Commentary: Crisis Pregnancy Centers and Post-Roe America

by Philip Wegmann


Around the country, the number of crisis pregnancy centers is on the rise. The number of abortion clinics, on the decline. And after the repeal of Roe v. Wade, according to some analysis, more than half of American women of reproductive age now live closer to a crisis pregnancy center than they do to an abortion clinic.

These crisis pregnancy centers, long a mainstay of the anti-abortion movement, are the new Ground Zero in a post-Roe world. Democratic senators like Elizabeth Warren and Bob Menendez are calling for a “crackdown.” Other less patient abortion advocates aren’t satisfied going the legislative route – the group Jane’s Revenge has taken credit for a series of attacks and violent threats across the country.

And yet, the American public, a majority of whom opposed the repeal of Roe, also overwhelmingly supports public funding for these crisis pregnancy centers. This is according to a new poll of 1,600 likely voters around the country, conducted by the conservative polling firm CRC Research on behalf of the 85 fund and first reported by RealClearPolitics.

All told, 64% of registered U.S voters reported that they support taxpayer funding for what CRC called “pregnancy resource centers,” a number that notably included 70% of self-described Democrats. After respondents read statements detailing services these centers offer to women, ranging from prenatal care to housing assistance with the explicit goal of helping women “keep their baby,” overall support rose to 74%.

“These organizations exist to accompany pregnant and parenting women through whatever circumstances they may be facing, offering widely respected care and resources,” said Jill Stanek, the community outreach director for Her PLAN, an anti-abortion organization that offers everything from prenatal diagnosis to childcare, legal support, and financial assistance.

Crisis pregnancy centers have been part of the national landscape since 1967. Anti-abortion activists often purchase property close to an abortion clinic, choose a nondescript name, and offer a welcoming environment to encourage pregnant women considering an abortion to rethink the procedure. Increasingly in the last decade, the centers have offered ultrasounds at no cost.

But those ultrasounds are problematic according to the Alliance, a pro-abortion group of state advocates “for women’s rights and gender equality.” A 2021 report by that group found that crisis pregnancy centers were using ultrasound images of unborn babies “to signal medical legitimacy and persuade people to carry their pregnancies to term.”

Andrea Swartzendruber, a public health professor at the University of Georgia, told Axios that she would “not be surprised in the least” if crisis pregnancy centers “proliferate” in states where abortion remains legally protected. Anti-abortion advocates don’t disagree – they are talking openly about expanding their footprint.

Crisis pregnancy centers, explicitly anti-abortion organizations, are not shy about their mission or their use of ultrasounds. They cite client exit interviews by one national network association, Care Net, that show 99% of their clients reporting having had a positive experience. “Pregnancy centers and maternity homes stand ready to continue their vital, life-affirming work,” said Stanek, “empowering women to choose life, encouraging them to pursue their dreams, and walking alongside them every step of the way – even years down the road.”

Sen. Warren has introduced legislation that would direct the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit what she called “deceptive or misleading advertising” that crisis pregnancy centers use to persuade pregnant women not to have an abortion, and to level penalties on organizations that do not comply. “Deception,” the Massachusetts Democrat said on the Senate floor earlier this month, “is at the heart of the operation for many CPCs.”

“It’s time to crack down on deceptive and misleading practices many crisis pregnancy centers employ,” she said, “because the last thing that a woman seeking reproductive care should have to worry about is whether she’s being tricked, lied to, or deceived about the medical care that she seeks.”

Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas and a practicing physician, shot back that “the deception is occurring in the abortion clinics.”

“These women aren’t being told about the potential complications of these abortion procedures. They’re not being told that these abortion pills are going to cause pain and cramping and bleeding, that they could end up in the emergency room as well,” he added. “They’re not told about the complications from the abortion procedures. That’s where the fraud and deception is present.”

On this question, pro-abortion advocates have an ally in Vice President Kamala Harris. As attorney general of California, Harris supported a state law that required crisis pregnancy centers to publish a clear warning that they were not healthcare providers, and to advise women on where and how they could obtain free abortions. A legal battle ensued, ending with a 5-4 loss at the Supreme Court in 2016. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that the California law “targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”

White House officials did not respond when asked about the legislation Warren introduced to “crack down” on crisis pregnancy centers. They have, however, been vocal in their opposition to targeted attacks against such centers. Some have had their windows smashed. Others have been firebombed. The common denominator in such attacks: a spray-painted warning on the outside of crisis pregnancy centers that reads “if abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either.”

“That is something clearly the DOJ is looking into,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told RCP during a press briefing in June before adding that “we have seen an uptick of that type of arson and bombing.” The DOJ later confirmed to Fox News that the FBI is investigating these attacks and threats as potential acts of domestic violent extremism.

On the question of vandalism and violence, the public is overwhelmingly in agreement. According to the CRC Research survey, 80% of likely voters agree that protestors who engage in those kinds of attacks “should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

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Philip Wegmann is a writer for RealClearPolitics. 




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