As 2022 shapes up to be a landmark year in the fight for reproductive rights, people across the United States are left weighing their options for contraception and family planning against increasingly restrictive state and federal legislation.
For many people, crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) further complicate this process.
A CPC is an organization designed to prevent pregnant people from receiving abortion care. In some cases, these organizations also discourage the use of birth control.
Although CPCs may appear to be professional healthcare centers, they aren’t regulated, licensed, or credentialed facilities. Because there isn’t any clinical oversight, CPCs aren’t required to provide medically accurate information or services.
Many CPCs are affiliated with religious organizations known for their opposition to comprehensive sex education, contraception, and abortion.
CPCs often advertise free pregnancy tests, pregnancy counseling, and prenatal care. And in some cases, they may even provide these services — but accessing these services usually comes with a catch.
For example, if you’re pregnant and want to learn about what options are available to you, CPC workers will only discuss your options for prenatal care and birth. CPC workers will advise you to carry the pregnancy to term and either raise the baby yourself or put the baby up for adoption.
CPC workers will not tell you about your options for abortion or assist you in accessing this care, even if you ask them to. If the center does offer information about abortion, it’s usually medically inaccurate.
If an organization looks promising, be sure to search the name and address in the Crisis Pregnancy Center Map. You can also check ReproAction’s Fake Clinic Database and the #ExposeFakeClinics resource hub.
Check the name
In many cases, the name of the organization is the first giveaway.
A crisis pregnancy center may also be called a:
- pregnancy resource center
- pregnancy care center
- pregnancy support center
- pregnancy help center
- pregnancy center
- women’s health center
- women’s resource center
- abortion alternative center
- life choices center
- options clinic
These words may also be used to describe the organization’s services.
But don’t stop there — crisis pregnancy centers often co-opt language used by real clinics and healthcare professionals. Take a look at all aspects noted below before making a decision.
Review the advertisement or website
Next, consider the messaging on the organization’s advertisements or website.
As highlighted by a
CPC advertisements may suggest “abortion pill reversal” or say you can “reverse” an abortion. (This isn’t possible.)
Many CPCs are affiliated with religious networks or umbrella organizations. You might see references to one of the following affiliations:
- Birthright International
- Care Net
- Heartbeat International
- National Institute of Family and Life Advocates
CPCs may also advertise a “pro-life” message or encourage readers to “choose life.”
These advertisements are often posted around health centers that offer birth control, emergency contraception, or abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood.
Look at nearby businesses or services
The organization’s location may also be an indicator.
Much like their advertisements, CPCs are often located near health centers that offer birth control, emergency contraception, or abortion services.
Advocacy organization Legal Voice shares an example of this in a 2018 guide to CPCs.
Here, Legal Voice reviewed Google search results for local abortion services by Googling “abortion yakima” and “abortion vancouver wa.”
A CPC called “Life Choices Pregnancy Medical Center” appeared in the search results for “abortion yakima.”
Viewing the list of providers served by Google search in Google Maps showed Life Choices Pregnancy Medical Center located mere blocks from Planned Parenthood – Yakima Health Center.
A CPC called “Options360° Clinic” appeared in the search results for “abortion vancouver wa.”
Viewing the list of providers served by Google search in Google Maps showed Options360° Clinic located just across the highway from Planned Parenthood – Vancouver Health Center.
Ask about all available services
You may also be able to spot red flags by calling the organization and asking about its services.
A reputable health clinic will be transparent about what services it offers and provide a referral for any services it doesn’t.
If the organization doesn’t offer contraceptives like condoms or abortion services, ask if they can refer you to a clinic or provider who does.
The organization is likely a CPC if the person you’re speaking with:
- won’t refer you to a birth control or abortion provider
- encourages you to come into the clinic for an appointment to talk about your request for contraceptive or abortion services
- says they’ll refer you to a birth control or abortion provider if you come into the clinic for a consultation
- promises financial aid or other support if you continue the pregnancy
- only offers information about fertility awareness methods for birth control
- says negative things about condoms or other forms of birth control, abortion, or sex
- claims that abortion is unsafe or illegal (neither is true)
CPCs are fake clinics designed to look like real health centers. Their goal is to lure people who are or may become pregnant into their organization to pressure them into giving birth.
