September 09, 2006

Pregnancy Crisis Centers and the Post

Criticizing the media usually isn't my thing, but the Washington Post has an absolutely appalling front-page story today about "pregnancy crisis centers." Anyone who knew nothing about these centers—like, apparently, the National Review's John Miller—would come away from the article with the impression that religious conservatives have merely set up clinics for the purpose of giving women sonograms and talking them out of abortion. Miller calls it "an example of women exercising their freedom" and doesn't see what the big deal is.

The big deal is that these centers are actively trying to mislead women. The centers are designed to look like abortion clinics—and are often placed next to abortion clinics, or housed in a building where a clinic used to be—which is why so many pregnant women mistakenly wander in. And rather than gently dissuading women from having abortions with actual facts, they lie and scare-monger. The Post reporter cites a study conducted by Rep. Henry Waxman about the centers, but never mentions that Waxman's staff actually called 23 "crisis pregnancy centers" and found that 20 of them give outright misleading information about the risks of abortion.

Nor does the Post mention concerns that many centers go far beyond merely trying to persuade women from having an abortion and actually harass some of the women who walk in under the impression that they're at Planned Parenthood. Amanda Marcotte wrote a great piece about the centers for Alternet that included some of these tales. Seems worth mentioning, no? But nothing in the Post.

And, of course, pregnancy crisis centers are demonstrably harmful. As the Post mentions, the centers offer sonograms, with the intention of dissuading women from having an abortion. But, again, unmentioned is the fact that the staff at these centers usually have no real medical training. So whoever's giving the sonogram won't know to look for signs that the pregnancy could endanger the woman's health, which is, you know, the whole point of a sonogram—rather than taking pretty pictures for propaganda purposes. But the experience can give the women the dangerous impression that she's received proper prenatal care, and prevent her from getting care later on.

But because it's easy to buy a sonogram and have some untrained bible thumper operate it, pregnancy crisis centers can easily become more widespread than clinics burdened by the obligation to provide actual health care. Some right-wingers liken the pregnancy crisis centers to Starbucks—it's just the free market in action (never mind that the centers have received $30 million in federal money since 2001). Yeah, sure, it's as if Starbucks could put all the other coffee shops out of business by serving up mud and fooling customers into thinking it was actual coffee. It would be cheap, but it would also be wrong.
-- Brad Plumer 12:35 PM || ||