A new study, False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers, was released on July 17, 2006 by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA). The study found that 87% of federally funded “pregnancy resource centers,” more commonly knows as crisis pregnancy centers, provided false and misleading information about the physical and mental health effects of abortion and grossly exaggerated the medical risks of abortion. For the report, female investigators telephoned 25 crisis pregnancy centers. Twenty-three of the centers were successfully contacted. Investigators, who posed as pregnant 17 years old girls trying to decide whether or not to have an abortion, were told that abortion leads to breast cancer, infertility, and mental illness. The report found that, under the Bush Administration, crisis pregnancy centers have received over $30 million in federal funding and virtually all of that funding has been funneled through federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding streams.1
“This report shows the clear connection between the anti-choice movement and the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS . “For years, the Bush Administration has claimed that it's simply trying to promote abstinence among teens, when, in fact, it has been using millions of taxpayer dollars to fund groups that hold their right-wing, anti-choice ideology,” Smith said.
Representative Waxman was prompted to examine the scientific accuracy of the information provided by crisis pregnancy centers after a high profile December 2004 report was released by his office analyzing the scientific accuracy of the curricula taught by federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.2 Much like the false and misleading information found in abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula regarding abortion and birth control, crisis pregnancy centers espouse similar rhetoric. In the more recent report, investigators found three major areas of misinformation: “1) the purported relationship between abortion and breast cancer; 2) the purported relationship between abortion and infertility; and 3) the purported relationship between abortion and mental illness.”3
Specifically, the report found that the crisis pregnancy centers provided false and misleading information about a link between abortion and breast cancer, even though there is a medical consensus that induced abortion does not cause an increased risk of breast cancer. Despite this consensus, eight centers told the caller that having an abortion would in fact increase her risk of breast cancer. One center told a caller that, “all abortion causes an increased risk of breast cancer in later years.” Another claimed that research shows a “far greater risk” after an abortion, telling the caller that an abortion would “affect the milk developing in her breasts” and that “some women are finding out that they're having breast cancer later on.” Several centers quantified the claimed risk by saying that the risk of breast cancer increased by as much as 80% following an abortion.4
The report also found that the crisis pregnancy centers provided false and misleading information about the effect of abortion on future fertility. Research shows that abortions in the first trimester, using the most common abortion procedure, do not pose an increased risk for future fertility. Several centers described the risk of abortion-induced infertility as common or high. One center told the caller that damage from abortion could lead to “many miscarriages” or to “permanent damage” so “you wouldn't be able to carry,” and that this is “common” and happens “a lot.” Another center said that, “in the future you could have trouble conceiving another baby” because of scar tissue, a rare side effect of abortion that the caller was told happens to “a lot of women.”5
Finally, the report found that crisis pregnancy centers provided false and misleading information about the mental health effects of abortion. While anti-choice advocates assert the existence of a condition called “post-abortion syndrome,” characterized as “severe long-term emotional harm caused by abortion,” and claim that this condition occurs frequently, research shows that significant psychological stress after an abortion is no more common than after birth.6 However, thirteen centers told investigators the opposite, stating that the psychological effects of abortion are severe and common and that an abortion would cause a wide range of damaging and long-lasting psychological impacts. One center told a caller that, “the rate of suicide in the year following an abortion goes up by seven times.” Other centers described lengthy lists of emotional harms that could result from an abortion such as “guilt…difficulty with making friends, sexual problems…suicidal ideas, sedatives, alcohol, drug use, eating disorders, fear of failure, loneliness, panic…signs of marital stress” and “a downward spiral where they lose friends and family members.”7 When discussing the difference between psychiatric help sought after an abortion compared to that after birth, one center explained that, “having a baby is a normal process and what it does is fulfills a woman. It is fulfilling one of the roles that she has. Abortion is the exact opposite; she is doing something totally contrary to what her role is.”8 One center compared the experience of having an abortion to the experience of going to war, analogizing the post-traumatic stress experiences after an abortion to that seen in soldiers after Vietnam, saying that it “is something that anyone who's had an abortion is sure to suffer from.”9
“Crisis pregnancy centers are using millions of taxpayer dollars to lie and mislead people who are seeking health and medical services, impeding their efforts to make informed and responsible decisions,” Smith said. “This report underscores the Bush Administration's pattern of utter disregard for public health evidence and the lack of any significant oversight of taxpayer dollars. That is the real ‘crisis,'” Smith continued.
The report concludes that “the vast majority of pregnancy centers contacted in this investigation misrepresented the medical consequences of abortion, often grossly exaggerating the risks.” The report further concludes that while “this tactic may be effective in frightening pregnant teenagers and women and discouraging abortion…it denies…teenagers and women vital health information, prevents them from making an informed decision, and is not an accepted public health practice.”10
“Representative Waxman is to be commended for his commitment to continuing to expose the Bush Administration's routine use of vast sums of taxpayer dollars to advance its own narrow, ideologically driven policies at the expense of the health and well-being of the American people,” Smith said.
To view the full report, please visit: http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1080
On July 19, 2006 SIECUS released its most up-to-date resource on funding for crisis pregnancy centers and other entities receiving abstinence-only-until-marriage funding with SIECUS State Profiles: Fiscal year 2005 Edition . To view the publication, including a state-by-state breakdown of funding, please visit the State Profiles.
- False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers ( United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform—Minority Staff, Special Investigations Division, 17 July 2006).
- Ibid., pg. i.
- Ibid., pg. 7.
- Ibid., pg. 8.
- Ibid., pg. 9.
- Ibid., pg. 11.
- Ibid., pg. 12.
- Ibid., pg. 13.
- Ibid., pg. 14.