Inside a Pregnancy Care Center

Investigations and Deception

Pregnancy Care Center. Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Women feeling overwhelmed about an unplanned pregnancy may try to seek help from a pregnancy care center. These centers have specific marketing strategies that appeal to confused pregnant women. A pregnancy care center may advertise that it provides a nonjudgmental environment where you can receive accurate information and be counseled about all of your pregnancy options. Yet, many of these centers do not come right out and tell you that they will not provide or make referrals for abortions.

The organizations that many of these centers are affiliated with are most interested in helping women who are considering abortion rather than those who have already chosen to continue their pregnancy.

For example, a part of Care Net’s (one of the leading networks of pregnancy centers) vision is that "every woman chooses life for herself and her unborn child... [and that each of their] pregnancy centers are committed to sharing the love of Jesus Christ with every person who walks through their doors." Yet many of Care Net pregnancy care centers websites do not reveal that they are a "pro-life ministry" or inform pregnant women that counseling will include the preaching of bible verses and religion to convince them not to have an abortion. Given that many pregnancy care centers are driven by religious ideology and wish to prevent a woman’s choice of abortion, most will not refer women for abortion care or birth control.

If they do discuss these topics, the information provided is often exaggerated, misleading, and outright false.

Investigation of Pregnancy Care Centers:

An examination into pregnancy care centers has found that many of these centers do rely on scare tactics, dispense false information, and use emotional manipulation to convince women not to seek abortions.

Though there are some exceptions, unfortunately, the majority of pregnancy care centers have been found to be deceptive. The following list summarizes some of the results revealed during investigations into these centers:

  1. Crisis Pregnancy Centers: An Affront to Choice: This report, put out by the National Abortion Federation, details the deceptive and harmful practices of pregnancy care centers as well as all the legal action that has been taken against these centers. The report found that pregnancy care centers purposely market themselves in such a way to attract women looking for a full-service health clinic -- only to find themselves "harassed, bullied and given blatantly false information." Additionally, the report found that some pregnancy resource centers will focus on a women’s needs during her first two trimesters of pregnancy, yet will "abandon" her once she reaches the point in her pregnancy that abortion is no longer possible or difficult to obtain.
  2. Government Investigations: Representative Henry Waxman (former Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform) released a study that revealed how pregnancy care centers will often mislead and misinform teenagers about the medical risks of abortion. Investigators had callers pretending to be 17-year-old girls facing an unplanned pregnancy. The investigators revealed that 87% (20 of the 23) of the federally-funded centers called provided false or misleading information about the health risks associated with abortion; in fact, several center employees told the callers that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer (despite the overwhelming medical consensus that no such link exists).

    Additionally, callers were erroneously told that abortion could cause "permanent damage" that would affect their future ability to have children. These centers also continued to advance the myth of "post-abortion trauma syndrome," by inflating the risk of depression and suicide following an abortion even though scientific evidence shows that abortion does not cause significant long-term psychological harm. After their investigation, the United States House of Representatives Committee On Government Reform concluded that, "The vast majority of pregnancy centers contacted in this investigation misrepresented the medical consequences of abortion, often grossly exaggerating the risks. This tactic may be effective in frightening pregnant teenagers and women and discouraging abortion. But it denies the teenagers and women vital health information, prevents them from making an informed decision, and is not an accepted public health practice."

  1. The Truth Revealed: North Carolina's Crisis Pregnancy Centers and State Funded Deception: Minnesota's Crisis Pregnancy Centers: In separate investigations, the NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina and Minnesota’s affiliates were concerned that pregnancy centers in the state of North Carolina outnumber abortion providers 4 to 1 whereas, in Minnesota, abortion providers are outnumbered 15 to 1. This means that a woman dealing with an unintended pregnancy has a disproportionately higher chance of receiving politically and religiously biased counseling (from a pregnancy center) than she does of receiving correct information from a licensed medical professional. Pregnancy centers also tend to be located close to college universities and in communities with higher-than-average populations of color.

    Investigations in both states found that more than two-thirds of the pregnancy centers examined delivered distorted, if not entirely untrue, information about abortion, its risks, and its consequences on their websites, outreach materials/brochures, and during counseling sessions. Over half of these centers were also found to provide misleading and false information about contraception. For instance, some of the pregnancy centers claimed that the pill and IUDs are not really effective in preventing pregnancy (whereas IUDs are 99.2-99.9% effective and the pill 92-99.7%). They also falsely reported that condoms are ineffective at protecting against STDs and HIV. Because of their religious missions, many of these centers promote abstinence until marriage and natural family planning for married women. Investigators also found a majority of pregnancy centers also misrepresented natural family planning effectiveness by inaccurately claiming that these methods are 100% effective.

    Another alarming trend discovered in both of these investigations is the use of "delay tactics." Women visiting these centers are usually not aware of their anti-choice agenda. A pregnancy center may try any or all of the following to try to push a woman further into her pregnancy (past her first trimester when abortion becomes more expensive or difficult):

    • Require callers or walk-ins to make appointments -- which could take over a week to find an "available" appointment time.
    • Encouraging women (either in person or on the phone) to wait a month (or until they have another missed period) before taking another pregnancy test –- just to make sure the result is valid.
    • Suggesting that the woman schedule an ultrasound to determine a viable pregnancy -- to wait until she can get a true picture of what is truly going on.
    • Answer a caller's questions in an evasive way and not provide useful information over the phone -- but rather tell the caller that all of her questions can be answered when she comes into the center.
    • Advising a woman to wait in deciding to terminate her pregnancy because there is a high possibility that she will have a miscarriage.

