Anti-abortion centers: Unregulated, misleading, and close as possible to abortion clinics
“We are halfway down a cul-de-sac that leads to the killing. As such, our location is a huge strategic advantage in that everyone, in order to reach the abortion clinic, must pass by First Choice,” reads the organization’s website.
Editor’s note: Destinee G., a source mentioned in this article, asked only her last initial be used out of concern for professional and personal retaliation for sharing her experience.
Destinee G.’s period was late in February 2021.
It wasn’t that abnormal. Until that year her menstrual cycle was irregular. But by the next month, she was taking two at-home pregnancy tests every two weeks. They were always negative.
Friends, and the internet, told her testing negative early on in a pregnancy was normal. A blood test would be more accurate.
She didn’t have the money to go to her OBGYN. One thing she never wavered on was that she did not want to be a mother.
She found First Choice Pregnancy Services, which advertised free pregnancy tests.
At first glance First Choice Pregnancy Services off of Sahara Avenue in Las Vegas, just steps away from the Birth Control Care Center which provides abortion services, and Women’s Medical Resource Center, near a Planned Parenthood clinic on Charleston Boulevard, seem to offer reproductive and sexual health care.
Their websites advertise free pregnancy tests, their workers wear scrubs and their names suggest similar services.
But a closer look reveals something else — those two centers are not subjected to the same medical standards and regulations as Planned Parenthood, OBGYNs or family licensed therapists —not for HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), not for family counseling, not for the accuracy of the information they provide.
In fact, they’re hardly regulated at all.
The two Las Vegas centers are among at least seven facilities, commonly called crisis pregnancy centers, in the state, according to the Wild West Access Fund of Nevada, a nonprofit that helps cover costs for people seeking abortions.
“Even before the demise of Roe v. Wade, pregnant people were dealing with terribly onerous obstacles to abortion care,” Amy Reed-Sandoval, a UNLV Department of Philosophy assistant professor whose recent research focus on pregnancy-related medical care, said. “When positioned so close to abortion clinics, these facilities give the false impression that they are abortion clinics, and thus constitute yet another barrier to care.”
Women’s Medical Resource Center and First Choice Pregnancy Center are both crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which are generally religion-affiliated non-profits that offer free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling, but the centers’ primary goal is to deter abortions.
CPCs deliberately locate themselves as close to abortion clinics as possible.
“Our location, we believe, was ordained by God,” reads the website of First Choice Pregnancy Services about its location on Sahara near the Birth Control Care Center, “as we are footsteps away from the busiest and latest-term abortion clinic in Nevada. We are halfway down a cul-de-sac that leads to the killing. As such, our location is a huge strategic advantage in that everyone, in order to reach the abortion clinic, must pass by First Choice.”
Neither Women’s Medical Resource Center nor First Choice Pregnancy Center responded to requests for interviews for this story.
‘They pose as a real clinic’
Destinee went to both First Choice Pregnancy Services and Women’s Medical Resource Center. Neither place gave her in-take paperwork or asked for insurance. Neither disclosed that they weren’t actual clinics capable of helping her understand why she missed her period but was testing negative, Destinee said.
Something seemed off early on at First Choice Pregnancy Services, they didn’t do blood testing and only had pregnancy test strips, similar to the ones she was already using, stockpiled in a room. For roughly two hours, Destinee listened as the staff asked why she would consider an abortion, discussed adoption and listed churches she should attend even after she said she was only there for a blood test.
“They pose as a real clinic and I didn’t know that they could do that,” she said. “When I realized that I got bamboozled I was a little annoyed and sad. Like, okay so I’m not going to get my answer today. I’m not going to know why my body is fluctuating.”
After First Choice Pregnancy Services, Destinee went to the Women’s Medical Resource Center for answers.
As she was waiting for her test results, she was instead placed in a room with worksheets that asked her about her relationship with her family, her thoughts on abortion and her mental health. Before they read her pregnancy test strip results, the staff went over her worksheets with her asking if she would like to consider open adoption.
Destinee never asked for counseling and still isn’t sure if what she wrote is confidential. When they finally told Destinee the test results came back negative, she wasn’t confident she could trust them.
Far outnumbering health clinics that provide abortion access throughout the nation, crisis pregnancy centers disproportionately target poor, young and under-educated women, and disseminate deceptive and false information about mental health consequences of abortion.
