The Pregnancy Center Movement

The Pregnancy Center Movement, Missions, and Funding

Pregnancy Center Billboard. Photo Courtesy of S. Leighton

Facing an unplanned pregnancy can be an overwhelming time for many women, so many may seek guidance from a health care clinic. It is important to find a clinic that will provide accurate, complete, and reliable information about all of your pregnancy options. Be especially cautious of pregnancy centers as many advertise and name themselves to give the impression that they are neutral health-care providers.

The majority of these facilities, however, have an anti-abortion philosophy. The pregnancy center movement is growing in the United States and dates back to its founding father, Robert Pearson.

The Pregnancy Center Movement:

According to Time magazine, crisis pregnancy centers are typically associated with Christian charities and are usually under the umbrella of one of these national groups -- Heartbeat International, Birthright International, Care Net, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. Former Care Net President Guy Condon explained that these pregnancy centers are always seeking new ways to reach "abortion vulnerable" women. Condon further discussed how he believed most women have a "natural revulsion" to abortion. Care Net realized that the best way to capitalize on these women was through the wide use of advertising free pregnancy options services. This strategic decision includes the use of extensive television, billboard and Internet advertising campaigns.

Though these billboards appear to be neutral and helpful for women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy, these iconic "pregnant and scared" billboards and bus signs actually provide a phone number to Care Net and Heartbeat International’s Option Line. Care Net touts their Option Line as one of the "most strategic partnerships in the pro-life movement." In fact, Melinda Delahoyde, Care Net President, explains,

"When a young woman suspects she might be pregnant, she often goes online for help. We’ve designed our new Option Line website so that it’s one of the first places she visits. By putting her in touch with a local pregnancy center, Option Line is connecting her to life-saving support for her and her unborn child."

Pregnancy centers also spend a lot of money in the pursuit of gaining top placement on the sponsored links sections on internet search engines. In an issue of Alternatives, a Care Net publication, the organization announced that Care Net is increasing its presence on the internet in order to reach more abortion vulnerable women; "women considering abortion may now have a Care Net ad come up while searching in Google for abortion information."

Some of the organizations that sponsor pregnancy centers try to represent their clinics as being nonbiased resources, so it is important to determine the affiliation of a pregnancy center that you may wish to visit. Make sure to investigate whether or not an organization sponsors the center. If so, look into that group -- as one can see from searching some of these organization's own websites and resource catalogs, unfortunately, some of these pregnancy centers are operating from a more misleading and deceptive approach.

Top Pregnancy Center Organization's Missions:

Though not every crisis pregnancy center is an affiliate of one of these groups, make sure you understand the mission and intentions of some of the main players in the pregnancy centers movement:

  • Care Net: "Care Net is a Christ-centered ministry whose mission is to promote a culture of life within our society in order to serve people facing unplanned pregnancies and related sexual issues. Our vision is a culture where lives are transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and every woman chooses life for herself and her unborn child.
  • Heartbeat International: "Heartbeat International does not promote birth control (devices or medications) for family planning, population control, or health issues, including disease prevention. All Heartbeat International policies and materials are consistent with Biblical principles and with orthodox Christian (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) ethical principles and teaching on the dignity of the human person and sanctity of human life.
  • Birthright International: On their website, it says Birthright takes a "non-moralistic, non-judgmental approach toward helping women through their pregnancy dilemmas" and has a stated philosophy of non-evangelism. However, the services Birthright offers seem to be designed to "help support a woman's desire not to have an abortion," -- this includes legal, medical and psychological referrals as well maternity and baby clothes, housing referrals, social agency referrals, information on other community services, and adoption information. Birthright’s full intentions (beliefs) are not as transparent on their website. Though their site states that the organization does not engage in the debate on abortion, their listed philosophy is somewhat vague and there are no services relating to abortion on the website (abortion information, referrals, etc.).
  • National Institute of Family and Life Advocates: "NIFLA's mission is to empower the choice to life [by providing] pregnancy resource centers with legal resources and counsel with the aim of developing a network of life-affirming ministries in every community across the nation in order to achieve an abortion-free America."

History of Crisis Pregnancy Centers:

In 1967, the first Crisis Pregnancy Center in the United States was opened by Robert Pearson in Hawaii. As a way to promote the Pregnancy Center Movement, in 1969, Mr. Pearson then founded the anti-choice Pearson Foundation -- a St. Louis-based organization to assist local groups in setting up crisis (anti-abortion) counseling centers. The foundation provides:

  • Training sessions
  • Slideshows - such as Caring: a 27-minute show that "includes many pictures of bloody fetuses in waste cans and one of a gurney carrying a woman who is apparently dead and is covered by a sheet. It ends by comparing abortion to the final solution."
  • Pamphlets
  • Discounted video equipment
  • Kits to perform urine tests
  • A manual entitled How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center

In 1984, Pearson authored this widely-used manual where he outlined the deceptive tactics that continue to characterize the behavior of many pregnancy centers. In the 1980s and 1990s, crisis pregnancy centers continued to grow and gain power through the support of organizations such as Focus on the Family, the Christian Action Council (now known as Care Net), the National Institute of Family Life Advocates, and Alternatives to Abortion International (now known as Heartbeat International). Pregnancy centers have formed financial support networks through funding and franchise groups, affiliate centers, and public donations.

Recently, pregnancy resource centers have been trying to further their anti-choice persuasion efforts by seeking (and often obtaining) state and/or federal funding. These monies may come in the form of direct allocations or tax credits in state budgets, through the sales of "choose life" license plates (the revenues of which are used to fund pregnancy centers), and through federal abstinence-only programs. As a result, pregnancy centers now outnumber abortion clinics. There are an estimated 2,300 to 3,500 pregnancy centers currently operating in the US while there are only 1,800 abortion clinics.

