States Fund Pregnancy Centers That Discourage Abortion : Shots - Health News A growing number of states are giving public money to crisis pregnancy centers. But the centers are unregulated, and abortion rights groups accuse them of coercing women with misinformation.
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States Fund Pregnancy Centers That Discourage Abortion

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States Fund Pregnancy Centers That Discourage Abortion

States Fund Pregnancy Centers That Discourage Abortion

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Several states are trying to limit abortions by giving public money to private, often religious, crisis pregnancy centers. There are several thousands of these centers across the country. The increase in support they're receiving comes as states cut funding to Planned Parenthood. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports that in Ohio, abortion opponents hope to greatly expand public support for crisis pregnancy centers this year.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: If you Google abortion Columbus, halfway down the first page is a headline - Your Right To Choose. It's for Pregnancy Decision Health Center, which actually aims to stop women from having an abortion. I visit one of PDHC's six sites. Like many such centers, it's right next door to a Planned Parenthood.

JULIE MOORE: We just have a little meeting area here and...

LUDDEN: Operations Director Julie Moore shows me a cozy room for private chats, a larger space with a couch.

MOORE: All of our services are free of charge. And so this is our ultrasound room.

LUDDEN: It looks like a medical office, but for some eye-catching objects on a side table - bright pink, detailed models of fetuses. Moore says PDHC also offers parenting classes, diapers, help signing up for public assistance and support.

MOORE: If you are suspecting you may be pregnant, that can be a very unsure time and you're really just looking for answers.

WHITNEY WALL: When I was 20, I found out I was pregnant, and I was abortion-minded just because I - very afraid to tell my family.

LUDDEN: Whitney Wall says she grew up in a Christian conservative home. Sitting in her own living room now she remembers she had Planned Parenthood's number in her cellphone until a friend suggested Pregnancy Decision Health Center instead.

WALL: And I just remember feeling like it was something I had to be very ashamed of and it was, like, my dirty little secret.

LUDDEN: But when the pregnancy test came back positive, Wall says the women at the center were happy for her.

WALL: I remember Rita, one of the nurses, came in and she was like, oh, you know, congratulations, Mommy-to-be. And I just, like, got on my knees and started bawling 'cause I'm like, oh, my gosh, this really is happening. And for some reason at that point it felt like there's another person that I need to think about.

LUDDEN: Wall says this center helped her work up the courage to tell her parents, drop out of college and arrange an open adoption. Her son's now 5; she keeps a stack of photos on a bookshelf.

WALL: That was when he was little (laughter).

LUDDEN: Big smile.

WALL: Yes, he was really cute.

LUDDEN: A happy story, but critics point out crisis pregnancy centers are unregulated. They say they offer incomplete information at best and that many coerced women with misinformation.

JAIME MIRACLE: Overwhelmingly, these centers were run entirely by volunteers, did not have medical staff.

LUDDEN: Jaime Miracle, of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, sent women undercover to 55 of Ohio's pregnancy centers. They found counselors who said abortion causes breast cancer and infertility or it leads to drug abuse and depression. None of that's supported by rigorous medical research. When the women asked how they could keep from getting pregnant...

MIRACLE: None of them offered birth control services. And overwhelmingly, if they did even discuss anything at all, it was abstinence is the only way to go. Just don't have sex anymore and you won't be in this situation.

LUDDEN: Another NARAL investigation in Virginia secretly recorded a counselor warning of miscarriages.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, they scrape it. They scrape it very deeply.

LUDDEN: Abortion scrapes the uterus wall smooth, the counselor says, and leaves scar tissue a fetus can't stick onto.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And so you wind up having miscarriages.

LUDDEN: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says one abortion does not affect future pregnancies. In addition to funding crisis pregnancy centers, some states are trying to push women to go to them. A South Dakota law says women must visit one before having an abortion. That's being challenged in court. Other states and cities have tried to regulate pregnancy centers, requiring them to state clearly whether they provide abortion and whether medical professionals are on-site. But courts have blocked most efforts siding with centers who say they're merely exercising free speech.

MOORE: We are not here in any way to misinform women or lead them astray.

LUDDEN: Julie Moore, of PDHC in Columbus, says she sees her role as empowering women.

MOORE: I literally have worked with women who have come in and said I wanted to have my baby and, you know, my stepdad told me that I was too young and too dumb and I couldn't do this.

LUDDEN: Pregnancy centers not only tell women yes, they can keep their baby, but they should. If Ohio's abortion opponents have their way, more taxpayer money will help drive home that message. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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