To do this, CPCs often use the same or similar language as real health centers in their advertisements. It’s natural to be confused by this and accidentally make an appointment at a CPC — in fact, CPC workers count on it.
If you’re in the waiting room or just left your appointment, the following can help you determine whether the organization you just left or are currently at is a CPC.
Things to watch for
Take note of the posters or bulletins on the walls in the waiting room, mobile van, or office room.
Do they emphasize that pregnancy is scary? Do they ask you to “choose life”? Do they talk about the love of Christ or make other religious statements? Do they take a negative stance on premarital sex?
If so, you might be at a CPC.
If you take a pregnancy test during your appointment, pay attention to or reflect on the way the administrator handles your results. If the administrator delays giving you your result, refuses to give you your results, or will not give the result in writing, the organization is likely a CPC.
If your pregnancy test result is positive, CPC workers may begin to talk with you as if you’ve already decided to continue with the pregnancy. They may offer you baby clothes, diapers, or other material items to encourage you to prepare for childbirth.
They may also present a model of a fetus or a doll resembling a newborn infant for you to hold — especially if you’ve expressed that you’re unsure about carrying the pregnancy to term.
If you ask about abortion, a CPC worker may redirect the conversation back to raising a child yourself or considering adoption.
If they do talk with you about abortion, a CPC worker will usually say that abortion is unsafe (which is untrue) or that abortion can cause infertility, cancer, and mental health conditions (also untrue).
In some cases, they may attempt to reassure you that you have “lots of time” to get an abortion, regardless of whether this is actually true. This tactic can cause pregnant people to miss the legal window for abortion in their state or region.
If you ask about birth control, take note of what methods they do and don’t offer. The organization is likely a CPC if they’re unable to provide information about or administer:
Generally, a CPC only offers information about fertility awareness methods. Fertility awareness methods may also be called the rhythm method or natural family planning.
How to leave an uncomfortable appointment
If you begin to suspect you’re at a CPC, it may be tempting to bolt out the front door. If you feel like you can safely do so, this very well may be your best bet.
But if you don’t realize it right away or are already in a back room discussing sensitive health information, you may prefer to make a less conspicuous exit.
If you’re in conversation with someone, you might say something like:
- “This has been really helpful. Thank you so much for the information.”
- “I’m not ready to commit to anything. Can I think about it and follow up with you later this week?
- “I got everything I need for now, so I’m going to head out.”
If you’re sitting alone or are waiting for a worker to meet with you, gather your belongings and begin to head to the nearest exit.
If a worker asks you where you’re going and you don’t want to say you’re leaving, you might try:
- “My fiancé just called, so I’m going to step outside for a moment.”
- “I need to feed the parking meter — be right back!”
- “My car alarm is going off and I don’t know why.”
Once you’re in a safe and secure place, you may find it helpful to talk about your experience with a trusted partner, friend, or other loved one.
A phone call or appointment with a CPC can be a traumatic event. You might feel shocked, confused, fearful, sad, or angry afterward. You might be irritable, have difficulty focusing, or have trouble sleeping. These and more are common reactions to trauma. Learn how to move forward and begin recovery.
Most city and county health departments offer family planning services, including contraception, pregnancy testing, and prenatal care. You can find your local health department via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s
Planned Parenthood clinics also offer a variety of family planning services, as well as medication abortion and surgical abortion procedures. You can find your nearest Planned Parenthood via the organization’s online search engine.
You can also use one of the online abortion provider finders below:
Remember: A real healthcare center is open about what services are and aren’t performed there.
They’re also staffed by real healthcare professionals whose credentials are readily available online and in person. Many clinicians, for example, have their degrees on display in their reception area or office.
True healthcare professionals typically do not pressure you to make certain decisions about sex, birth control, pregnancy, or childbirth.
Each guide offers an overview of what options are available and highlights free or lower-cost locations in all 50 states and Washington, DC.
Whether you’re pregnant, considering becoming pregnant, or want to prevent pregnancy, you deserve accurate, unbiased care and information.
A CPC might sound like a helpful resource — especially if you’re concerned about unwanted pregnancy — but these centers rarely provide medical care.
Tess Catlett is a sex and relationships editor at Healthline, covering all things sticky, scary, and sweet. Find her unpacking her inherited trauma and crying over Harry Styles on Twitter.