When Hana found out she was pregnant, she was five weeks along. As a college student living near Boston, she had numerous options for abortion health care. But she ended up at an anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy center” that she thought was an abortion clinic.
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are religiously-motivated, anti-abortion organizations that masquerade as reproductive health clinics to interfere with access to abortion. The more than 2,500 CPCs across the country provide virtually no medical services, but try to divert women away from abortion by spreading fabricated claims about the dangers of abortion. In Massachusetts, there are 29 CPCs, outnumbering abortion clinics by almost three to one.
Despite the lies and coercion she experienced at the CPC, Hana (last name withheld for privacy) persisted in her search for an abortion and eventually found real healthcare, but she worries about CPCs harming other people.
Ms. spoke with Hana about her CPC experience, the effect it had on her, and why she’s speaking out now.
Carrie Baker: When did you find the CPC?
Hana: I found out that I was pregnant on a Saturday in February, exactly a month before my 19th birthday. I went to the crisis pregnancy center the next Wednesday.
Baker: How did you end up at the CPC?
Hana: After I told my friend about my pregnancy and my decision not to continue it, he searched on google for something like “abortion care services near me.” The thing that came up was Worcester Women’s Clinic.
Baker: What made you think it was an abortion clinic?
Hana: The website used all the right language. I even knew about CPCs before this whole ordeal. I completely fell for it because it made the website seem like a medical clinic. It included stuff about services you may need. It was as if it said, “Abortion is something that we do” without ever actually using those words. It was only when I got there that I was informed, “We don’t actually provide that service.”
They have my first and last name, my phone number, my age, where I go to school and where I live. They have all this information about me, and I have no idea what they are going to do with it.Hana
Baker: How far was the CPC from where you live?
Hana: About an hour. I wanted one far away so there was no chance of anyone seeing me. They said they wouldn’t send me the address until I made an appointment. That was one of the reasons I think I fell for it. Because I was like, “Oh, they don’t want to put the address out there because of ‘pro-life’ protesters.”
I now think it’s so no pro-choice people can raise the alarm and say, “This is a fake clinic!”
Baker: What happened when you got there?
Hana: It was across the street from a Planned Parenthood. The name on the place was different from the name on the website. It was in a building with a sign that said “problem pregnancy.” I actually have a text exchange between myself and a person who worked there because they said to text before you come inside. So I texted and I wrote, “I’m in a building called ‘problem pregnancy.’ I’m a little worried. It may be a crisis pregnancy center. Should I be here?”
They wrote back, “Hana? No worries. The clinic that you’re scheduled with is a clinic that sees women for unplanned pregnancies, and women who are considering abortion. The clinic is there so that you can get the important testing and information you need to make an informed decision before moving forward. It is at no cost to you. If your pregnancy is not viable, which happens a lot in the first trimester, you may not need or even have to pay for an abortion procedure. Most places will charge you between $200 and $250 for that same testing. The clinic you’re at isn’t there to make a decision for you. That is up to you. But the testing is important to get.”
I should have known the second I stepped over the threshold that this place was not what I had been promised. I was sitting in the waiting room and all of these flyers on the corkboard were about adoption and clothing drives and “We can support you.”
So alarms started going off, but I was also incredibly scared about an ectopic pregnancy because I got pregnant on the pill and I took Plan B. I know both of those things increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. I was desperate and this was a way for me to get testing without having to pay and without having to file insurance.
Baker: Was that for privacy reasons?
Hana: Yes. I actually remember I had come up with this excuse because I had to take an Uber to Worcester, which is like $50. I was like, okay, my mom’s going to see this charge. I have to find a way to explain it. And my explanation was, I’m helping a grad student with a research project because they need someone to interview interlocuters and I have experience doing that. Looking back, it was pretty convoluted, but it was the best I could come up with. Additionally, I had not told my mom yet—I just wasn’t ready to at that point—and I didn’t want a charge to my bank account to be the thing that forced me to come clean to her.
Baker: I noticed their website says there are no fees. Was that something that made you want to go there?
Hana: Yes. I am a full-time college student and the resources that I have are extremely limited. I know how expensive abortion can be, and because I wasn’t sure whether my insurance would cover my procedure, I was reticent to spend any money.
Baker: Did they ask you to fill out any forms?
Hana: Yes, and there was no privacy statement whatsoever. And so they have my first and last name, my phone number, my age, where I go to school and where I live. They have all this information about me, and I have no idea what they are going to do with it.
Baker: What happened when they took you back for the consultation?
Hana: I went in and sat down with this woman. She started talking to me. She told me that I needed to start drinking a lot of water before the ultrasound to get a better image. I had other ultrasounds after this, with actual medical professionals, and that was never something that they said you needed to do. So I think it was her just wanting to talk to me and get to know me.