The Pearson Manual:

How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center is the manual authored by Robert Pearson and has been described by law-enforcement officials around the US as a 93-page guidebook of ways to mislead consumers. It instructs staff on how to falsely portray a pregnancy center as an abortion provider and how to evade client questions on the telephone. Examples found in the manual include:

  • Teaching (when a caller asks if the center provides abortion services) that, "there is nothing wrong or dishonest if you don’t want to answer a question that may reveal your pro-life position by changing the caller’s train of thought by asking a question in return"
  • Recommending that staff answer the question "Are you a pro-life center?" with "We are a pregnancy testing center...What is pro-life?"
  • Instructing pregnancy centers to use neutral advertising, to seek listings in the Yellow Pages alongside abortion clinics and to adopt "dual names" -- one to "draw abortion-bound women" and one to attract donations from people against abortion
  • Advising when answering inquiries about their pregnancy tests (which are essentially the same home pregnancy tests available from a store), "Tell her it's a refined form of the old rabbit test. This usually satisfies them. At no time do you need to tell them what you're doing"
  • Instructing staff to "never counsel for contraception"
  • Cautions "do not tell the client that she is or is not pregnant." Instead, staff are told to only say whether test results are positive or negative
  • The manual reads, "[o]ur name of the game is to get the woman to come in as do the abortion chambers. Be put off by nothing... Let nothing stop you. The stakes are life or death."

Robert Pearson has even publicly admitted this deception; in a 1994 speech, he responded,

"Obviously, we’re fighting Satan... A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her kill her baby. Therefore, when she calls and says, 'Do you do abortions?' we do not tell her, No, we don’t do abortions."

Funding for Pregnancy Centers:

Crisis pregnancy centers are eligible for federal abstinence education grants because their primary mission is to promote abstinence. Agencies that provide comprehensive sexual education are not eligible for these federal grants. Planned Parenthood, for example, reports that the majority of people who visit their clinics do so for birth control and reproductive health (that fewer than 1 in 10 women are there for an abortion). Pro-choice advocates are alarmed at the growth of the pregnancy center movement claiming that while counselors at these centers will discuss the physical and psychological risks associated with abortion, they do not educate women about the risks of childbirth -- which includes the fact that giving birth carries a risk of death that is 12 times higher than that of an abortion. They also fail to mention that the majority of women who had an abortion report experiences of relief.

Again, it should be stressed that not all crisis pregnancy centers operate in this way. Many of these places offer compassionate and unbiased care. It comes down to doing your research. The pregnancy centers affiliated with organizations that are guilty of deception are aware of this behavior -- they just choose to play games withs semantics. This can be seen in Heartbeat International's response to being called out on billboards reading, "Pregnant? Scared? Need Help? Call Us!" Their response, this is not "false advertising" because they are serving women who are pregnant, scared, and feeling that they need help. What this organization fails to fess up on is that the help they are providing does not include presenting women with all of their pregnancy options or informing these scared, pregnant women that the organization's vision is to "make abortion unwanted today and unthinkable for future generations."

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

Birthright International. (2013). Home." and (2013). "Philosophy of Birthright." and (2013). "About Birthright."

Care Net. (Spring 2009). "Alternatives: A message in a bottle." Accessed 6/3/13.

Care Net. (2010). "Option Line launches upgraded, interactive site connecting women to life-affirming help." Accessed 6/3/13.

Cooperman, A. (2002, Feb. 21). "Abortion battle: Prenatal care or pressure tactics? 'Crisis pregnancy centers' expand and draw criticism." Washington Post.

Genovesi, VJ. (1996). "In pursuit of love: catholic morality and human sexuality." Liturgical Press.

Gibbs, N. (2007, Feb. 26). "The abortion campaign you never hear about. Crisis pregnancy centers are working to win over one woman at a time. But are they playing fair?" Time Magazine.

Gross, J. (1987). "Pregnancy centers: Anti-abortion role challenged." New York Times. Accessed 6/3/13.

GuideStar. (2013). "Care Net." Accessed 6/3/13.

Harrison, K. (2006). "Crisis pregnancy centers." Accessed 6/3/13.

Heartbeat International. (2012). "Frequently asked questions about Heartbeat International" and (2012). "Pregnancy help centers revealed." Accessed 8/4/14.

Holmes, C S. (April 1997). "Billboard campaign offers help to women in crisis." Christianity Today. 41(5): 82. Accessed 6/3/13.

Legal Momentum. (2007). "Federal abstinence-only funding of crisis pregnancy centers."

Maloney, C. (2013). "Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act: H.R. 2030." Accessed 6/4/13.

NARAL Pro-Choice America. (2007). "The truth about crisis pregnancy centers." Accessed 6/3/13.

National Abortion Federation. (2006). "Crisis pregnancy centers: An affront to choice." Accessed 6/3/13.

National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. (2013). "Mission and vision." Accessed 6/3/13.

National Network of Abortion Funds. (2003). "Legal but out of reach: Six women's abortion stories (4th ed.)."

Office of NY State Attorney General. (2002). "Spitzer reaches agreement with upstate crisis pregnancy center." Accessed 6/3/13.

Pearson, R. J. (1984). "How to start and operate your own pro-life outreach crisis pregnancy center." St. Louis: Pearson Foundation.

United States House of Representatives Committee On Government Reform. (2006). "False and misleading health information provided by federally funded pregnancy resource centers." Accessed 6/3/13.