The XX Factor

New Anti-Choice Tactic: Pretend to Be Pro-Choice

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Anti-abortion centers known as “crisis pregnancy centers” work by trying to lure in unsuspecting women who are seeking abortions and then using guilt and stalling tactics to keep them from getting the abortions they want. The centers often do this by posing as if they offer actual abortion services. But these deceptive tactics are increasingly hard to maintain. Earlier this year, NARAL persuaded Google to stop letting the centers falsely advertise themselves as abortion clinics to women who are searching for abortion services. Undercover reporting has revealed just how the centers lie. Some cities have tried to pass laws requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose up front that they do not provide abortion, and the subsequent court battles have drawn more media attention to the true mission of crisis pregnancy centers. 

For one crisis pregnancy center in the Bay Area, the response to all this pressure has been to try even harder to conceal its ideological agenda by claiming to offer an alternative to what they call “the Two-Box system of pro-choice and pro-life.” The group is called Third Box, and it claims to be an apolitical space that merely wants “to offer the woman struggling with her choice the time, space and support to find her own voice.” 

But as BuzzFeed’s Katie Baker discovered, Third Box is little more than a rebranding effort for First Resort, a crisis pregnancy center that lost a legal battle with the city of San Francisco over a new law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not offer abortions: 

Both Third Box and First Resort share the same CEO, Shari Plunkett. In 1999, Kaiser Permanente stopped referring women to First Resort after Plunkett told a conservative newspaper that she believed “every woman’s heart is telling her to carry to term, because God has placed truth in her heart, and the truth is that abortion is never the right answer.”

In 2011, Plunkett told supporters in an email that the closing of local abortion clinics prompted “one of the most amazing opportunities we’ve ever had to serve abortion-minded women.”

The good news is that Third Box isn’t trying to lure women in by pretending to be an abortion clinic, which is now forbidden by the San Francisco ordinance anyway. The bad news is that it’s shifted toward presenting itself as if it is a disinterested counseling organization that simply wants to offer unbiased support as a woman makes her choice. It wants, in other words, to appear pro-choice. (“Might you be willing to take a briefing with the organization’s executive director, Shari Plunkett, to discuss what it really means to be ‘Pro-Choice?’” read a recent email sent to Slate and other media outlets.)

In order to pull this off, Third Box is misrepresenting the actual views of abortion providers. “While one side demands that she ‘make a moral choice,’ and the other side demands that she ‘make a responsible choice,’ they both ignore her most pressing needs,” the Third Box website reads, falsely implying that abortion providers try to bully the unwilling or the undecided into getting abortions. In reality, more than 90 percent of women who make appointments to have abortions are quite assured in their decision by the time they step into a clinic, and most abortion clinics offer counseling in order to suss out those who are unsure or reluctant. No one wants anyone who doesn’t want to have an abortion to have an abortion. (This is why women who come to Planned Parenthood with partners, for instance, are counseled alone, so that if there is any pressure to abort coming from a spouse or boyfriend, the woman can be honest about this to the counselor.)

Third Box is not a third way—it’s just another attempt to deceive women by pretending to be something it’s not. Instead of pretending to be an abortion clinic—which would get them in trouble with the new San Francisco law forbidding that—Third Box is pretending to be a pro-choice counseling service. The tactic has shifted slightly and the website is slicker, but the point is exactly the same.