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Why some pro-life centers offer “abortion consults”

Pro-abortion pushback puts a spotlight on online marketing methods of pregnancy ministries


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Why some pro-life centers offer “abortion consults”

Last month, tech companies Yelp and Google introduced new policies to distinguish pregnancy centers from abortion providers online. Yelp will now include a consumer notice with entries for pro-life pregnancy centers, saying that they “typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite.” Google will no longer allow pro-life pregnancy centers to show up in the local search results box for queries such as “abortion clinics near me.”

These changes add to the increasing pushback pro-life pregnancy centers have faced from all sides this year. Local ordinances targeting their advertising practices, aggressive comments from lawmakers, and outright vandalism are all pushing the narrative that pregnancy centers are “fake clinics.” Much of the pushback stems from misinformation and a misunderstanding of how medical pregnancy centers operate. For instance, not all medical pregnancy centers are state-licensed medical facilities because they function as private doctor’s offices, operating under the license of a physician who serves as medical director. Yelp’s statement makes a broad assumption without confirming with each center what staff it has on hand. That frequently includes licensed physicians, registered nurses, and trained sonographers.

But some of the pushback points to frustration with the online marketing practices of pro-life pregnancy centers. Abortion supporters take issue with certain language pregnancy centers often use on websites that could imply they offer or refer for abortions. Even some pro-lifers consider such language dishonest. The pro-life pregnancy centers that offer things such as “abortion consultations” defend them on the grounds that it helps them reach their target audience—women actively seeking abortions—with critical information about abortion and its alternatives.

The Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend in Corpus Christi, Texas, advertises a “Pre-Abortion Consult” on the “Pregnancy Services” page of its website. The service includes a pregnancy test, an ultrasound exam, a “Complete Pregnancy and Abortion Options Consultation,” and “Medical, Insurance, and Community Support Referrals.” On the page for the Pre-Abortion Consultation, the webpage says, “If you are considering abortion, your first step is a Free Abortion Consult.”

In an article published at the end of July, The Washington Post drew attention to the center’s website and its use of this and other phrases, but the center’s director, Jana Pinson, told WORLD she sees no reason to change it.

“We advertise abortion information because we actually give—and we are the source of—abortion information,” she said, noting that the center is the go-to location in the area, especially since the community hasn’t had a nearby abortion provider in almost a decade. She said center staff members inform women in these consultations about the costs, risks, and procedures involved in an abortion. “We do do the pre-abortion consult,” she said.

Anne O’Connor, vice president of legal affairs at the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, said that NIFLA advises pregnancy centers that use this language to list what an abortion consultation entails and to be clear if they don’t perform or refer for abortions. “We don't want women coming to us thinking they could get an abortion,” said O’Connor. “I mean, that just makes for a very awkward situation and a very mad customer,” an outcome that she said doesn’t help efforts to build strong relationships with communities. But she pointed to the high customer satisfaction rate among pregnancy centers as evidence that misled customers is not the norm.

Pinson said she and her staff use other means to clarify to possible clients that they don’t perform or refer for abortions. Each page of the website includes a disclaimer at the bottom that says, “Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend does not offer or refer for pregnancy terminations or birth control.” She said that in phone calls, her staff clarifies with every caller that the center doesn’t perform or refer for abortions. The first piece of paper clients receive during their visits is a Request for Services form that includes a standalone paragraph saying the same thing.

Additionally, paid Google ads from pregnancy centers—including Pinson’s—since 2019 have included a label under the website URL that says “Does not provide abortions.” Andrea Trudden, vice president of communications for the pregnancy center group Heartbeat International, said when Heartbeat learned Google would not allow organizations to advertise unless they’ve disclosed whether or not they provide abortions, Heartbeat encouraged centers to cooperate. “We have no problem sharing what we do,” said Trudden, adding that it didn’t seem to affect the effectiveness of pregnancy centers. To her, that suggests that many women who do online searches for abortion really are looking for information, not for the actual procedure.

Organic search results—those that aren’t sponsored by advertising—don’t include that disclaimer. Pinson said the language of the “abortion consultation” doesn’t hurt anything, but she is open to other ideas “if there were language … that the girls still would click.” In her mind, “the number one thing the girl needs is someone on the other end of the phone,” and that click is the first step to getting her there.

The Human Coalition is a Texas-based pro-life organization that also came under fire this past summer. It uses online marketing and a call center to direct women facing unplanned pregnancies to local pregnancy centers and virtual telehealth appointments. The New York Times discovered 56 web pages linked to the Human Coalition, many advertising a “Free Abortion Consultation.” The Times said disclaimers clarifying that the organization doesn’t provide or refer for abortions usually appeared under the Terms of Service or other places that could be easily missed. But Human Coalition president Jeff Bradford told WORLD, “It’s just a landing page, where it then gets them to call … so you’re talking about seconds” that they’re on the page before “they’re live with a nurse.” As for the language of abortion consultations, he said, “They’re looking for education and information, and that’s what they’re getting.”

“We’re not trying to trick them,” Pinson said. “We are where they are searching for abortion, absolutely. And that’s exactly where we should be.” While sometimes pastors or priests will complain to her that their website doesn’t say they’re pro-life, she said if they included language like that, “no one would come to us. … Why would you come anywhere where you felt like they would judge you? You wouldn’t.”

She said that in all the talk of advertising methods, sometimes people can miss the point that “at the end of the day, a life is lost when they choose abortion, that a life that God created is gone and will never be back. I want every opportunity to give that life a chance.” If one link makes the difference in a woman ending up at a pro-life pregnancy center rather than an abortion facility, “Man, I’m not going to change that button.”

Not all people who recognize the evil of abortion agree with that approach. Jared Ebert is a pastor at Cruciform Bible Church in Indianapolis. He is involved in a small network of Christians who provide Biblical counseling and material support to women and families facing unplanned pregnancies under the name of Miriam Pregnancy Counseling Centers. According to the group, the Miriam PCC network in the Dallas area has helped about 200 families since launching in May 2021 and about 15 families in the Indianapolis area since starting there in June. “We believe that the gospel is the only effective and right way to change the heart or life of a person,” said Ebert.

He praised pro-life pregnancy centers for how well they take care of moms with things like free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, food, and clothing. He said he wants to emulate these centers in that way. But he also wants to distance his group from the advertising methods of some centers. “I don’t know if it’s deceitful, but it’s almost like hiding things behind the curtain,” said Ebert, adding later that he’s come across some pregnancy centers that are “intentionally not telling the whole truth” about the services they offer. “And we don’t want to do that. We … want to be very straightforward with what [we’re] coming in to do.”

Their primary way of connecting with women who are actively seeking abortions is to start conversations with women outside of their local abortion facilities and to go door to door with flyers advertising their services, which they describe as gospel-centered counseling and church support.

“The response from the person is not up to me to decide,” said Ebert. “I am called before God to tell the truth.”


Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for World News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.

@leahsavas

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