With past and present attacks on pregnancy resource centers (PRCs), both political and physical, it is natural for pro-life advocates to become frustrated with critiques on one of our most valuable resources. There are several branches of PRCs, some secular (such as Birthright International) and others religiously affiliated (such as Heartbeat International). Still others are independent and not affiliated with any major organization; as such, they will operate in ways needed for the immediate community (like the CompassCare pro-life clinic in New York).
Regardless of their respective philosophies, it is enlightening when the voices of their clients — women in crisis pregnancies — are interviewed for their experiences. It is common enough to hear them from pro-life news outlets, but not from researchers who are supportive of abortion as a “reproductive right.”
So what did this women have to say about their PRC experience, and how was this interpreted by the pro-choice interviewer?
Katrina Kimport is an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. She published Pregnant Women’s Reasons for and Experiences of Visiting Antiabortion Pregnancy Resource Centers in 2020. Concerns from pro-choice activists about PRCs spreading “abortion misinformation” and “misleading” abortion-minded women prompted Kimport to see what the women themselves had to say.
From the phone, Kimport conducted interviews of 21 women who visited PRCs concerning their experiences and rate of satisfaction. 20 of them were BIPOC (mostly Black with one Latina), and only one was white. All women interviewed struggled with financial insecurity at some level. Eleven were parents of children outside the womb. Fourteen were in their twenties; the balance were in their thirties. Of these women, only four were considering abortion as an option, but were also considering the option to continue their pregnancy. None of them desired only abortion.
Three major reasons for going to a PRC included: 1. confirmation of pregnancy test results; 2. sonogram services; and 3. emotional support. What especially drove these women to these specific services was their availability and free cost as compared to the wait times and expenses in other clinics/programs. Considering how financial insecurity can complicate options for care, the importance of “free” (especially an accessible “free”) was thoroughly discussed by Kimport in the draw of PRCs.
One woman, 8 weeks pregnant Samira, was anxious about waiting until her 15th week to receive a sonogram; rather than waiting, a friend referred her to the local PRC, where she was able to receive a free sonogram in just a few days. Aya desired an “official” third party result on pregnancy testing for a handful of reasons, one of them being to help her husband secure a green card and prove that their marriage was real, not just for immigration. Another woman, Renita, was facing pressure to abort from her OB and family because of her ongoing medical condition being complicated by the pregnancy. Rather than having to undergo chronic stress of abortion coercion and seeking costly therapy from a counselor, she was able to receive free emotional support from the PRC volunteer.
Kimport also found that obtaining the resources came with strings attached. In order to receive needed items from the PRC, women were required to attend parenting classes in exchange for “money” or other tickets to “pay” for things like cribs, bottles, and clothing. For women who were already mothers to born children, this came off as unnecessary. One woman was saving up “points” for a larger item she needed but her counselor picked out smaller items for her out of excitement.
Emotional support was also limited. There was no community in place for women once they had given birth. This is highlighted by Jade, who lost touch with a friend made at the PRC after her move out of town; no others were in touch after the birth of her baby. A more harrowing reflection came from Vianca: she began showing signs of a miscarriage, and the sonogram tech refused to show her images of the passing baby on screen. Though this did not affect her overall satisfaction with the PRC’s service, it is obvious that the tech in question was not properly trained to handle the emotional fallout of an obstetric complication.
What Kimport gets wrong — and right! — about PRCs
Firstly, it is refreshing to see a pro-choice researcher (especially an expert on reproductive health) acknowledge the gaps that PRCs fill for the needs of women and children. Far too often the pro-life movement is dismissed as uncaring about the needs of childbearing families, or their efforts to help are attacked as deliberately misleading.
It was not surprising to hear that women going to PRCs, while largely leaning towards carrying their pregnancies, were facing pressure to abort. Knowing that the centers gave them much needed help and support that other clinics lacked confirms the necessity of pro-life aid. It is also enlightening for PRC workers and other advocates to learn where they fall short in order to improve their service and outreach. If women feel that they lack control over what sort of material help they get, for example, then the staff can know to reassess their programs for donations.
However, Kimport has her biases. It is reiterated in the paper that PRCs lack the same level of “care” as a medical clinic or social welfare program, despite listing how PRCs held space for needs that the other options lacked. Kimport also unfairly compared PRCs to social programs and health clinics; oftentimes, the PRC is not a replacement for those things, but a bridge to them. PRC volunteers help these women sign up for said social programs, and may work with local clinics in accepting patients for perinatal care.
Adding onto this unfair dismissal is the assertion that PRCs share abortion and birth control misinformation. This is particularly ironic, given Planned Parenthood’s recent (unscientific) change on their website blurring the distinction between removal of ectopic pregnancies and elective abortion, as well as their refusal to share accurate information on some family planning methods. Beyond the hypocrisy, it is often pro-lifers having to combat misinformation spread by the pro-choice movement. One has to ask Kimport how she chooses to define “misinformation” in light of this reality.
There is also the fact that the diversity of PRCs is not discussed. As mentioned previously, there are various types of pregnancy centers, and all offer differing services. Not knowing which center gave what level of service quality is unhelpful. For example, places like Guiding Star Centers offer some family planning education, as well as community support for after birth. Birthright International, a secular organization, does not offer birth control services but makes general medical referrals for women who request them. There are also organizations that are recognizing the need for continuous support after birth, such as Embrace Grace and Let Them Live.
Future studies on PRC experiences should involve specifying the standard of care for a particular PRC branch, while assessing abortion clinics against the same standards of quality care if comparisons are to be made.
Applying the good and bad to our pro-life work
Kimport implores policy makers and pro-choice activists to approach the reality of PRCs holistically: recognizing that they are giving resources to pregnant women lacking elsewhere, while suggesting that PRCs be better regulated. This suggestion likely comes from the fact that PRC counselors are not often trained, among other shortfalls she came across in her interviews.
Many pro-life advocates and workers likely dislike the idea of regulating PRCs, as they are non-profits. This is especially true for those centers connected to religious organizations who may not want to provide specific services such as birth control counseling. However, regulation of some sort may be necessary to better service women and children in need.
States with pro-life legislation will likely offer better support for PRCs that will not pressure them to offer services or changes that interfere with their goals. In states with pro-abortion legislation, PRC branches would do well to better organize and manage their centers internally so that mishaps or bad experiences can be remedied as soon as possible. Finding a middle ground with local programs to help their community can also help to educate the public on the services they provide.
Regardless of PRC regulation standards, any critique towards their center should be taken seriously, so that women and children receive improved care in a post-Roe America.
But what about the attacks on PRCs?
It is because of these recent attacks that pro-lifers should pay special attention to Kimport’s study. Her research can both empower us knowing we are giving pregnant women help they need to protect their babies from abortion, while also informing us about how to improve the help we give. On a political level, we can also know how to better advocate for legislation that affects the social and medical support of pregnant women in need (following the effective work of organizations such as Feminists For Life). We must educate the public on PRCs: their differences from and similarities to other necessary programs. This could include funding advertisements for PRCs or helping to host events that invite community members to learn more about the center.
As pro-abortion systems seek to push for travel abortions, or for limiting the outreach of PRCs, it is crucial that advocates on every level inform themselves of how PRCs look to the women we aim to help. They (and their babies!) are our reason for what we do. Kimport’s study has already shown us what the public sees in us and how these women appreciate the help given; it is up to the pro-life movement to take that even further.