Deceptive advertising. Medically inaccurate information. Emotional manipulation. What do these three things have in common? They are all tactics employed by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to deter people from accessing abortion care, and one of these CPCs is trying to move next to an independent abortion provider in Raleigh.
The CPC in question, A Hand of Hope Ministry, purchased residential property next to A Preferred Women’s Health Center of Raleigh, one of two independent abortion providers in the city, with the hopes of it being rezoned to a mixed use property. Notably, Hand of Hope already operates a facility just down the street. Tonight, the Raleigh City Council is voting on whether to grant the rezoning permit.
While Hand of Hope presents its center as a clinic that offers patients the opportunity to make a “real choice” when dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, evidence demonstrates it is a deceptive and manipulative anti-abortion organization.
The deception begins with Hand of Hope’s advertising. The group advertises as “Your Choice Pregnancy Clinic” and “A Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center,” failing to disclose the fact that it is actually a religious ministry. This misleading advertising could lead patients to mistakenly think the group is actually a health clinic or an abortion provider, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
CPCs are not required to have any medical professionals on staff, and many are staffed by volunteers. Hand of Hope is also explicitly anti-abortion. The group’s website spells out a desire “to give the preborn a chance to live.” A tweet from May 6, 2015 reads: “62% of women seen in April were abortion minded. Thanks for prayers & word of mouth referrals. #prolife #savingbabies #handofhope”. Another tweet, from December 17, 2015 reads: “HOH is the proud new owner of a location right beside that abortion clinic. #prolife #Godisgood #tenyearsofsavingbabies”.
Hand of Hope also uses manipulation tactics to advance its anti-choice agenda. A statement in the group’s spring 2016 newsletter reads: “When scared parents are in the middle of making their pregnancy decision…seeing their baby via ultrasound results in those parents choosing LIFE about 75% of the time. This is why the offer of a free ultrasound to a confused couple is so very vital in the effort to connect them to their preborn child.”
This is an emotionally damaging and manipulative scheme to deter and/or shame patients from seeking abortion care, and one that is taken directly from the established CPC playbook. A North Carolina CPC study conducted by NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation in 2011 found that 35% of investigated CPCs offered free ultrasounds to pregnant people, hoping that as soon as the pregnant person sees the ultrasound image, they will be too emotionally invested to seek abortion care. That same report showed that 92% of the CPCs investigated had no medical professionals on staff.
Given that Hand of Hope is explicitly anti-abortion, there is a real threat of increased protest activity and neighborhood disruption if it is allowed to move next to A Preferred Women’s Health Center. While spokespeople from Hand of Hope have repeatedly said they do not protest, they also claim to offer a “real choice” to people facing unexpected pregnancies, and it is clear that this is not the case either. Anti-choice groups have made protesting abortion clinics a core part of their strategy, and even took it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014. The bottom line here is that Hand of Hope’s rezoning request is not an issue of differing viewpoints, but of patient and neighborhood safety.
Allowing a CPC to move next to an abortion clinic would be detrimental to patients seeking abortion care, as well as the neighborhood and surrounding community. It is clear that Hand of Hope does not “serve the same clientele” as A Preferred Women’s Health Center, as their Founder and Executive Director claimed at a recent Raleigh City Council meeting. People coming to the abortion clinic have made an appointment to be there, indicating they’ve made their decision, and are not looking for further discussion with strangers about that decision. The CPC’s real anti-choice agenda is to lure pregnant patients away from an abortion provider and towards its anti-abortion organization, where its representatives can shame, coerce and harass the patients about their decision.
We must expose crisis pregnancy centers, keep people seeking abortion care safe and protect the staff members who provide that care. A Preferred Women’s Health Center has been a part of the neighborhood since 1997. Let’s hope the Raleigh City Council denies Hand of Hope’s request for a rezoning permit to relocate next door on the basis of concerns about patient and neighborhood safety and that community members stand with abortion providers and their patients at this evening’s city council meeting. Click here to learn more. Together, we can work towards a North Carolina where abortion care is accessible and unobstructed by fake clinics and hostile protesters.
Sarah Hogg is a queer feminist activist and the Advocacy & Organizing Manager at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.