An new undercover investigation into Virginia’s right-wing “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) exposes the blatant misinformation about women’s health, as well as the shame-based messages surrounding sexuality, that their employees typically impart to patients. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia — which has been working for years to expose the dozens of CPCs in the state — caught the lies on tape and released their findings on Wednesday.
NARAL recorded a counseling session between a young woman and a CPC employee. The woman received false information about the risks of hormonal birth control, misleading explanations about how contraception works, and judgmental messages about her decision to be sexually active before getting married. During the conversation, the CPC counselor repeatedly suggested that her organization was more trustworthy than the staff at abortion clinics, since abortion providers are ultimately trying to convince their patients to spend money at the clinic. “I’m not lying to you, sweetie — why would I lie to you? I’m not asking you to give me anything here,” she said. “We’re a pregnancy health and education center.”
For several minutes, a CPC employee told horror stories about the dangers of being on birth control, saying she typically tries to talk women out of using it. She likened birth control to “tremendous dosages of steroids,” and belittled her patient for opting to flood her body with artificial hormones. “You really want that stuff inside of you? You have a brain, think and choose here,” she said. “Any of that stuff is just not good for you.”
According to the CPC counselor, birth control is dangerous because taking it for four years before becoming pregnant can increase women’s chance of getting breast cancer by 48 percent. She repeatedly referred to the “carcinogens” in contraception. She also cautioned her client to “read the fine print,” warning that even if she would never choose to have an abortion, she could accidentally end up aborting a fetus while using hormonal contraception. “If you’re on the pill, on the patch, on the shot, and get pregnant… Unintentionally, you will abort that baby because the uterus cannot sustain that pregnancy because the lining has been so altered by those steroids, the artificial hormones,” she claimed.
The CPC employee falsely asserted that condoms and birth control pills are about equally effective at preventing pregnancy, and claimed that using condoms doesn’t actually prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. “They’re naturally porous — there’s always a chance of them breaking, a chance of spillage,” she said. “The only safe sex is no sex.”
The conversation also quickly took a religious bent. “If you’re not married, why are you having sex?” the CPC counselor asked her client. “That’s why you feel like you have to put these hormones in your body — the more you have sex, the more chance you have of getting pregnant.” Later, she added, “Confined to a marriage, of course, sex is expected — you believe in God, that’s the whole plan of God.”
This is hardly the first report of its kind. Another recent undercover investigation at a crisis pregnancy center in Ohio recorded similar misinformation and conservative religious bias during an appointment with a counselor. And previous research from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia has discovered that at least 40 of the state’s 58 CPCs are telling their clients medically inaccurate information about birth control and abortion.
Still, the organization’s newest report is more confirmation that CPCs, which typically attempt to position themselves as unbiased medical resources, are actually operating within the anti-choice community. “This shocking audio exposes Virginia CPCs for what they are: anti-choice field offices designed to mislead, shame, and lie to women during one of the most vulnerable times of their lives,” Tarina Keene, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said in a statement. “Regardless of your stance on abortion, we can all agree that anyone seeking health care services and advice should receive comprehensive, non-judgmental, and factually accurate information.”
There is significant evidence that disseminating misinformation about birth control does a disservice to public health. Abstinence-only health classes, which impart similar factually-inaccurate information about sexual health resources, have contributed to a generation of young Americans who don’t believe using birth control makes any difference, and are therefore more inclined to skip it. A full 60 percent of young adults believe that contraception is less effective than it actually is.
Nevertheless, Virginia’s right-wing CPCs actually receive significant endorsement from state officials. Under the state’s forced ultrasound law, women are required to have a sonogram before they can proceed with an abortion — and all 18 of the health clinics that the health department suggests women can visit to fulfill that requirement are crisis pregnancy centers. And Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) — who’s currently running for governor — has been extremely vocal about his support for CPCs. He spearheaded an effort to get the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to begin offering “Choose Life” license plates, the proceeds of which directly fund CPCs.