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In Austin, Crisis Pregnancy Centers are still suing over their “right to lie”

By on August 20, 2015

“When I called the crisis pregnancy center to make an appointment, they were immediately pushy about their ultrasound services. They didn’t even know how far along I was in my pregnancy or if I was truly pregnant. When I went in to the CPC for my appointment, I was taken to the ultrasound room after a volunteer counselor and missionary discussed my pregnancy options with me and discouraged me from seeking an abortion. They never gave me a pregnancy test. The missionary performed the ultrasound. At first she told me she could not see anything, but after several minutes she told me she was pretty sure she could see my ‘baby’ even though in reality, I wasn’t pregnant.”

In 2010, the Austin City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post a sign stating they do not offer abortion services or contraceptives. The measure was intended to protect consumers who unwittingly enter the centers seeking legitimate medical care, but instead are given sermons and scare tactics.

Of course, the centers promptly sued, claiming the ordinance “unconstitutionally seeks to suppress unpopular ideas and information relating to pregnancy, and to manipulate the public debate by attempting to dissuade women from hearing pregnancy information from a religious perspective.”

Those “unpopular ideas” are medically and scientifically incorrect statements about miscarriage, abortion and contraceptives, such as widely debunked claims that abortion leads to breast cancer or that condoms are ineffective. And if pregnant people want pregnancy information from a religious perspective, they should be given the option to seek it from the religious provider of their choice, not be duped into it.

A CPC in Austin (Jana Birchum, Austin Chronicle).

A CPC in Austin (Jana Birchum, Austin Chronicle).

The Austin city council then passed a revised ordinance that took out the language about abortion and birth control and replaced it with the requirement that the sign simply state whether the center provides medical services, if those services are provided under direction and supervision of a licensed health care provider, and whether the center is licensed by a state or federal regulatory agency. Why wouldn’t these centers be willing to comply with that?

But they weren’t, primarily because their business is built on deceiving pregnant people into coming into the centers without knowing their true purpose. Many crisis pregnancy centers are located near clinics and often have misleading names, intended to give the impression that they are legitimate health care centers.

Crisis pregnancy centers have been proliferating in Texas while the number of abortion clinics dwindle. Pregnant people often find the number to a crisis pregnancy center, thinking the center offers abortion services, and the centers’ volunteers are trained to try and get the caller to come in under the guise of needing a pregnancy test and an ultrasound, services the centers offer free of charge. What these volunteers don’t explain is they want to get someone in the door so they can talk them out of seeking an abortion.

Here’s an actual chat with a “counselor” on the Option Line, which was the second search result when I googled “Where can I get an abortion in Texas.” From first glance, the site appears neutral – there’s no mention of religion and they give information on abortion and emergency contraception. But on each page, there is a hard push to get visitors to call their hotline or live chat with them.

Me: I need to get the number for a place that does abortions.
Counselor: We dont have that information. but it will be important to go or call if you want to learn more about it.  The center will be able to provide the free test and the ultrasound. an ultrasound will tell you how far along you are… this is important to  know if you are considering abortion
Me: Doesn’t the abortion place do an ultrasound?
Counselor: I don’t know.
Counselor: The center can talk to you more about questions and concerns that you may have about pregnancy.

Unlicensed volunteers at crisis pregnancy centers often perform ultrasounds and as NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ 2014 investigations into crisis pregnancy centers reveal, the centers routinely interfere with visitors’ access to medical care and put their health at risk. For example, they use stall tactics that delay a pregnant person from getting prenatal care or increase the term at which someone has an abortion.

One crisis pregnancy center volunteer advised a NARAL Pro-Choice Texas investigator against seeing a doctor, and told the investigator that if she saw a doctor about her pregnancy, she would no longer be able to access the center’s ultrasound services for free.

Many crisis pregnancy centers receive state funding through the Alternatives to Abortion Program. This most recent session, the Texas Legislature nearly doubled the funding for the program to $9.1 million per year.

In 2014, Austin’s crisis pregnancy center ordinance was struck down for being too vague. Without an ordinance in place to address these centers’ deception, what can be done? NARAL Pro-Choice Texas is working to expose these centers. If you’d like more information, please contact us and visit our investigative website,

If you are pregnant and need information on where to get an abortion in Texas, visit


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Heather is the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. You can find her on Twitter at @heatherangele.