All over the country, so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” rake in tens of millions of dollars, many of them from publicly funded programs, without accountability to the public for the services they claim to provide. These centers masquerade as reliable sources of medical information and assistance for pregnant women, while instead offering a front space for expressing opposition to abortion. As the co-directors of Reproaction, an organization we co-founded to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice, we believe it’s long past time to hold crisis pregnancy centers accountable for the activities they undertake with public funding.
At a time when it’s difficult to distinguish fake news from real news, it should come as no surprise that some of the founders and longtime contributors of the fake news scourge, a subset of the pro-life movement, continue to push such misinformation on women seeking medical advice. Their secretly anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers work to manipulate women, deliberately give them incorrect information, and often omit the fact that they don’t even provide a vital pregnancy-related service that women commonly seek them out for: abortion.
Crisis pregnancy centers set up sham websites that sometimes go so far as to imply that they provide abortions, tricking women into making an appointment, and then, pushing anti-abortion propaganda after they arrive. One of the more unsettling tactics includes misleading center locations and titles, such as “AAA Women for Choice of Manassas,” a crisis pregnancy center that has set up shop where a real abortion clinic used to be in an attempt to fool women into thinking the new fake clinic performs the same medical procedures women had previously received there.
Despite receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer money, many crisis pregnancy centers are also unlicensed, unregulated and run little to no background checks on their volunteers and leaders. Take Reverend Kenneth Kaucheck, a priest who had been barred in 2009 from working within the Catholic Church after a woman accused him of sexually abusing her when she was a teen. Less than a year ago, he was still serving as a development director and board member for a crisis pregnancy center in Michigan he co-founded called the Gianna House Pregnancy and Parenting Residence.
Not only do the individuals seeking information and services from crisis pregnancy centers suffer, communities as a whole pay the price. In Missouri, which has the second-highest number of food-insecure residents in the country, funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are diverted to go toward the Alternatives to Abortion Program. Instead of helping struggling Missourians pay for things such as food and shelter as intended, these funds are being used to bankroll centers that dispense an anti-abortion stigma and medically inaccurate advice. According to Missouri’s Office of Administration budget bill, Alternatives to Abortion received $2 million in TANF funds for the 2016 fiscal year and has already allocated $4.3 million in TANF funds for fiscal year 2017.
Missouri is just one out of at least 11 states that use state funding to directly support crisis pregnancy centers. Of those states, seven (Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas) specifically poach TANF funds — money intended to aid families in need — for these fake clinics.
There is no reason for deceptive and unregulated crisis pregnancy centers to be receiving taxpayer money, and they especially shouldn’t be taking away crucial funds from programs created to help those struggling with poverty and hunger. It's not pro-life to take food out of the mouths of hungry babies to fund an anti-abortion agenda.
Erin Matson and Pamela Merritt are the co-founders and co-directors of Reproaction, a direct action group dedicated to increasing abortion access and advancing reproductive justice.