While a group of crisis pregnancy center (CPC) operators and religious organizations hopes to overturn a City of Austin ordinance meant to make their mission more transparent — requiring them to post signs advising that they don’t make referrals to abortion providers or offer contraception — a new fact sheet by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas details a history of misleading practices at CPCs around the state.
You can read the fact sheet embedded below.
Problems outlined in the report include state-funded CPCs handing out medical misinformation, and mixing religious messages into their counseling. The fact sheet includes data introduced by Texas Independent reporting on violations by CPCs, and concludes the unregulated, unlicensed centers — which receive increasingly generous state funding while Texas cuts its support for family planning — are wasting some $8.3 million in taxpayer dollars.
According to a 2009 investigation by NARAL, 67 percent of CPCs the group visited provided prayer or religious counseling, both of which violate federal Charitable Choice Act regulations and rules in the state program administered by the Texas Pregnancy Care Network (TPCN).
That state contractor, which is also responsible for inspecting CPCs it funds, requires they “agree not to promote the teaching or philosophy of any religion while providing services to the client.”
Citing the Texas Independent, the report noted that between 2006 and 2010, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has never conducted an on-site evaluation of the program, and that almost 25 percent of CPCs investigated employed at least one counselor who was not vetted by the Department of Public Safety and Family Protective Services.
The services offered by counselors — whose only training requires a workshop, and who aren’t obligated to be licensed or supervised — are reimbursed at a higher rate than medical and mental-health professionals who provide women’s health services to Medicaid patients.
Additionally, during its 2009 visits, NARAL found several instances of medical inaccuracy, such as a suggested link between abortion and breast cancer, overstating fictional “post-abortion stress syndrome,” and claiming that condoms fail to effectively prevent the spread of STDs.
Despite these violations, the Texas Legislature added $300,000 increase to the $8 million per biennium it already to TPCN, and cut funding to regulated, low-cost family planning regulated centers like Planned Parenthood by $74 million.
Last year, the report notes, CPCs statewide served less than 13,500 clients. Planned Parenthood, facing massive budget cuts, served more than 33,000 in the capital region alone.
Complaints about misleading information from some nearby CPCs led the Austin City Council, in April 2010, to unanimously pass a measure requiring notices outside their centers to clarify that they don’t provide abortion references or birth control.
Now, the CPCs are fighting back in federal court, claiming the city ordinance is an attack on free speech rights and religious freedom.
Jeanneane Maxon, general counsel of Care Net, an organization that represents plaintiff Austin LifeCare along with more than 1,000 CPCs nationwide, told the Texas Independent the disclaimer is “unconstitutional.” She said she’s confident the Austin ordinance, like a similar measure in Baltimore, will be struck down.
“Centers like Austin LifeCare, which provide hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free services annually and empower women to make informed decisions about pregnancy and sexual health, should not be subjected to inappropriate governmental interference,” Maxon wrote in an email.
When asked about complaints against with CPCs, including that they provide misleading information meant to ensure women avoid abortions, Maxon called Austin LifeCare “an excellent example of the integrity” found in the Care Net network.
“Their services are honest, non-coercive and care for the whole individual by helping her find answers to her practical needs, offering emotional support, and, if she desires, spiritual encouragement,” wrote Maxon. “Centers like Austin LifeCare are committed to providing clients who seek information about abortion risks with an accurate interpretation of the data on connections between abortion and potential health risks.”
All client material on abortion procedures and abortion risks is medically referenced and sourced, reviewed by a medical professional, and deemed accurate, said Maxon.
An investigation by the Texas Independent earlier this year found Austin LifeCare had conflated religious and educational material, and instructed their volunteers to include references to Christianity in mentoring sessions with pregnant women.
The center, which has received more than $1 million in federal grants, also encouraged volunteers to offer patients a pamphlet called, “A Woman’s Right to Know,” which says there is a link between abortion and breast cancer — a point medical organizations like the National Cancer Institute have explicitly countered.
A NARAL spokesman called Austin’s disclaimer ordinance a “victory” in combating CPCs’ often deceptive practices.
“The Austin City Council simply said that organizations must be truthful and upfront with women about the services they provide. Regardless of anyone’s position on abortion, we all should agree that women should not be misled about their health care options,” said Blake Rocap of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “The city council’s action reinforces this core commonsense value.”
Maxon said the city offered its opposition to the CPCs’ call for a preliminary injunction request on Thursday, and asked the court to dismiss the case. The centers will file their response on Nov. 7, before the court begins hearing the case.
An earlier version of this story included an incorrect link to the NARAL report. The post has been updated with the correct fact sheet below:Alternatives to Abortion Services Program, austin lifecare, Care Net, City of Austin, crisis pregnancy centers, naral pro-choice texas