WACO, Tex. — With free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, along with diapers, parenting classes and even temporary housing, pregnancy centers are playing an increasingly influential role in the anti-abortion movement. While most attention has focused on scores of new state laws restricting abortion, the centers have been growing in numbers and gaining state financing and support.
A truck sponsored by an anti-abortion group in Waco was parked across the street from a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Largely run by conservative Christians, the centers say they offer what Roland Warren, head of Care Net, one of the largest pregnancy center organizations, described as “a compassionate approach to this issue.”
As they expand, they are adding on-call or on-site medical personnel and employing sophisticated strategies to attract women, including Internet search optimization and mobile units near Planned Parenthood clinics.…
Pregnancy centers, while not new, now number about 2,500, compared with about 1,800 abortion providers. Jeanneane Maxon of Americans United for Life estimated that the centers see about a million clients annually, with another million attending abstinence and other programs. Abortion rights advocates have long called some of their approaches deceptive or manipulative. Medical and other experts say some dispense scientifically flawed information, exaggerating abortion’s risks….
The centers defend their practices and information. “Women who come in are constantly telling us, ‘Abortion seems to be my only alternative and I think that’s the best thing to do,’ ” said Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, which she described as a “Christ-centered” organization with 1,100 affiliates. “Centers provide women with the whole choice.”
One pregnant woman, Nasya Dotie, 21, single, worried about finishing college and disappointing her parents, said she was “almost positive I was going to have an abortion.”
A friend at her Christian university suggested visiting Care Net of Central Texas. She met with a counselor, went home and considered her options. She returned for an ultrasound, and though planning not to look at the screen, when a clinician offered, she agreed. Then, “I was like, ‘That’s my baby. I can’t not have him.’ ”
Thirteen states now provide some direct financing; 27 offer “Choose Life” license plates, the proceeds from which aid centers. In 2011, Texas increased financing for the centers while cutting family planning money by two-thirds, and required abortion clinics to provide names of centers at least 24 hours before performing abortions. In South Dakota, a 2011 law being challenged by Planned Parenthood requires pregnancy center visits before abortions.
Cities like Austin, Baltimore and New York have tried regulating centers with ordinances requiring them to post signs stating that they do not provide abortions or contraceptives, and disclosing whether medical professionals are on-site. Except for San Francisco’s, the laws were blocked by courts or softened after centers sued claiming free speech violations. Similar bills in five states floundered. Most legal challenges to “Choose Life” license plates failed, although a North Carolina court said alternate views must be offered.
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