    Former executive director of NARAL NC, Melissa Reed, explains that these centers, "talk about the joys of childbirth, which can certainly be a joy, but they make a woman feel very intimidated about making any other choice in her life [other than maintaining the pregnancy]."​

  1. Alternatives to Abortion Subcontractor Records: This report was generated by evaluators from the Texas Pregnancy Care Network (TPCN), the prime contractor of the Texas Alternative to Abortion Services Program that is funded through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. According to TPCN, all of their providers "offer confidential support, encouragement, guidance and practical assistance to women so they can feel supported and confident in choosing childbirth." In order to become a service provider for TPCN, a center must document that it maintains a pro-life mission and agree not to promote, refer, or counsel in favor of abortion as an option for unplanned pregnancy. It must also agree not to promote the teaching or philosophy of any religion. Because TPCN doesn’t approve of deceptive or misleading services, they maintain that it should be clear in the advertising of TPCN providers that "only alternatives to abortion" are provided.

    However, a brief internet search quickly reveals that the Texas Pregnancy Care Network says one thing, but does not require its providers to adhere to its guidelines. Because of this, TPCN is guilty of the actual misleading behaviors they claim to disapprove:

    • Birth Choice of Dallas: As per the website, "Birth Choice counselors provide education on the human fetal development process, a comprehensive assessment of pregnancy options, all with compassionate consideration of life situations." Nowhere does it mention that this center has a pro-life agenda and does not make clear that only abortion alternatives are offered. A pregnant woman visiting this site can easily be misled into believing that this pregnancy care center will offer her "comprehensive" review of all of her pregnancy options.
    • The Waller Pregnancy Care Center: According to its website, this TPCN provider offers, "physical, emotional and spiritual support through counsel, education and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Though the Waller Pregnancy Care Center is upfront about its mission, this center violates TPCN’s rule that providers are not allowed to promote, share or preach religion.
    • Austin LifeCare: The mission of this TPCN provider is, "With the compassion of Christ, Austin LifeCare transforms lives through education and services that empower life-affirming choices regarding sexual activity and pregnancy." Its website says that LifeCare "provides pregnancy counselors that are available to help you weigh the pros and cons of each of the three options; parenting, abortion, and adoption." Not only does this pregnancy care center violate TPCN’s no-religion policy, its website misleads women into believing that they will receive enough information about all their options (including abortion) that they could make an accurate, informed decision.

    TPCN is also in charge of conducting yearly visits to monitor operations at each of its pregnancy care centers that receive state funding. According to reports from 100 site visits over a 5 year period, 56% of TPCN providers were guilty of violations (excluding billing errors). It was found that some pregnancy centers receiving funds from the Texas Alternative to Abortion Services Program failed to display proper instructions or notices. 22% of the centers staffed at least one counselor who did not have the required public safety clearance. Violations also included potential breaches of client privacy and confidentiality. It seems that almost all of the service providers had religious affiliations and 15% of the centers were guilty of not separating and labeling spiritual and educational materials properly.​

  2. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer: In January 2002, Eliot Spitzer began an investigation looking into alleged deceptive business practices of pregnancy care centers across New York. The former New York Attorney General opened up this inquiry due to receiving numerous complaints by women who went to these centers for help. One such complaint was filed by a pregnant teen from Long Island who claimed to be held against her will at a pregnancy care center, so she could be confronted by her father and family’s pastor. Mr. Spitzer issued subpoenas to several New York pregnancy care centers, asking them to reveal all staff member names and credentials and a training policies, materials, and procedures used to counsel pregnant women.

    A preliminary investigation raised concerns that the subpoenaed pregnancy care centers were using deceptive advertising and business practices. The objective of this investigation was to determine whether these pregnancy care centers were practicing medicine without a license and attracting pregnant women into their clinics with deceptive and misleading ads about abortion services. As a result of this investigation, the Attorney General’s office agreed with one specific pregnancy care center and began settlement discussions with others.

So What Can Be Done to Protect Women? Stopping Pregnancy Care Center Deception

(Used in this article as well general sources attesting to the truth about pregnancy care centers.)

Austin LifeCare. "About us." Accessed 1/30/14.

Birth Choice Dallas. (2013). "Our mission." Accessed 6/10/13.

Care Net. (2014). "Mission/Vision." and "Pregnancy Center Standards of Affiliation." Accessed 8/4/14.

NARAL:Pro-Choice Minnesota. (2012). "State funded deception: Minnesota's crisis pregnancy centers." Accessed 6/10/13.

NARAL:Pro-Choice North Carolina. (2013). "The truth revealed: North Carolina's crisis pregnancy centers." Accessed 6/10/13.

National Abortion Federation. (2006). "Crisis pregnancy centers: An affront to choice." Accessed 6/10/13.

Office of NY State Attorney General. (2002). "Spitzer reaches agreement with upstate crisis pregnancy center." Accessed 6/10/13.

Texas Pregnancy care Network. (2013). "Service provider selection." Accessed 6/10/13.

United States House of Representatives Committee On Government Reform. (2006). "False and misleading health information provided by federally funded pregnancy resource centers." Accessed 6/10/13.

Waller Pregnancy Care Center. (2010). "WTL. The way, truth, and life: Outreach." Accessed 6/10/13.

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