RICHMOND, Va. — They've been called "fake clinics" and are often smeared by abortion activists who argue that pregnancy centers deceive women and don't offer any real medical assistance.
Some activists even try to go undercover to try to prove that pregnancy centers are fake women's health centers.
"We get many calls from fake clients asking questions hoping to find fault," Debi Harvey, executive director for the Open Arms Pregnancy Clinic located in Northridge, California, told The Christian Post. "We get fake clients coming in under the guise of wanting a pregnancy test, but in reality, they're just trying to find something they can accuse us of."
Sometimes called "crisis pregnancy centers," there are approximately 2,750 centers in the U.S. that seek to provide medical resources and assistance for pregnant women that do not include abortion.
Their opposition to abortion has led them to be the subject of attacks from media personalities, pro-choice groups, and even some state governments.
In April, comedian John Oliver used his HBO program "Last Week Tonight" to attack pregnancy centers, claiming they gave medically inaccurate information.
Oliver suggested they ought to appreciate contraceptives and be "filling Pez dispensers with birth control pills, giving condoms to trick or treaters, and IUD earrings as hostess gifts."
He then opened up a fake crisis pregnancy center in New York that was set up in a van driven by "Wanda Jo Oliver," portrayed by Rachael Dratch, who dispensed "alternate facts" about abortion.
In 2015, California passed Assembly Bill 775, also called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, which compelled pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion. This included mandating, under penalty of fines, that all licensed pregnancy health centers, among other things, include a sign that refers patients to abortion clinics.
"The notice shall state: 'California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women,'" read AB 775 in part.
The law was eventually declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, with the high court ruling 5-4 that it "unduly burdens protected speech."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's press office announced in August that the state government was launching a "public awareness" campaign to counter pro-life pregnancy centers' information.
"These centers' actions may interfere with New Yorkers' constitutionally protected rights to seek reproductive health care and may endanger them by preventing them from receiving medically accurate information," claimed the office.
The Christian Post interviewed multiple pro-life pregnancy center officials and also visited a facility in Richmond to see what was offered for those seeking help. The people involved in these sought to rebut what they see as misconceptions about their work.
Misconception 1: Centers Lack Licensed Medical Help
The Pregnancy Resource Center of Metro Richmond Executive Director Kim Warburton, who has been with the center for about 13 years, explained that they take medical standards seriously, including matters of confidentiality.
The center — which was founded in 1983 and services more than 1,000 women a year, nearly two-thirds of whom are from the inner city — has licensed medical professionals on staff, including Director of Nursing Lynn Bisbee, RNC, WHNP, and Medical Director Fidelma Rigby, MD.
Erin Rogers, executive director of the Bakersfield Pregnancy Center of Bakersfield, California, which was founded in 1984, also told CP that far from being a "fake clinic," it was "a fully licensed medical clinic" "with two registered nurses on every shift, and one registered nurse on the mobile unit at each location."
"All our ultrasound scans are read by our doctor within 24 hours of the scan (usually within 12 hours). Every client with a positive pregnancy test is encouraged to seek immediate pre-natal examinations to ensure a healthy pregnancy," said Rogers.
"We seek to comply with all regulations and requirements mandated by state medical oversight agencies, specific to free community clinics. Our specific operations are overseen by a local physician in radiology and a local doctor of obstetrics and gynecology."
Harvey of Open Arms Pregnancy Clinic said that her clinic is run with "strict integrity."
"Our medical services are administered by medical professionals in accordance with all applicable laws. We offer accurate information on every option. We don't coerce or manipulate any client," Harvey explained.
"We serve them with love and respect. Listening to their unique situation, helping them identify resources that could possibly help them to make the choice for life."
Misconception 2: Centers Mislead Women Into Thinking They Provide Abortions
Rebecca Jones, director of Client Services at PRC Richmond, explained to CP that rather than mislead women when it comes to abortion, her center is upfront about them not providing abortions.
"We tell women on the phone what services we do offer and when they ask about abortion we tell them that we do not provide or refer for it," noted Jones.
She added that such information was also clearly labeled on their brochures and other materials, as well as their website, which includes a statement explaining that they "do not perform or refer for abortions."
Harvey of the clinic in California also rejected the claim that they misled women seeking abortions, telling CP that "we believe that women are smart."
"They know where to go to obtain an abortion. They can find an abortion clinic the same way they found us. Just through the internet. They don't need us to advertise their abortion resources," said Harvey.
This sentiment was reflected in the majority opinion of the Supreme Court's decision in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, which struck down California's FACT Act.
"The only justification that the California Legislature put forward was ensuring that 'pregnant women in California know when they are getting medical care from licensed professionals,'" wrote Justice Clarence Thomas for the majority.
"At oral argument, however, California denied that the justification for the FACT Act was that women 'go into [crisis pregnancy centers] and they don't realize what they are.'"
Buzz Brown, executive director with Corona Life Services of Corona, California, whose center was founded in 1998, also took issue with the claim of deception.
Brown explained that CLS sees approximately 1,200 women annually and that 98.5 percent of these clients "have glowing things to say about how they have been treated and the services they received."
"You don't receive those kinds of customer satisfaction numbers and referrals from disgruntled clients," said Brown.
PRC Director of Nursing Bisbee said that their client exit forms are "probably 99 percent positive after women have been here about the services they've received."
"As a woman who's dedicated her career to women's health, I'm very, very committed to making sure we provide accurate information," Bisbee said.
"We use the state brochure about abortion and fetal development and any information we provide a woman has to be cleared through our medical director."
During her 13 years at PRC Richmond, Executive Director Warburton could recall only two negative exit interviews from patients.
"It is a major for us if it is not positive," noted Warburton. "The words that we want to hear is that they feel loved, cared for, didn't feel judged."
Misconception 3: Centers Are Only for Times of Crisis
While the term "crisis pregnancy center" is often used, pro-life pregnancy centers like PRC Richmond stress that they do more than just crisis care.
As part of their facility, PRC Richmond has an "aftercare" wing, centered on classes on parenting, a Mom's Support Group, and even help for fathers.
Juan Ledon, director of Support for Fathers at PRC Richmond, said that he felt it was important to remember fathers and to have help available for them also.
"When we do see clients that are dads, we like that because they are often forgotten. Women will come here to the clinic and obviously they're here to be seen, have pregnancy tests done, but oftentimes dads are forgotten," explained Ledon.
"It's nice to be able to sit with them, those that like to meet with us, and just listen to them and serve them because they've got cares and needs and questions and just want to vent sometimes, so it's nice for them to do that."
Rogers of the Bakersfield Pregnancy Center also said that she considered the view that her facility was only there for times of "crisis" to be a major misconception.
"Our services are available to everyone, regardless of the conception circumstance, financial or educational status of the clients," noted Rogers.
"Many say we are only trying to save babies. This statement is not true. We cannot save babies. Only the mother (or often the father) can save the baby. We empower women with options so that they can make their own life-affirming choices."
According to an 80-page report by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life advocacy organization Susan B. Anthony List, released in September, in one year alone pregnancy centers helped approximately 2 million people and saved communities $161 million in costs.