“Crisis pregnancy centers” look and act like healthcare clinics but fail to meet medical and ethical standards, often using biased and inaccurate information to persuade women not to pursue an abortion, say two national doctors’ groups.
The “misinformation” these centers offer typically includes limited options for the next steps of pregnancy and unscientific sexual and reproductive health explanations, according to a joint statement by the Society for Adolescent Health and the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology that was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
These centers are “increasingly gaining government funding, support and legal protections despite having secondary religious objectives resulting in care and counseling exclusions that deviate from scientific evidence and national standards of care,” said Andrea Swartzendruber of the University of Georgia in Athens, a co-author of the position statement.
“Unfortunately, awareness about crisis pregnancy centers and the limitations of their services seems low among the general public,” she told Reuters Health by email. “The centers often hide their true mission to attract people who might otherwise seek their services.”
In the joint statement, the authors assert that these centers don’t adhere to medical practice standards for sexual and reproductive health, particularly informed consent. They encourage federal, state and local governments to be cautious with funding and to only support programs that provide accurate, unbiased and complete information about unplanned pregnancy, contraception, sexually transmitted infections and all pregnancy options, including abortion.
The statement also urges governmental regulatory boards and accrediting bodies in health professions to monitor medical and ethical standards of care at these centers. Beyond that, the authors discourage school boards and administrators from outsourcing sex education to these centers and urge companies with online platforms to monitor how these centers represent their services through blogs, social media posts and advertising.
Finally, the statement encourages health professionals, health groups and health departments to understand and discuss the limitations of crisis pregnancy centers and help young people identify and access services with accurate, safe, evidence-based care.
“Although individuals working in CPCs in the U.S. have First Amendment rights to free speech, their provision of misinformation may be harmful to young people and adults,” the statement authors write.
“Crisis pregnancy centers receive federal funding. We must discuss the medical and ethical standards of these centers as people can view the receipt of government funds as an endorsement of sound medical advice, yet study after study shows that CPCs routinely provide misleading and inaccurate medical information,” said Katelyn Bryant-Comstock of IntraHealth International in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who wasn’t involved in the position statement.
“Many crisis pregnancy centers actively target young people with medically inaccurate information,” she said by email. “Our tax dollars are paying for services that are damaging to the health of the population, and we need to be vocal about our concerns on what bodies are funded to promote health care services.” To help the public and researchers identify crisis pregnancy centers, Swartzendruber and a colleague created a map of the roughly 2,500 such centers operating in the U.S. (https://crisispregnancycentermap.com).
“The inclusion of CPCs on some state rosters of entities that provide sexual health and pregnancy-related services may mislead healthcare providers and others into assuming that CPCs offer unbiased, comprehensive care,” said Joanne Rosen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who wasn’t involved in the position statement.
Sexually-active teens and young adults, who generally have limited resources and power, should be able to access services that focus on their specific needs and preferences, Rosen said by email.
“Pregnancy resource centers can help meet some of those needs, but their resources and services are not enough, and they come with strings attached,” said Katrina Kimport of the University of California, San Francisco, who studies reproductive health decision-making.
“As the position statement shows, because they do not adhere to medical and ethical standards, these centers cannot be part of a reliable system of care,” she told Reuters Health by email. “Adolescents deserve better.”