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Investigators Catch Anti-abortion Centers Lying to Women

by Shreema Mehta

July 18, 2006 – A congressional investigative report yesterday implicated several federally funded organizations in offering bad information about supposed "dangers" of abortions.

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The report looks at so-called "pregnancy resource centers" or "crisis pregnancy centers," counseling organizations that often discourage women from having abortions and prompt them toward alternatives such as adoptions.

Such centers have received a boost in government funding in the past few years. An analysis conducted by the Washington Post in March found that the Department of Health and Human poured over $60 million dollars into these centers.

According to the report, the "vast majority" of pregnancy centers contacted in the probe "misrepresented the medical consequences of abortion, often grossly exaggerating the risks." The Special Investigations Division of the US House of Representatives produced the report at the request of Representative Henry Waxman (D–California).

To conduct the study, female investigators posed as pregnant 17-year-old girls and contacted 23 pregnancy resource centers that have received federal funding. Twenty of the centers reportedly gave false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion.

Eight of the call centers told the investigators that undergoing an abortion can lead to increased risk of breast cancer; three told the investigators that the cancer risk after abortion increases by 50 percent or more; one center put the figure at 80 percent.

The Department of Health and Human poured over $60 million dollars into "pregnancy resource centers."

The National Cancer Institute has determined that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer, according to a fact sheet published on the organization’s website.

Molly Ford, spokesperson for Care-net, a ministry organization that supports 975 pregnancy centers across the United States and Canada, admitted that her organization’s policy is to tell women "there is a possibility between breast cancer and abortion." She told The NewStandard she doesn’t consider the research debunking the breast cancer-abortion link conclusive and that the issue "does warrant further research."

According to the congressional report, seven centers also told the investigators that abortion increases the chances of infertility. One center told the caller that having an abortion can lead to "many miscarriages" or to "permanent damage." One also stated that these pregnancy complications are "common."

In a survey of the existing research on the effect of abortion on fertility, the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, which conducts studies for the federal government, found that "induced abortion does not appear to affect subsequent fertility." The Division also found that studies on the affects of prior abortions on miscarriages were conflicting, but in agreement that one abortion does not increase the likelihood of a miscarriage in future pregnancy. In women who had multiple abortions, one study found an elevated risk of miscarriage and another found no such risk.

One center told testers that having an abortion was the psychological equivalent of fighting in the Vietnam War, and said that post-traumatic stress disorder "is something that anyone who’s had an abortion is sure to suffer from."

In discussing the emotional effects of having an abortion, thirteen centers told the undercover investigators that abortion commonly causes severe, long-lasting psychological effects. One center told testers that having an abortion was the psychological equivalent of fighting in the Vietnam War, and said that post-traumatic stress disorder "is something that anyone who’s had an abortion is sure to suffer from."

The American Psychological Association says that abortions do not cause an increase the likelihood of PTSD or depression. In fact, the PTSD rate is lower for women who have had abortions than women who have not, according to a position paper published on the group’s website.

"Freely chosen legal abortion, particularly in the first trimester, has not been found to be associated with severe psychological trauma, despite the fact that it occurs in the stressful context of unwanted pregnancy," states the APA. The Association goes on to state that "the time of greatest stress is before the abortion" and that even though women’s post-abortion emotions are complex, they are more often positive than negative.

In response to the investigation, NARAL Pro-Choice America spoke out against government funding of the pregnancy resource centers. "Anyone looking for healthcare information or services deserves full, unbiased, and relevant facts. A woman facing an unintended pregnancy is no different," said President Nancy Keenan in a press statement. Keenan accused the federal government of "putting political propaganda before women's health."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


This News Report originally appeared in the July 18, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Shreema Mehta is a staff journalist.

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