James Calabresi ’20
Connecticut representatives have proudly voiced their support for the protection of abortion rights in our state. When a conservative federal judge threatened to prohibit Mifepristone, one of two medicines used in medication abortion, Attorney General William Tong promised to “fight tooth and nail with everything we have” to protect access. Commenting on the 2023 legislative priorities of the Connecticut Reproductive Rights Caucus, chair Rep. Jillian Gilchrest declared: “We want to ensure that in the state of Connecticut, whether someone decides to have a child or not to have a child, they have access to the information and services they need to fulfill that decision.” But while CT lawmakers loudly promote CT as a safe-haven for abortion rights, a quiet but powerful tactic continues to push an anti-abortion agenda across the state.
Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), also known as limited service pregnancy centers, disguise themselves as non-profit organizations that provide support services to women who are facing unplanned pregnancies. In fact, they are operated by anti-abortion groups and aim to discourage women (especially low-income women of color) from seeking abortions by providing misleading and inaccurate information about abortion, contraception, and other reproductive healthcare options. CPCs have been denounced by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics as unethical violators of patient autonomy and confidentiality.
Despite the fact that CPCs do not align with professional healthcare standards, the state-sponsored 2-1-1 social services referral program includes them as resources for pregnant people in need. At least 20 CPCs are listed on 2-1-1’s resources database in CT as “pregnancy counseling” resources. The Connecticut 2-1-1 directory is a primary resource for people seeking reproductive healthcare and other social services in our state. However, those using 2-1-1 to find medical or psychological support for their personal reproductive decision may be unaware that many services listed under “pregnancy counseling” are not legitimate medical centers, nor do they usually employ licensed counselors or medical professionals. “This is a troubling situation,” says Sen. Matt Lesser. “It’s bizarre that Connecticut taxpayer funds are being used to refer people to organizations whose primary purpose is anti-abortion advocacy and which have had a troubling history of providing pregnant people with medically inaccurate and misleading information.”
Indeed, many of the crisis pregnancy centers listed on 2-1-1 advertise unscientific services and peddle false information. For instance, St. Gianna Pregnancy Resource Center in New Haven promises to provide “abortion pill rescue,” a procedure which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states is “not based on science and do[es] not meet clinical standards.” Hope Pregnancy Center in Cheshire, also listed as a provider of pregnancy counseling by Connecticut 2-1-1, provides misleading information on its website about “post-abortion syndrome,” a term with no scientific basis that is rejected by the American Psychological Association (APA). In fact, longitudinal research has indicated that “there is no evidence of emerging negative emotions over 5 years post abortion” and the APA concluded that the relative risk to mental health is no greater for a woman having a single, elective first-trimester abortion than for a woman who delivers that pregnancy.
CPCs use predatory tactics to reel in vulnerable people with offers of free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and counseling, or promises to provide material assistance, such as baby clothes, diapers, and formula, to encourage people to continue their pregnancies. Promising these services is part of the toolkit of deceptive practices used to dissuade pregnant people from considering abortion care. For example, Hope Pregnancy Center encourages people to confirm their pregnancy by getting an ultrasound before scheduling an abortion procedure—even though an ultrasound is not needed to confirm a pregnancy. This is an emotionally manipulative tactic used to confront clients with an ultrasound picture in hopes of pressuring them into continuing the pregnancy. Additionally, CPCs have been documented to give inaccurate estimates of the gestational age and to show ultrasound images of a fetus that is further along in gestation to convince people that the time limit to get an abortion has passed. The American Public Health Association encouraged enforcing consumer protection against such deceptive practices, and advocated regulation, public education, and the cessation of public funding for CPCs.
In deceptively positioning themselves as legitimate medical providers, these facilities pose a threat to the health of pregnant people by misrepresenting the degree of medical knowledge and care they are qualified to administer. Doctors, nurses, therapists, and other health professionals are bound to certain medical and ethical standards that CPCs do not have to adhere to, including the Hippocratic Oath, which states “First, do no harm,” and HIPAA confidentiality standards. In one documented case, a Kentucky CPC used an expired disinfectant to sanitize equipment used for ultrasounds. The brand of disinfectant used does not kill the human papillomavirus, a widespread sexually transmitted infection responsible for more than 90% of cervical cancers.
It is unacceptable that state funds are supporting the advertisement of crisis pregnancy centers peddling fake treatments and using predatory tactics to bully pregnant women out of abortions. I would like to urge students and leaders in the community to contact our representatives asking them to consider the risks that United Way of Connecticut and its service 2-1-1 poses to people seeking care. Connecticut wants to be an abortion safe haven— but we won’t be until we stop funding the advertisement of deceptive, religiously-based organizations seeking to prevent Connecticut residents from getting abortion care.
This piece has been modified, with the alumni author’s consent, from its original publication as a Letter to the Editor in the Wesleyan Argus.