by Alexandra Siebenhaar, Policy Research Intern at NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Fund
Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) offer anti-abortion counseling and inaccurate information to individuals who are facing an unwanted pregnancy. I walked into a CPC with pregnant pee in a vile in my purse on a late Friday afternoon. There were children, children’s toys, and a rack of baby clothes with various sizes in the waiting room. This particular CPC is part of a chain with three other locations in the Baltimore area. At the front desk, I told the volunteer that I wanted to take a pregnancy test and checked off on a form the services I was interested in — including abortion counseling and post-abortion counseling. Below these services, it said, “we do not recommend abortion services or birth control because it is aborticide.”
I pass this CPC every Thursday evening while traveling to a nonprofit where I volunteer in Baltimore City with a few other college students who also volunteer there. We teach immigrants the English language as part of our service-learning offered to us through our college. Just down the street from my college and across a local coffee shop that provides community for us college students sits the CPC. I couldn’t help but wonder how many students have walked through those doors in search of an abortion, but were given false information instead.
With CPCs tending to target vulnerable populations, I also wonder how many undocumented immigrants have walked through those doors in fear of not being able to provide for a child due to our current’s administration racist discourse, their economic status, citizenship, or overall fear in facing an unwanted pregnancy. As I’ve seen firsthand from my work at the nonprofit center, Maryland is home to a sizeable number of Central American migrants. I believe that fake clinics use the language barrier to their advantage in manipulating Hispanic and/or Latina women. According to the Migration Policy Institute U.S. Spotlight article, “Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States,” 67% of undocumented immigrants are from Mexico and Central America. Research shows that Hispanic women in the United States experience more stigma in intimate relationships and are more likely to hide their abortion than other ethnic groups.[i] The same study also found that most women in Mexico City were worried about how their relationships would change after getting an abortion.[ii] Due to the culture shame around abortion in the Latinx community and with there being 25% of Hispanic women in the United States who get abortions,[iii] fake clinics create an additional stigmatization and can hurt women in having a wanted abortion.
While I was in the CPC, I was taken back to a room with posters that screamed abstinence and pro-life. There were figures of fully developed babies. My “counselor” had her child there playing with the figures so nonchalantly, telling me about the delightfulness of parenthood.
My “counselor” asked was about my last menstrual period, my marital status, and the nature of my relationship with the baby’s father. She asked if I was religious, and I told her (truthfully) that I am “Methodist.” I wanted to emphasize my religion as a Christian, because you can identify as a Christian or a person of faith and still get an abortion. I am Christian and if I were actually facing an unwanted pregnancy, I would have an abortion.
After these intrusive questions were asked about my personal life, I was given the instructions to take the pregnancy test. I dumped the pregnant pee in the cup and dripped three drops of the pee inside the pregnancy test that resulted in two pink lines in the bathroom. She asked me with a smirk, “Do you know what this means?”
“No” I said.
“One line means pregnant and two lines means really pregnant. How does that make you feel?” she said.
I told her I do not wish to be pregnant. The hostile environment they created made it hard for me to say the word abortion. I can’t imagine how an actual pregnant person, potentially scared and alone, might feel in the same situation. My “counselor” told me the following lies after showing make falsified pictures of fetal development: life begins at conception; emergency contraception is the same as medication abortion; my baby grows arms in the first week; undergoing a medication abortion is just like giving birth; and abortion is very painful.
I was then asked the following: What church do I go to? How many times do I go? Who do I go with? Are my parents pro-life or pro-choice? Do I have a boyfriend? Am I going to tell the father of my baby I’m pregnant? How do I think he’s going to react? Am I afraid to tell my parents? What I’m going to do after I leave here today? Do I think I am a Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian? Where do I think we go after we die? Do I think God put me here for a reason? Do I have or want a Bible?
She asked if I want her to pray for me and, out of curiosity, I said yes. As a Christian, witnessing the horrific burden these CPCs put on women, I believe it is my role to denounce them. Christianity taught me the importance in caring for all people and with reproductive justice ensuring people are offered their most intimate care, I know I am doing good work in my volunteerism. And one cannot have reproductive healthcare without access to a free, safe, and legal abortion.
The excessive amount of questions relating to Christianity was probably due to the fake clinic being right next to a United Methodist Church (the one I belong to), which also preaches pro-life discourse. In fact, they state, “We affirm and encourage the Church to assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.” [iv] Fake clinics do not compassionately help women who are looking for evidence-based, unbiased pregnancy options. By encouraging women to find alternatives to abortion, these fake clinics shame individuals who have already had or who wish to have an abortion. No one should have to justify or get approval to have an abortion.
Before I was about to leave, my “counselor” gave me her card and told me she’s a doula. I was shocked. God help the poor individual who has this “counselor” as a doula but needs to end her pregnancy due to congenital anomalies, economic insecurity, or health risks. The anti-choice counselors said the choice was up to me. No one has a choice there. Crisis pregnancy centers are a public health crisis.
For more information about anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers in Maryland, see this in-depth report: https://prochoicemd.org/issues/crisis-pregnancy-centers-2/
[i]López, Midiam Moreno, Karla Flores Celis, Catalina González-Forteza, María Teresa Saltijera, Raffaela Schiavon, María Elena Collado, Olivia Ortiz, and Luciana Ramos Lira. 2019. “Relationship between Perceived Stigma and Depressive Symptomatology in Women Who Legally Interrupt Pregnancy in Mexico City.” Salud Mental 42 (1): 25–32.
[ii] López, Midiam Moreno, Karla Flores Celis, Catalina González-Forteza, María Teresa Saltijera, Raffaela Schiavon, María Elena Collado, Olivia Ortiz, and Luciana Ramos Lira. 2019. “Relationship between Perceived Stigma and Depressive Symptomatology in Women Who Legally Interrupt Pregnancy in Mexico City.”
[iii] “U.S. Abortion Patients. 2016. Guttmacher Institute.
[iv] “Social Principles: The Nurturing Community: The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.” The United Methodist Church. 2016.