Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate's group refers pregnant people to fake 'medical' centers

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Wisconsin Republican Kevin Nicholson founded and ran a conservative nonprofit advocacy group with an anti-abortion agenda.

Kevin Nicholson, a Republican candidate running for governor of Wisconsin, in 2019 founded and ran No Better Friend Corp., a tax-exempt conservative advocacy group whose focus includes opposition to abortion. The group's efforts include pushing pregnant people to avoid abortion by referring them to so-called "crisis pregnancy centers," which he called "a super tactical way" of achieving that end.

Nicholson, who is running in the Republican primary for a chance to unseat Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in this fall's midterm elections, has said he favors banning abortion with no exceptions, not even in cases where the mother's life may be at risk. This week, the anti-abortion group Pro-Life Wisconsin's Victory Fund PAC endorsed Nicholson over his Republican primary opponent, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

"I'm honored to have the endorsement of @ProLifeWI as we move forward in this gubernatorial campaign," Nicholson tweeted on Tuesday. "As governor, I'll end state funding of Planned Parenthood and initiate state funding of existing Pregnancy Resource Centers throughout Wisconsin."

There are roughly 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the United States. The Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health explains what they do:

These fake centers are funded by anti-abortion groups and go by different names like "crisis pregnancy centers" (CPCs) and "pregnancy resource centers." Their aim is to prevent people who are pregnant from accessing abortion in a timely manner. They advertise services such as pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, counseling, and resources. Some even say they offer abortion referrals. However, in reality, they fail to provide medically accurate information and even mislead women about their abortion care options.

The website Choose Life Wisconsin lists dozens of CPCs in the state. One of them, for example, is the Abiding Care Center in Medford, which claims to offer pregnancy testing, ultrasound services, and medical referrals.

According to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health, "These fake centers often use manipulative tactics to get pregnant people to delay real counseling or medical care until it's too late for a legal abortion."

The Wisconsin Women's Health Alliance conducted a study of 20 Wisconsin CPCs and found "100% of Wisconsin-based CPCs advertise 'options counseling' on their websites, yet they refuse to offer information on the full range of options available to pregnant people, and actively counsel against abortion." It also noted that many of them shame and frighten patients into continuing with unwanted pregnancies by claiming that there is a high chance they would experience "mental health challenges" if they had an abortion.

A 2018 report in the American Medical Association's Journal of Ethics said that while CPCs are technically legal, they "do not meet the standards of accepted medical ethics."

"Despite looking like legitimate clinics, most CPCs are not licensed ... and their staff are not licensed medical professionals," the report's authors found. "By placing ideology over accurate and comprehensive counseling, CPCs violate respect for a woman's autonomy by failing to give her the tools necessary to make the decision that is best for her life and circumstances."

The centers "have a vested interest in the decision outcomes of their clients and are not impartial observers," Kimberly Kelley, director of the gender studies program at Mississippi State University, told the American Independent Foundation. "CPCs also compel clients to fulfill religiously oriented obligations (regardless of clients' own beliefs) like attending church services in exchange for material aid such as maternity clothes and formula."

In the current political climate and with a well-funded anti-abortion movement, CPCs continue to thrive with "unprecedented access" to both state and federal dollars, Kelley said. Wisconsin is one of several states in which abortion bans would automatically come into force again if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide. Richard Uihlein, a wealthy Wisconsin businessman and Republican megadonor, has given millions of dollars to anti-abortion Republican candidates like Nicholson.

The group Nicholson founded in 2019, No Better Friend Corp. is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization that takes its name from the Marines' unofficial slogan, "No better friend, no worse enemy." Nicholson emphasizes his service in the Marine Corps between 2004 and 2009 when talking to voters.

Nicholson served as the group's founder and CEO, according to the organization's 2020 tax filings. His campaign website says, "Kevin founded and previously served as the volunteer President & CEO of No Better Friend Corp.," while the group's podcast landing page calls him its "volunteer president." The group's website states that it "focuses on promoting conservative ideas and approaches in the areas of economic growth, education, health care, promoting a culture of life, and national defense."

"The ultimate mission is to move the conservative movement forward, both in our state and beyond," Nicholson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2019.

During a conversation on the podcast in November 2020 with Claire Culwell, the author of a book called "Survivor: An Abortion Survivor's Surprising Story of Choosing Forgiveness and Finding Redemption," Nicholson said, "Crisis pregnancy centers are a super tactical way to help protect people who are facing difficult situations and try to get them to protect life and embrace life."

No Better Friend Corp.'s former executive director, Darryl Carlson, was one of 10 Republicans who made a fraudulent attempt to award Wisconsin's electoral votes to former President Donald Trump in 2020 despite Joe Biden having won in the state. Soon after Nicholson announced his candidacy for governor, Carlson's name was scrubbed from the No Better Friend Corp. website, and Carlson's LinkedIn profile now identifies him as a fire support officer for the National Guard. 

Nicholson hasn't always opposed abortion. In 2000, when he was the president of the College Democrats of America, Nicholson spoke onstage at the Democratic National Convention. "We care about a woman's right to choose," he said at the time.

Nicholson, a graduate of Harvard Business School and a management consultant, ran in the Wisconsin's Republican primary race for U.S. Senate in 2018. He lost the primary contest to Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir, who in turn lost the general election to incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.