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Will overturning Roe lead to more crisis pregnancy centers that steer patients away from abortion?

The nonprofits fill gaps in health care, but critics say community members are ‘manipulated’
Portico Crisis Pregnancy Center nurse manager Diandra Bell enters one of two ultrasound rooms Jan. 26 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. States that have passed ever-restrictive abortion laws also have been funneling millions of taxpayer dollars into privately operated clinics that steer women away from abortions but provide little if any health care services. (Mark Zaleski/Associated Press file)

Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling was overturned in June, Colorado has become an oasis for abortion and other reproductive health care. The Reproductive Health Equity Act passed during the state’s recent legislative session and guarantees a person’s right to make reproductive health care decisions without government interference.

Crisis pregnancy centers – also known as alternative pregnancy centers and women’s health centers – attempt to steer pregnant people away from receiving care such as abortions. The centers are nonprofit organizations that advertise health care such as free pregnancy tests, abortion counseling, options counseling, ultrasounds and help during and after pregnancy.

However, the centers do not have to abide by a medical code of ethics and do not offer abortion services, including miscarriage treatment. They are funded through donations, religiously affiliated charities and, sometimes, federal funding for supplies such as baby formula and diapers, said Kayla Frawley, abortion rights and reproductive rights director for ProgressNow Colorado.

Health care inequities
The Supreme Court in Washington is seen at sunset. The Supreme Court heard arguments in March 2018 in a free speech fight over California’s attempt to regulate anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. The case involves information required by a state law that the centers must provide clients about the availability of contraception, abortion and prenatal care, at little or no cost. Centers that are unlicensed also must post a sign that says so.(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press file)

In Colorado, there are 51 centers, outnumbering the state’s about 20 abortion providers. In the United States, there is a 3-to-1 ratio of crisis pregnancy centers to abortion clinics. Frawley said many centers are located in rural and impoverished areas, where they disproportionately target Latino communities.

“They’re really preying on our brown communities and our immigrant communities specifically who deal with very unique barriers already to abortion care and reproductive health services,” Frawley said.

Boulder Pregnancy Resource Center offers options counseling, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, baby and toddler clothes, parenting classes, housing resources, baby formula and baby showers, said Connie Weiskopf, executive director for BPRC in Boulder.

Weiskopf is Christian and believes that life begins at conception, but she said she doesn’t push her beliefs onto others. She said she trains her staff members not to be judgmental or make patients feel persuaded into making any decisions.

Options counseling at the clinic is intended to educate pregnant people about three options: abortion, adoption and becoming a parent. The center will connect patients with adoption agencies or provide parental support such as parenting classes, but it does not offer referrals to abortion services.

“The internet is full of it, and there’s no lack of resources for that,” Weiskopf said. “They don’t refer to us, and we don’t refer to them.”

Weiskopf said she or one of the center’s advocates will “be there emotionally” for patients when they receive an abortion. The center offers one-on-one counseling and group classes for people “struggling” and “feeling the regret or the shame” after having an abortion.

A lot of the services offered and supplies provided by the centers fill gaps that health care isn’t, said Aurea Bolaños Perea, strategic communication director for Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. This leads to community members being “manipulated” into seeking care at the centers.

“Of course, our community members have to turn to clinics such as these to seek care,” Bolaños Perea said. “But what is not fair is that they are still open under the guise that they offer medical services when they don’t.”

Since the overturning of Roe, Frawley said adding intersectionality to reproductive rights is important. She said a reproductive framework that addresses racial inequities is essential to fight for reproductive health care like abortion, because systemic racism has played into such care.

“If we’re not advocating and prioritizing the issues that impact those people, we’re not ever going to get to a place where we have equitable reproductive care for anybody,” Frawley said. “When we’re thinking about crisis pregnancy centers, we have to keep at the forefront who they are impacting and why.”

Centers have religious ties

A Caring Pregnancy Center in Pueblo provides services that are similar to those at BPRC. However, some services discussed on the center’s website appear exclusive. For example, baby showers are offered for expecting parents, but only “for the most committed participants in any ACPC Life Services Programs.”

Tamra Axworthy, CEO of ACPC, said that after attending four six-week sessions, clients are considered committed and can participate in a baby shower during their third trimester.

Bolaños Perea said many centers offer free services but ask for things in return, such as counseling, classes or volunteer work.

ACPC, which has been at its Pueblo location for 29 years, also has a van to provide mobile ultrasounds and pregnancy tests. The van will drive to partner agencies, homeless shelters and soup kitchens that don’t provide ultrasounds and pregnancy tests. Axworthy said the van will also park strategically in town to allow walk-ups.

Like BPRC, ACPC offers post-abortion care. It’s a multiple-week program called Forgive and Set Free, and it has a ceremony at the end. Axworthy said the program is biblically based, but people do not need to be religious to participate.

The outreach ACPC and centers like it offer competes with abortion providers and makes navigating abortion care harder for patients, Bolaños Perea said.

After the end of Roe, Bolaños Perea said she has seen an increase in other outreach measures from crisis pregnancy centers, such as bus stop chair ads and billboards. Frawley said people traveling out of state to get an abortion in Colorado could be deceived into thinking a center will provide the care they need. In some cases, abortion or other reproductive care is delayed because of the persuasive tactics the centers use.

Frawley has not seen an increase in centers since Roe v. Wade was overturned, but she believes more will be built in states that now lack abortion care, and Colorado.

“I have no doubt in my mind that there are plans to open up more, and we do have to figure out a way to regulate them as they are now and to halt the development, because they’re not real clinics. They’re not real health care centers,” she said.

To read more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.