“Lack of local abortion providers has long entailed, for pregnant people who need abortions, crossing state and national borders, draining one’s meager savings, and putting one’s health and safety at risk, ” Reed-Sandoval said. “Such centers leave many pregnant people without any further resources — financial, logistical, and emotional — to get the reproductive health care to which they have a moral right.”
Along with two in Las Vegas and one in Reno, there are crisis pregnancy centers in Nevada communities where there are no abortion clinics – Pahrump, Fallon and Fernley.
Women who were denied an abortion and gave birth reported more life-threatening complications like eclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage compared to those who received wanted abortions, were more likely to live in poverty, more likely to stay with abusive partners, more likely to suffer anxiety and loss of self-esteem and were associated with poorer maternal bonding compared to the next child born to a woman who received an abortion, according to the Turnaway Study by the University of California, San Francisco.
In a post-Roe V. Wade nation, Nevada has seen an influx of those seeking abortion from out-of-state.
“There is long-standing tradition of having these centers funded by these various anti-abortion groups and obviously what they’re intended to do is to look like they are providing health services and divert them out of reproductive health care,” said Rebecca Gill, UNLV Political Science associate professor whose work focuses on gender bias in the judicial system.
Politically, American policy towards abortion was to treat it as a last-resort, and regulations of crisis pregnancy centers were often avoided by elected officials, Gills said.
The bulk of crisis pregnancy centers are not one-off religious non-profits.
Instead, most are supported by larger umbrella organizations like Care Net, Heartbeat International, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), Birthright International and Ramah International, according to the Crisis Pregnancy Center Map, a project spearheaded by Drs. Andrea Swartzendruber and Danielle Lambert, both of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia.
Feeding data to anti-abortion bounty hunters
Because the centers are not medical facilities they don’t have to follow privacy laws, including HIPAA, and the centers and their larger parent organizations are free to collect and share their clients data with whomever they please, according to a study by The Alliance: State Advocates for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, a collaboration of state-based law and policy centers working across the country to advance gender equality.
The crisis pregnancy centers are now positioned to surveil pregnant people and feed their data to “anti-abortion bounty hunters anywhere in the country,” according to the report. The Alliance’s report points to a 2021 six-week abortion ban enacted by Texas, allowing citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” someone getting an abortion and receive $10,000 or more in compensation.
No one at either Women’s Medical Resource Center or First Choice Pregnancy Center explained their privacy policies to her, said Destinee.
The influx of funding from larger organizations coupled with protection by the First Amendment have made previous attempts to regulate crisis pregnancies centers a challenge.
In 2018, the U.S Supreme Court sided with crisis pregnancies centers against a California law that would have required these centers to post written notices advising women about abortion options, family planning services and pre-natal care, and acknowledge that they don’t have licensed medical staff.
Those centers and their counterparts in Nevada and nationwide continue to operate, intercepting those in an even more vulnerable position in the post-Roe v. Wade world.
“The idea that we are going to force more women into childbirth against their will in the face of these abysmal maternal mortality rates, it shows what we think about women,” Gill said.
But Gill said that Nevada can learn from the failed legislative and judicial efforts of regulating these crisis pregnancies clinics, and craft laws that hold them accountable.
“If there’s a swing state that can do this, it is absolutely Nevada,” she said. “We can regulate them. We have a long history, longer than most, of protecting reproductive health care and we have a majority woman Legislature. This matters.”
Destinee finally got a blood test at the private abortion clinic A-Z Women’s Center. It was negative. Her body was just under so much stress and the multiple months spent trying to navigate affordable healthcare and then being “duped” by crisis pregnancy clinics only exacerbated that stress.
Now, before she goes for any health care treatment, she scrolls through the internet.
“I wish I knew that there were a lot of religious organizations posing as clinics so I could look for those keywords on reviews or sites,” Destinee said. “When a place is called First Choice Pregnancy you’re not thinking god is involved, when a place is called Resource Center, I don’t think god is involved, I thought we were all just people who needed help.”
But what hurt Destinee the most is knowing she wasn’t the only woman sitting in a chair at those clinics at a vulnerable time.
“There are going to be young women sitting in my seat not as scrappy as I am and then they’re going to be keeping a baby and hating their lives,” she said. “I just wish we protected each other a lot more.”
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