By Kathy Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project
On July 1, 2013, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation (NPCVF) released Crisis Pregnancy Centers Revealed, Part II: An Investigative Update on Virginia CPCs. From June 2012 to June 2013, NPCVF engaged in a year-long investigation of crisis pregnancy centers throughout Virginia. Crisis Pregnancy Centers Revealed, Part II is a follow-up to NPCVF’s 2009 CPC investigation and report.  It provides updated information about the harm CPCs pose to women in Virginia. Over the next three weeks on this blog, we will highlight features of the report, discussing NPCVF’s investigative findings, recent concerning trends in other states regarding the funding of CPCs, the connection between CPCs and Virginia’s forced ultrasound law, and policy recommendations to combat the harms of CPCs.
July 1, 2013 marked the one year anniversary of Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law. Anyone who watches TV, reads the newspaper, listens to the radio, or surfs the Internet probably saw the national attention given to Virginia in 2012 regarding legislators’ attempts to undermine a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health care choices. Perhaps the most contentious bill of the 2012 Virginia General Assembly session, the mandatory ultrasound law requires that a woman undergo an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion, even if she does not consent to the test and even if her doctor does not recommend it.*
News coverage of the mandatory ultrasound bill focused on the bill’s initial mandate of an invasive ultrasound (later amended to mandate a trans-abdominal ultrasound) rather than on the 24-hour waiting period, a delay tactic that imposes additional costs and restricts a woman’s access to abortion, or the provision buried within the law that directs the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to publish and maintain a list of so-called no-cost ultrasound providers. The statute also compels abortion providers to present this list to any woman who enters its facility seeking termination of a pregnancy.
Since the law took effect on July 1, 2012, VDH has directly referred women to CPCs through its list of so-called “No Cost Ultrasound Providers.” In fact, CPCs are the only facilities on VDH’s so-called “No Cost Ultrasound Providers.”
As NPCVF’s report outlines, this is dangerous for several reasons:
  • VDH is a medically-based government agency, created to serve the public health of all Virginians, and has the responsibility to refer patients only to health-care facilities that meet basic and appropriate standards of care. But, by referring women to CPCs, VDH is failing to meet this basic obligation by legitimizing CPCs’ use of deception, manipulation, and medical misinformation.
  • The purpose of the so-called no-cost ultrasound list is to provide women with information about where to access an ultrasound prior to abortion. By including CPCs on this list, which do not refer or provide abortion – and in fact attempt to dissuade clients from seeking this option, VDH is promoting a list that does not comply with the purpose of the list itself.
It is deeply troubling that VDH is knowingly directing Virginian women to CPCs, organizations with a documented history of providing biased counseling, emotional manipulation, medical misinformation and, at some CPCs surveyed in NPCVF’s report, denial of documentation for her intended abortion. Without a verified ultrasound image, women who go to CPCs may be forced to repeat their ultrasound procedure (and restart the 24-hour waiting period) once reaching a comprehensive reproductive health facility.
The mandatory ultrasound law works with CPCs to further restrict the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable women from accessing honest, comprehensive reproductive health care services. As NPCVF’s report finds, the women most impacted by Virginia’s 24-hour waiting period and forced ultrasound requirements (young women, low-income women, women in rural areas, and women of color)  are also those most heavily recruited by the Commonwealth’s CPCs.
Other states’ legislatures work to promote CPCs too, as part of the coordinated nationwide effort to chip away at Roe v. Wade. Recent budget legislation in Ohio provides nearly $5 million dollars in grants to the over 100 CPCs in the state, serving as a warning for Virginians as we approach the next General Assembly session. In Ohio, the most vulnerable populations are also the most affected by anti-choice legislators’ promotion of CPCs. The grant money provided to CPCs through the Ohio budget diverts federal TANF dollars, which was intended to be used for cash support for mothers and their children.
As we saw last week, CPCs advertise free services, but in reality the most vulnerable women pay a steep price.
Check back next week – we will highlight policy recommendations to combat the harms of CPCs. You can take action to tell the Virginia Department of Health that CPCs harm women. Want to learn more about and/or get involved with the ACLU of Virginia’s work to protect the constitutional rights of all Virginians?  Sign up for our E-News and/or Grassroots Lobbying Action Alerts.
*The law includes two exceptions: a woman who is a victim of rape or incest and has reported the crime to the police is not required to undergo an ultrasound, and a woman who lives more than 100 miles from the clinic must have her ultrasound completed more than two hours before the abortion.