Baker: Did she look like a medical professional?
Hana: She wasn’t wearing medical scrubs. But she referenced that she’d worked or volunteered at a hospital. Later when I prompted her, she was like, “Oh no, no, but Cathy [who did the ultrasound] used to be a nurse.” No one in the office was a medical professional of any kind.
She started asking me about all of my information. She asked me about how I got pregnant and what my relationship was with the “father.” The first thing that stuck out to me was that she kept referring to my “baby.” I found out I was pregnant quite early on and so I pointed out to her, “This is not a baby. It’s an embryo.” She pushed back on that. She was like, “Oh, you know, fetus, zygote, embryo, whatever you want to call it. At the end of the day, it’s still your baby.”
Then she asked me what I wanted to do with my pregnancy.
I said, “Well, I’m 18 years old. And I’m in college. And even though I want to be a mother, this is not something that I can do right now, and it’s not something I can put on a child.”
And she goes, “Well, what does the father want?”
And I said, “He agrees with me completely.”
And she said, “You know if he’s pushing you into this, you can say no. You can make a different choice.”
She walked me through the ultrasound procedure, then she stepped out to talk to Cathy who used to be a nurse.
I was sitting in the room by myself. And I looked over to all the pamphlets that they had. And then the game was up because they were all nauseatingly “pro-life.” They said abortion is murder and you’re killing your baby. All just completely, grossly inaccurate things.
The only reason I stayed at that point was because I was scared for my own health. I wanted to make sure that I was okay. So she came back and took me to the back room where they had this ultrasound machine. I met Cathy who did the ultrasound.
That was when they started to realize that I knew and so they were kind of escalating things. I was lying down and they were doing the ultrasound and Cathy goes, “Do you want to see your baby?” And I said, “No, I don’t need to look at that.” And she goes, “What kind of mother doesn’t want to look at her own baby? Doesn’t want pictures of her own baby?”
I just stayed quiet. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t think there is anything to say to that. She kept going on about, “Oh, you’re so young. And you’re so healthy. This is going to be a completely easy pregnancy for you.” Just so, so much bullshit.
Cathy also told me that my “baby’s heart rate was low” which could be a potential indicator that I was at risk for miscarriage. I don’t know why, but that really scared me. Part of my feeling about terminating my pregnancy was that I was getting to take back my power. I had already had the universe make so many decisions about my body; I wanted the chance to make my own.
After that, I pretty much zoned out and focused my attention over at the wall which I noticed was entirely covered in “pro-life” pamphlets. I was sitting there completely uncomfortable because I also have a full bladder that she’s pressing on, and all I could think was “I need to leave.”
When she told me the pregnancy was normal and not ectopic, I remember breathing a sigh of relief and thinking, “Okay, it’s not an ectopic pregnancy. I’m gonna be okay.”
But another interesting thing that she also told me was that I was nine weeks pregnant. Later when I connected with an actual real doctor, she told me I would have been around five weeks pregnant at that time. When I had the termination about a month after I went to the crisis pregnancy center, I was nine weeks pregnant. They had told me that I was about a month more pregnant than I was.
After the ultrasound, they took me back to the room that I had been in before. Then they really just started laying into me with all of this rhetoric and propaganda. I think the only thing that saved me was that I’m a pre-health student. I study public health. I know the science. I had the capacity to say, “That’s wrong. And you’re wrong. I think it’s time for me to leave.”
Baker: What kinds of things did they say to you?
Hana: They were saying abortion was dangerous. That it could decrease my chances of getting pregnant in the future. She said abortion can cause breast cancer, and it can cause depression.
They said that the probability of my getting pregnant on birth control and plan B is so low that maybe this was meant to happen.
She had all these models of fetuses and there’s one that was probably like four months pregnant, that was very much not an embryo. And she was like, “So this is what your baby would look like right now.”
The other thing she said was that people who have had COVID jabs have increased chances of miscarriage. I don’t understand what that was about.
No one in the office was a medical professional of any kind. … She kept referring to my “baby.” I found out I was pregnant quite early on and so I pointed out to her, “This is not a baby. It’s an embryo.”Hana
Baker: What happened next?
Hana: She was holding this model of a fetus and I’m like, “I think it’s time for me to leave. I feel resolved in my choice. And I know, I’m not going to die. So I think it’s time for me to go.” And then she goes, “Are you sure you don’t want to hear any more information? This is important stuff.” And she starts picking out all of these “pro-life” pamphlets and shoving them towards me.
