Crisis pregnancy centers in Colorado steer patients away from abortion providers
The centers fill gaps in health care, but critics say community members are ‘manipulated’
The interior of A Caring Pregnancy Center in Pueblo. The center says it exists to help pregnant women know and understand all their options. (Courtesy of Tamra Axworthy/A Caring Pregnancy Center)
Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling was overturned in June, Colorado has become an oasis for abortion and other reproductive health care. The Reproductive Health Equity Act passed during the state’s recent legislative session and guarantees a person’s right to make reproductive health care decisions without government interference.
Crisis pregnancy centers — also known as alternative pregnancy centers and women’s health centers — attempt to steer pregnant people away from receiving care such as abortions. The centers are nonprofit organizations that advertise health care such as free pregnancy tests, abortion counseling, options counseling, ultrasounds and help during and after pregnancy.
However, the centers do not have to abide by a medical code of ethics and do not offer abortion services, including miscarriage treatment. They are funded through donations, religiously-affiliated charities and, sometimes, federal funding for supplies like baby formula and diapers, according to Kayla Frawley, abortion rights and reproductive rights director for ProgressNow Colorado.
Health care inequities
In Colorado, there are 51 centers, outnumbering the state’s roughly 20 abortion providers. In the United States, there is a 3-to-1 ratio of crisis pregnancy centers to abortion clinics. Frawley said many centers are located in rural and impoverished areas, where they disproportionately target Latino communities.
“They’re really preying on our brown communities and our immigrant communities specifically who deal with very unique barriers already to abortion care and reproductive health services,” Frawley said.
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Boulder Pregnancy Resource Center offers options counseling, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, baby and toddler clothes, parenting classes, housing resources, baby formula and baby showers, according to Connie Weiskopf, executive director for BPRC in Boulder.
Weiskopf is Christian and believes that life begins at conception, but she said she doesn’t push her beliefs onto others. She said she trains her staff not to be judgmental or make patients feel persuaded into making any decisions.
Options counseling at the clinic is intended to educate pregnant people on three options: abortion, adoption and becoming a parent. The center will connect patients with adoption agencies or provide parental support like parenting classes, but it does not offer referrals to abortion services.
“The internet is full of it, and there’s no lack of resources for that,” Weiskopf said. “They don’t refer to us, and we don’t refer to them.”
Weiskopf said she or one of the center’s advocates will “be there emotionally” for patients when they receive an abortion. The center offers one-on-one counseling and group classes for people “struggling” and “feeling the regret or the shame” after having an abortion.
They don’t refer to us, and we don’t refer to them.
– Connie Weiskopf, executive director for BPRC in Boulder, on abortion providers
A lot of the services offered and supplies provided by the centers fill gaps that health care isn’t, according to Aurea Bolaños Perea, strategic communication director for Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. This leads to community members being “manipulated” into seeking care at the centers.
“Of course our community members have to turn to clinics such as these to seek care,” Bolaños Perea said. “But what is not fair is that they are still open under the guise that they offer medical services when they don’t.”
Since the overturning of Roe, Frawley said adding intersectionality to reproductive rights is important. She said a reproductive framework that addresses racial inequities is essential to fight for reproductive health care like abortion, because systemic racism has played into such care.
“If we’re not advocating and prioritizing the issues that impact those people, we’re not ever going to get to a place where we have equitable reproductive care for anybody,” Frawley said. “When we’re thinking about crisis pregnancy centers, we have to keep at the forefront who they are impacting and why.”
Centers have religious ties
A Caring Pregnancy Center in Pueblo provides services that are similar to those at BPRC. However, some services discussed on the center’s website appear exclusive. For example, baby showers are offered for expecting parents, but only “for the most committed participants in any ACPC Life Services Programs.”
Tamra Axworthy, CEO of ACPC, said that after attending four six-week sessions, clients are considered committed and can participate in a baby shower during their third trimester.
Bolaños Perea said many centers offer free services but ask for things in return, such as counseling, classes or volunteer work.
ACPC, which has been at its Pueblo location for 29 years, also has a van to provide mobile ultrasounds and pregnancy tests. The van will drive to partner agencies, homeless shelters and soup kitchens that don’t provide ultrasounds and pregnancy tests. Axworthy said the van will also park strategically in town to allow walk-ups.
Like BPRC, ACPC offers post-abortion care. It’s a multiple-week program called Forgive and Set Free, and it has a ceremony at the end. Axworthy said the program is biblically based, but people do not need to be religious to participate.
The outreach ACPC and centers like it offer competes with abortion providers and makes navigating abortion care harder for patients, according to Bolaños Perea.
After the end of Roe, Bolaños Perea said she has seen an increase in other outreach measures from crisis pregnancy centers, such as bus stop chair ads and billboards. Frawley said people traveling out of state to get an abortion in Colorado could be deceived into thinking a center will provide the care they need. In some cases, abortion or other reproductive care is delayed because of the persuasive tactics the centers use.
Frawley has not seen an increase in centers since Roe v. Wade was overturned, but she believes more will be built in states that now lack abortion care, and Colorado.
“I have no doubt in my mind that there are plans to open up more, and we do have to figure out a way to regulate them as they are now and to halt the development, because they’re not real clinics. They’re not real health care centers,” she said.
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