The XX Factor

Virginia Crisis Pregnancy Centers Caught Lying About Abortion and Contraception

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia has put together a year-long investigative report about what’s really going on in the anti-choice pressure centers that call themselves “crisis pregnancy centers”—centers that get government funding through the sales of “Choose Life” license plates in the state. These places advertise themselves to women enduring pregnancy scares, trying to lure them in with promises of free pregnancy tests and “abortion alternatives,” as if there’s a way to somehow not have to go through the pregnancy besides abortion. NARAL’s activist captured one visit in its entirety on audio, which included not just misinformation regarding abortion, but also lots of lies about contraception.

The woman working at the center tries to convince the client not to use any kind of contraception whatsoever. She starts slow, claiming that hormonal contraception will make your hair fall out. Then she gets really excited, stating that she’s not interested in judging, but, “First of all, if you’re not married, why are you having sex?” and proceeds to make the following claims:

  • “Condoms are naturally porous,” so don’t protect against STIs.
  • “Within a marriage, sexual relations are procreative.” Also, you don’t need to use contraception in marriage because you can just avoid sex “two or three days a month” to prevent pregnancy. (In reality, the numbers range from 8 days to 11 days, depending on the source.)
  • Taking the birth control pill is like putting a small child on steroids.
  • On IUDs: “Sometimes it grows into the tissue of the uterus,” she says, though that’s not a known risk of the IUD. Perforations do happen, but they’re rare and usually happen during insertion. 

The best part is that she seems to have a personally witnessed scare story for practically every kind of female-controlled contraception. She claims to know someone who nearly died from blood clots caused by hormonal contraception. Just a few minutes later, she breathlessly describes a woman that supposedly came into a crisis pregnancy center—as opposed to say, an emergency room—“doubled over with cramps” and believing she was suffering a miscarriage. Thankfully, they sent totally-not-imaginary woman to the hospital instead of holding her there and lecturing her about how the pill causes cancer, and of course, her evil IUD was to blame because it gave her some kind of vague but terrible infection. In case the story is too easy to believe, the CPC worker then claims that the woman dropped by regularly for weeks to update the CPC volunteers on her hellish journey to full recovery from her generic infection. This is all before the anti-abortion stuff even begins, and once that gets going, there are dire warnings to the client that her future relationships will all be poisoned if she has an abortion now. 

While this woman was a particularly entertaining communicator of right wing propaganda, she is hardly an anomaly. NARAL Virginia reached out to 56 of the 58 CPCs in Virginia with 77 phone calls and 10 in-person visits, and found that 71 percent of them gave medically inaccurate information. Forty of them falsely claimed that abortion causes psychological damage, with one clinic vividly telling the client that “the sound of a vacuum” would bring traumatic flashbacks. (Which is actually a good excuse to get out of housework.) Women were falsely told that early term abortions involve “saline injections” to kill the embryo, and were led to believe abortions are performed with hooks. Twenty gave inaccurate information about contraception, including telling clients that birth control pills are less effective than condoms and that the rhythm method is the most effective form.

While it’s certainly true that the Christian right is entitled to spin any tales and tell any lies they wish to justify their beliefs, the problem here is that CPCs do not present themselves as right wing Christian organizations most of the time, but rather try to seem like medical centers. Worse, they are increasingly getting government support, such as with the state funding through license plates, that may give them a sense of authority that they do not deserve. Exposes like this help, but states withdrawing all support from CPCs would help more.