Some women looking for abortions are being misdirected to "clinics" that have no intention of providing them with such a service.
"Misconception," a short documentary from Vice News, looks at the phenomenon of "crisis pregnancy centers" (CPCs) -- organizations staffed by anti-abortion groups, usually religiously-based, that encourage women to follow through with their pregnancies, even if they have already decided to terminate.
Some crisis centers provide factually incorrect advice about the process of abortion and its aftermath, others use religious rhetoric to shame women for their choices. Many such centers receive government funding through federal grants or state programs. Vice estimates that in 2014, CPCs could now outnumber abortion clinics 5 to 1.
The film, produced by Allison Yarrow and Claire Ward, investigates the deceptive practices these "clinics" use. Misrepresenting themselves as abortion providers using manipulative tactics like engineering their pages to show up in online searches for "pregnancy symptoms" or situating themselves next to abortion clinics, CPCs reel women in under false pretenses. Often, as shown in the film, these clinics refuse to provide abortion pricing information over the phone, often only revealing that the procedure is not offered there after subjecting women to a "counseling session" and sonogram.
The idea for the documentary came from Yarrow's field reporting for a Newsweek feature, "The Abortion War's Special Ops," which follows anti-abortion activist Lila Rose and pro-abortion rights activist Katie Stack. Stack, who was herself referred to a crisis pregnancy center following an unplanned pregnancy, founded The Crisis Project, which investigates the "medical misinformation, emotional manipulation and religious doctrine" that CPCs commonly use.
In "Misconception," host Fazeelat Aslam attends the pro-life March For Life in Washington D.C., meets with a young woman in Texas who found herself at a crisis pregnancy center after searching for access to an abortion, and goes undercover with Stack to another CPC. Posing as Stack's aunt, Aslam films a counseling session in which Stack is advised against abortion.
"[Abortion] could never be safe, because it's so totally unnatural," an anonymous "counselor" tells Stack and Aslam. "Your body is meant to keep that baby, not to have someone put an instrument in and rip it out."
The film also features hidden camera footage from Stack's visits to other CPCs around the country, revealing some of the shocking things CPC workers have said to her.
"If people die due to an abortion, later on a lot of times they're finding parts of the fetus in like the lungs or the heart," one "counselor" says. (Hint: this is not true.)
Yarrow believes that "honest, well-run" crisis pregnancy centers have their place, but that the misrepresentation of their mission is unacceptable.
"Centers should reveal up front that they do not offer abortion services and that their counseling is inspired by an anti-abortion position and religious morals," she told The Huffington Post in an email. "We are all entitled to our own positions on abortion, but I bet many people disagree with taxpayer-funded deception."
Stack and other anti-CPC activists are pushing for CPCs to disclose that they do not provide abortions, so that women directed to these places are fully aware of the resources available to them. Raising awareness of this issue is working: organizations like Google have taken a stand, removing deceptive ads for CPCs from their search results.
"The best way to combat crisis pregnancy center deception is to know where these centers are located in your own hometown, and to inform other men and women in your community where they are and what they do," Yarrow told HuffPost. "Insist that your legislators support bills that require centers to adhere to truth in advertising standards."
Watch the full film above, and find out more about The Crisis Project here.
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