The XX Factor

How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women

Anti-abortion protesters.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Crisis pregnancy centers bill themselves as organizations out to offer “pro-life counseling,” in the words of Chris Slattery, the president of E.M.C. Pregnancy Centers. Pro-choicers, however, argue that the centers are deceptive, presenting themselves as medical facilities and even abortion clinics in order to lure pregnant women in, and then bombard them with guilt trips, emotional abuse, and even lies in an effort to keep them from having abortions.

Vice News decided to find out more, going undercover in crisis pregnancy centers and a training session to see how they really operate, and producing a short film. Vice’s Fazeelat Aslam starts by interviewing anti-abortion activist Lila Rose, who paints a rosy picture of crisis pregnancy centers. “The whole intention is to help women and give them positive options,” Rose explains. But Vice found a clip of a crisis pregnancy center training run by Abby Johnson, where help seemed to be less of a priority than trying to trick women. “We want to look professional. We want to look business-like. And, yeah, we do kind of want to look medical,” Johnson explained to a crowd of crisis pregnancy volunteers. “The best client you ever get is the one that thinks they’re walking into an abortion clinic, the ones that think you provide abortions,” she added.

Aslam spoke to a woman named Donna from Texas who was hoodwinked by such a trick when she called the White Rose Women’s Center in Dallas, mistaking it for an abortion clinic. It was an easy mistake to make, since White Rose’s website says things like, “If you are considering an abortion, you deserve to make a decision based on accurate and factual information,” and promises “an open, non-judgmental setting.” 

Check out the site for yourself: Its section on “abortion and pregnancy” lays out all the different “types of abortion” available (as if the center offers these services) and also has a section on “abortion recovery,” which implies that the center will help you with any physical and emotional after-effects from the abortion you are going to have.

Donna claims that when she called to ask how much an abortion would cost, she was told that the center didn’t discuss pricing over the phone and that she needed to make an appointment. (Vice confirmed this by calling and asking the same question.) “It didn’t occur to me there was a catch,” Donna says. Once there, she was given a sonogram. It was then, with Donna on the table, that the technician launched into a lecture about God and the evils of abortion. “I was on a table, like vulnerable, with a sonogram machine on my stomach, like I couldn’t get up. And I remember thinking to myself that there is no possible way this could be a medical facility.” When she tried to leave, Donna claims, the worker pushed the machine into her stomach and tried to hold her there, forcing Donna to grab her hand and move it out of the way so she could leave.

The Vice crew gives Donna her chance at a sort of vengeance, strapping a hidden camera on her and sending her back into the clinic, where she documents workers lying about the mental health and breast cancer risks of abortion, telling her she’s two weeks further along than she is, and foisting tiny baby dolls on her. In a satisfying moment, Donna confronts the staff about how they misled her when she first booked an appointment. “I apologize if you were duped,” the worker says. “But we have to fight for each other.” 

Donna’s experience is far from unique, as the Vice crew shows by tagging along with Katie Stack, an activist who has gone undercover at many crisis pregnancy centers to document these deceptions. Every center that Stack has filmed, more than 40 now, has lied to her in one fashion or another, beyond just the initial deception of presenting themselves as medical clinics when they don’t actually offer much, if any, real medical care. 

There’s much more to the video—you should watch the whole thing—but the most striking takeaway is how easy it is for these centers to lie to women, at every step of the way, from the websites to the counseling appointments. It makes it hard not to wonder if the claim that they care about women is also a lie.