future Research. Int J Womens Health. 2022 Jun 8;14:757-763.

  7. National Abortion Federation. “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”. National Abortion Federation. 2006. Retrieved from: https://prochoice.org/pubs_research/publications/downloads/about_abortion/cpc.pdf.

  8. Paperny AM. “Crisis pregnancy centres mislead women, report says”. Global News. 23 May 2016. Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/2703632/crisis-pregnancy-centres-mislead-women-report-says/.

  9. Bryant AG & Levi EE. Abortion misinformation from crisis pregnancy centres in North Carolina. Contraception. 2021 Dec;86(6): 752-756.

  10. Dawson T. “Group campaigns against Liberal promise to deny charitable status to pregnancy crisis centres”. National Post. 9 Nov 2021. https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/group-campaigns-against-liberal-promise-to-deny-charitable-status-to-pregnancy-crisis-centres.

  11. Blumberg M. “Liberal party platform includes commitment to stop providing anti-abortion groups with charity status”. Canadian Charity Law. 10 Sept 2021. https://www.canadiancharitylaw.ca/blog/liberal-party-platform-includes-commitment-to-stop-providing-anti-abortion-groups-with-charity-status/.

  12. Rocca CH., Samari G., Foster DG., Gould, H., Kimport K. Emotions and decision rightness over five years following an abortion: An examination of decision difficulty and abortion stigma. Soc Sci Med. 2020 Mar;248:1-8.

  13. Murdoch, AH. Analyzing the communication methods of crisis pregnancy centres: A conventional content analysis. PhD diss. 2020. University of Western Ontario. https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/7591/?utm_source=ir.lib.uwo.ca%2Fetd%2F7591&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages.

  14. American Cancer Society. “Abortion and cancer risk”. 19 June 2014. https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/7591/?utm_source=ir.lib.uwo.ca%2Fetd%2F7591&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/medical-treatments/abortion-and-breast-cancer-risk.html.

  15. Altshuler AL, Ojanen-Goldsmith A, Blumenthal PD, Freedman LR. A good abortion experience: A qualitative exploration of women's needs and preferences in clinical care. Soc Sci Med. 2017 Oct;191:109-116.

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