I just took them and told her, “Okay, I’m gonna go.” And she’s like, “Okay, I’ll text you later because we have your phone numbers. To just make sure that you’re okay, and that you’re comfortable with your decision.” They never ended up doing that.
But I’m worried. It’s somewhat daunting that they have my information. They know how to reach me. That’s scary.
Later that evening, in response to their text, I wrote back, “That’s not a no.” They responded, “The clinic provides testing and consultation to help you.” Then I blocked them.
There were one or two other women there who were clearly not native English speakers. All I’ve been able to think about is that these are women in the same or even more vulnerable positions as I was.Hana
Baker: How did this experience affect you?
Hana: When I found out I was pregnant, I was absolutely terrified. I am a teenager, in my first year of college, and far away from home—the one thing I knew was that I could not bring a child into my world. I felt so lost, like a child who lost their mother in a supermarket. I needed someone to help guide me through this, someone I could trust.
I made the mistake of trusting these people, who did not hesitate to abuse it, and it has forever changed me.
The feelings I felt when I found out were only compounded by this experience. More than anything, it made me feel guilty about my decision. Because for a split second I wondered if maybe I could do this, maybe I should do this. Not only did they try to deceive me, but they tried to lure me into an unachievable dream. And so I felt guilty because I knew that carrying this pregnancy to term was not the right decision for me, but for a second I had let myself fall in love with a dream that would ruin three people’s lives.
One in three women will have an abortion at some point in their lifetime, and they made me feel bad for being one of those women. They tried to make me fear what my future would look like if I did this. They knew I was a vulnerable young woman, and they took advantage of it. The anti-choice movement has poisoned the basic ability of people to get access to accurate information, and I’m aware of that now more than ever.
When I actually connected with a real women’s health clinic after this experience, I was so incredibly skeptical. It was so hard to let myself trust anyone who knew about my health, and I was so guarded with all of my information. Because I’ve had to go through this already once. It’s hard to let yourself be open about this incredibly scary thing.
I am grateful that I was able to not have as bad an experience as some people. But at the same time, when I went there, there were one or two other women there who were clearly not native English speakers. All I’ve been able to think about is that these are women in the same or even more vulnerable positions as I was. Women who either do not have the ability to go to a real doctor or don’t have the understanding to know that this information is not correct. This is the only place that they are able to go because it’s free. And they have to go through this whole process. They’re putting their trust in these people, who know these women are vulnerable, and take advantage of them.
I think that’s one of the ultimate evils, especially when you’re dealing with vulnerable women in this position—saying you shouldn’t even be trusted with your own body. You shouldn’t even be trusted with information that’s accurate. I think that’s truly one of the worst things you can do.
The “counselor” who met with me had this authority about her and it was only because I have been raised to call these things out and because I have the privilege of knowing about the science of reproduction that I was able to say, “This is bullshit.” I think a lot of other people would just believe.
Part of my feeling about terminating my pregnancy was that I was getting to take back my power. I had already had the universe make so many decisions about my body; I wanted the chance to make my own.Hana
Baker: Why are you speaking out now?
Hana: I think that’s why I want to tell my story about this, because other people shouldn’t have to go through this. Other people shouldn’t have to put their trust in someone who isn’t there for them. Pregnancy, especially unplanned pregnancy, is a time of such uncertainty and fear. I want to make sure the groups who would seek to weaponize these feelings are stopped, and part of that is knowing what they look like. These places lose all of their power when we bring them into the light and name them for what they really are. So I guess part of this is personal, too, because I get to take back my power by saying, “I know who you are.”
Hana’s story reveals many of the standard tactics used by CPCs to mislead and coerce pregnant women, including locating nearby an abortion clinic, suggesting they offer abortion services on their websites, refusing to answer direct questions about whether they are a CPC, making inaccurate medical claims about risks of abortion, giving women inaccurate information about how far along their pregnancy is, telling them they may have a miscarriage in which case they could avoid the costs of seeking abortion health care, calling them a “mother” and suggesting that the “father” may be coercing them into an abortion, shaming their decision to have an abortion, raising religious and moral arguments against abortion, showing them plastic fetuses, and collecting their private medical information.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, abortion does not increase the chances of breast cancer or infertility. The American Psychological Association has issued a public interest directorate stating that abortion does not cause depression.
For more information about the deceptive tactics used by CPCs, see these reports:
- Equity Forward, Mapping Deception: A Closer Look at How States’ Anti-Abortion Center Programs Operate
- Equity Forward, In The Grand Scheme: Six Sinister Tactics Employed by Anti-Abortion Centers
- Privacy International, A Documentation of Data Exploitation in Sexual and Reproductive Rights
- Two powerful documentary films on CPCs are 12th and Delaware and Jackson.
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.