Assessing Medical Students’ Understanding and Knowledge of Crisis Pregnancy Centers

What Are Crisis Pregnancy Centers?

Pregnancy Counseling Centers, also referred to as crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) or pregnancy resource centers, are non-medical entities whose aim is to dissuade women from seeking legal abortion to terminate pregnancy. They are intentionally advertised as comprehensive medical facilities with licensed clinical professionals. However, they only offer limited, select services and provide misinformation regarding abortion and contraception to prevent women from pursuing these options.


The Search for Information

If a person were to do a Google search of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, one of the first suggested searches is as follows: “What do pregnancy centers offer?” The automated answer provides quotes from “Fact Sheet: Pregnancy Health Centers,” which states that these centers “provide support services, medical care, and resources to women…” In reality, these centers are non-medical entities, which directly contradicts the misinformation provided by the search engine. Furthermore, this information is inherently biased. Among the top search engine hits is an article by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life political activist group that aims to “reduce and ultimately end abortion...” The misinformation regarding pregnancy centers begins as early as an initial inquiry on an internet search engine.


The Issue

CPCs frequently mislead individuals seeking reproductive care and avoid disclosing their financial, political, or religious associations to patients and the public. Moreover, these centers often receive state and federal funding without complying to medical standards of care. According to Heartbeat’s Worldwide Directory of Pregnancy Help, there are 4116 pregnancy centers in the US, and, as of 2017, there are only 808 abortion centers.


Lack of Awareness

Despite the prevalence of CPCs, the general public that may seek care from these centers is often unaware of their deceptive practices. A survey done in 2020 of medical students who are members of the American Medical Association (AMA), an organization focused on healthcare policy/advocacy, showed that only 21.8% of medical students are aware of CPCs and have a comprehensive understanding of their practices, while 14.5% have no understanding at all about CPCs. Almost half of surveyed students, 47.3%, answered that they have some knowledge about CPCs. However, the content and source of their knowledge is unknown, and it is unclear whether their knowledge includes fact-based information about CPCs or includes only their exposure to false advertisements by CPCs. Considering medical students, especially those who have self-selected to be active within a healthcare advocacy organization such as the AMA, are arguably more aware than the general public of issues related to access to care, there is legitimate concern that the general public is being misled regarding practices at CPCs. Those seeking care at CPCs may not realize that they are being misinformed about their health options.


Figure 1. Awareness and understanding among medical students of Crisis Pregnancy Center practices (Source: American Medical Association, 2020).


Conclusion

The survey results highlight medical students’ lack of awareness and understanding of CPCs. CPCs lack transparency regarding their limited scope of services and their anti-contraception and anti-abortion missions. This lack of transparency results in a violation of medical ethics that can be construed as coercive. The current practices of CPCs constitute a public health emergency and pose danger to women seeking comprehensive and evidence-based reproductive healthcare in this country. While CPCs are certainly allowed their free speech and opinion on the matter of abortion, their intentional misinformation campaigns, misleading advertisements, and interference in medical care presents a concern to medical ethics and patient rights. This is an issue that deserves more scrutinizing press, less state and federal funding, and more public awareness and education.


Authors: Neha Siddiqui, Carle Illinois College of Medicine; Sarah Swiezy, Indiana University School of Medicine; Pavithra Wickramage, UNT Health Science Center - Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine; Carly Polcyn, University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences; Candise Johnson, University of Mississippi Medical Center; Leah Genn, Florida State University College of Medicine; Pooja Nair, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine


References:

  1. Family Research Council. A passion to serve: How pregnancy resource centers empower women, help families, and strengthen communities. 2nd ed. downloads.frc.org/EF/EF12A47.pdf. Published 2010. Accessed August 25, 2019

  2. Bryant AG, Levi EE. Abortion Misinformation from Crisis Pregnancy Centers in North Carolina. Contraception. 2012;86(6):752-756. doi:10.1016/j.contraception. 2012.06.001.

  3. Swartzendruber A, Steiner RJ, Newton-Levinson A. Contraceptive Information on Pregnancy Resource Center Websites: A Statewide Content Analysis. Contraception. 2018;98(2):158-162. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2018.04.002.

  4. Covert B, Israel J. “The states that siphon welfare money to stop abortion.” ThinkProgress, 3 Oct. 2016, https://thinkprogress.org/tanf-cpcs-ec002305dd18/

  5. Waxman, Henry A. False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers: Prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman; United States House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform - Minority Staff, Special Investigations Division. United States House of Representatives, 2006.

  6. “Fact Sheet: Pregnancy Help Centers-- Serving Women and Saving Lives” Charlotte Lozier Institute. January 17, 2018. https://lozierinstitute.org/fact-sheet-pregnancy-help-centers-serving-women-and-saving-lives/

  7. “About Us” Charlotte Lozier Institute. 2020. https://lozierinstitute.org/about/

  8. Data Center. Guttmacher Institute. 2020. https://data.guttmacher.org/states?topics=57&state=US

  9. Worldwide Directory of Pregnancy Help. Heartbeat International Affiliates. 2020. https://www.heartbeatinternational.org/worldwide-directory

  10. Rosen J.D. The public health risks of crisis pregnancy centers Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2012; 44: 201-205

  11. Crisis Pregnancy Centers in the U.S.: Lack of Adherence to Medical and Ethical Practice Standards. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2019, 65:6:821-824. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.08.008

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