Crisis pregnancy centers pose health risk to teenage girls, experts say

November 08, 2019

3 minute read


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Andrea Swartzendruber, PhD, MPH

Andrea Swartzendruber

The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, or SAHM, and the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, or NASPAG, released a position statement in The Journal of Adolescent Health which highlighted the risks that crisis pregnancy centers pose to pregnant teens by spreading misinformation and limiting the information available to teens.

“Many [crisis prevention centers (CPCs)] give the impression that they are full medical clinics and provide services that they do not actually offer”, Andrea SwartzendruberPhD, MPH, co-author of the position paper and assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, said Infectious diseases in children. “For example, some CPCs call themselves ‘medical centers’ or ‘clinics’. Additionally, CPC URLs frequently include the words “abortion” and “choice”.

A separate policy forum published in the AMA Journal of Ethics noted that most CPCs have religious affiliations and many operate as part of an umbrella network or organization, such as the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Birthright International, Care Net or Heartbeat International. According to the authors, in 2010, CPCs outnumbered abortion clinics in the United States.

Additionally, the authors stated that many centers receive government funding. The United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform reported in 2006 that more than $30 million had been paid to more than 50 centers between 2001 and 2005.

Although CPCs continue to receive federal funding, Planned Parenthood — a center providing a wide variety of sexual health information and services, including testing for sexually transmitted infections and providing contraception — no longer receives funding. Federal via Title X.

According to CNN, receiving this funding would force Planned Parenthood to stop informing patients about abortion services.

California passed a law in 2015 that required unlicensed CPCs to disclose that they are not licensed medical facilities. The bill, known as the Reproductive FACT – Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency – Act, also required centers to educate women about services provided by the state, including family planning, prenatal care, abortions and other services.

In 2017, the Supreme Court heard a case filed by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates that argued the law violated CPCs’ First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court sided with the CPCs on June 26, 2018, in a 5-4 vote.

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SAHM and NASPAG have the following positions on CPCs, their effect on young pregnant women, and the role of government in these centres:

  • By refusing to adhere to standards of medical and ethical practice, CPCs pose a health risk to adolescents.
  • Only centers that provide accurate and comprehensive information should receive government support.
  • CPCs and their employees should be held to established standards of medical and ethical care.
  • Schools should not provide sex education through CBD or other programs that do not provide specific and comprehensive health options.
  • Digital media platforms, including search engines, should enforce policies against misleading advertising promoted by CPCs.
  • Health care providers should be trained on CBD and provide this information to their young patients so that they can seek safe and quality sources of sexual and reproductive health information and care.

“There are a number of steps providers can take to ensure patients have access to accurate and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and safe, quality health care,” Swartzendruber said. “Providers should be aware of CPCs operating in their local areas and help educate patients about the limitations of CPC services.”

“Suppliers can also serve as advocates. Health professionals can use their credibility and expertise to educate the public, politicians and decision-makers about the extensive evidence supporting comprehensive approaches to sexuality education and the health risks CBD poses individual, family and public. – by Katherine Bortz

The references:

Bryant AG, Swartz JJ. Ethics AMA J. 2018; doi:10.1001.journalofethics.2018.20.3.pfor1-1803.

SCOTUSblog. National Institute of Family and Life Advocates c. Becerra. https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/national-institute-family-life-advocates-v-becerra/. Accessed October 31, 2019.

Swartzendruber A, et al. J teenager Health. 2019; doi:10.1016/j.jadolhealth.2019.08.008.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial information.

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