Advocates, Researchers Detail the Damage Being Done by Crisis Pregnancy Centers

SXSW panelists urge it’s time to “dismantle, defund” CPCs

l-r: Jenifer McKenna, Tara Murtha, Maleeha Aziz and moderator Megan Peterson (photo by Naina Srivastaa)

Maleeha Aziz knew she needed an ultrasound but couldn’t afford one. So, she turned to what she believed was a clinic offering free services. It was only later that she learned it was a Crisis Pregnancy Center – an anti-abortion nonprofit meant to dissuade pregnant individuals from getting abortions.

“That’s one of the biggest ways they lure people in,” Aziz said at a Saturday SXSW Conference panel. “Telling people, ‘Come here because we do X, Y and Z for free.’”

Aziz, now co-director of Texas Equal Access Fund, is one of multiple advocates and researchers featured in Sabrine Keane and Kate Dumke’s documentary Preconceived, which premiered Saturday at the SXSW Film Festival. (It screens again Saturday, March 16, 2:45pm at Alamo South Lamar.) The film offers a deeper dive into CPCs and the shrinking resources available to pregnant people.

Tara Murtha, director of strategic communications for the Women’s Law Project, said CPCs use medicalization as a marketing tactic to promote the anti-abortion movement.

“Its function in the anti-abortion movement is to absolve the sins and mitigate the failures of the other two arms of the anti-abortion movement, the direct action street protesters and the legal policy arm,” Murtha said.

Contrasting their claim to provide medical care, CPCs provide six services, said Jenifer McKenna, CPC program director at Reproductive Health & Freedom Watch. These include nonprofessional counseling, free supplies like diapers, an abstinence-only sexuality education, over the counter pregnancy tests, “keepsake” first trimester ultrasounds, and STI tests, she said.

“They cherry pick these three ‘medical services’ and use them manipulatively,” McKenna said.

And the state bans on abortion have only made conditions worse, Aziz said. In Texas, she said CPC budgets continue to increase.

“Even though abortion is banned in Texas and some states, they are still manipulating people and lying to people who are trying to go out of state,” Aziz said. “Now, with no more abortion clinics in Texas that did provide accurate health information, it’s even more important to dismantle, defund, and get rid of these horrible, horrible places.”

Aziz said when parents feel financially stable and emotionally ready to raise a child, their children are more likely to thrive. She credits her own successes to her abortions.

“If I did not have access to my abortions, my daughter would not be here today, whom I love and I adore, and my family would not look the way that it does,” Aziz said.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Anti-Abortion Movement Ground Game

Creating Film & TV Panel

Saturday, March 9, Austin Convention Center

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