The dangerous sham of crisis pregnancy centers in Maine

“What is a crisis pregnancy center?”

This is a question I have found myself answering a lot lately, as many people have never heard the term before.

Despite the apparent invisibility of these crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs for short, they are also almost omnipresent. In fact, according to NARAL, CPCs outnumber abortion clinics in the United States. And while CPCs present themselves as being run-of-the-mill reproductive and sexual health centers, they are not actual medical facilities.

This fact alone means two very important things for anyone who would find themselves at a CPC: they are not required to present factual medical information, and they are not HIPAA-regulated. HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is the legislation that protects the privacy of your medical information.

Let’s consider a scenario: A young woman attending the University of Maine in Orono realizes she missed her period and remembers seeing a table on campus for a place called First Step Pregnancy Resource Center, Bangor’s very own CPC, recalling that they offer free pregnancy tests. She goes in, takes the test, and is told she is pregnant.

For any number of reasons, this woman knows that pregnancy is not the right choice for her. Perhaps she’s in an unhealthy relationship, or she has a medical condition that would not allow her to safely continue a pregnancy, or maybe she simply does not want to become a mother, give birth, or be pregnant. (It’s important to note here that adoption, often touted as an alternative to abortion, is an alternative to parenting, not to pregnancy or birth. For someone with tokophobia, a fear of pregnancy, lupus, an autoimmune disease, or someone who simply does not want to be pregnant for 9 months, suggesting adoption does not make sense.)

However, the counselor at First Step tells her that getting an abortion will cause her to develop breast cancer, and that most women who get an abortion regret it. Neither of these statements are true, as the majority of studies have shown no increased risk in breast cancer for those who have had abortions, and 95 percent of those who have abortions do not regret them.

Let’s tweak this scenario a bit, and consider that the pregnancy might be the right choice for this woman. Unfortunately, she’s struggling financially and worries about being able to afford prenatal care, though she knows how important it is for the health of her future child and herself. The financial burden is compounded by the other expenses associated with having a child, from the cost of delivery to formula.

One would think that CPCs like First Step must offer prenatal care. In reality, while these centers pressure individuals to continue pregnancies, they offer little in actual support for those who decide to continue a pregnancy. Because they are not medical facilities, they provide no prenatal care to anyone in need of it.

Either way, beyond getting a free pregnancy test, our imaginary woman doesn’t get much help from First Step. In fact, because they are not HIPAA-regulated, she’s now at risk of having her medical information shared without her permission. If an unhealthy relationship is the reason she is seeking an abortion and her partner came to First Step asking questions, the woman’s safety would be at risk.

In addition to lying about the realities of abortion, CPCs often lie about the realities of abortion clinics, painting them as cold places where abortion is the only option. While there are some abortion clinics across the country that perform that single service, they are places of compassion and care. However, many offer services beyond abortion care.

Mabel Wadsworth Center in Bangor is one such place, where a person can go for regular gynecological health care, STD testing, gender-affirming hormone therapy, birth control, prenatal care, abortion care, and even annual wellness exams. Though Mabel’s serves people from any economic background, it often provides the only option for low-income individuals. In addition to offering financial support, Mabel’s assures that patients can access whatever medical services they need, whether an individual decides to continue a pregnancy or choose abortion.

Though CPCs like First Step Pregnancy Resource Center are regularly dishonest with patients, they are not breaking the law. In fact, many states help fund crisis pregnancy centers–though Maine is thankfully not one of them.

As citizens, how can we fight against these centers that promote falsehoods and harm our communities? One method I have started using is leaving my local CPC a negative online review. It’s quick, easy, and can help a pregnant person in a vulnerable position by letting them know where they won’t receive compassionate care. But we also need to take proactive steps and elect lawmakers who support choice and the autonomy of those who can get pregnant–and hold those who do not accountable. You can also support the right to choose by financially supporting organizations like Mabel Wadsworth Center or the Feminist Collective.

Now that you know what we are up against, what will you do to support choice?

Pictured from left to right are Olivia Pennington, Adya Plourde, Lila Ohland, and Ashlee Atchinson, members of the Feminist Collective at the University of Maine Orono. The Feminist Collective, formerly known as the Student Women’s Association, is a nonpartisan, feminist, and pro-choice organization that works to make the community, both on a local and larger scale, inclusive and intersectional. (Photo courtesy of Meghan Frisard, who is also a member of the Feminist Collective)

About Aspen Ruhlin

Avatar photoAspen Ruhlin is a Client Advocate in the Bangor area, where they help people overcome barriers to accessing healthcare. They have a particular focus on serving the trans community and increasing access to gender-affirming care. In their off time, they enjoy embroidery, gardening, and participating in an array of activism.

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