The government v. Jane Doe

Activists posing as "Jane Doe" in hospital gowns gather in the Capitol Rotunda prior to legislative visits protesting HB3994 restricting abortion for minors on May 22, 2015. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

For 29 days, the federal government held a pregnant 17-year-old unaccompanied minor hostage, forbidding her to access the abortion care that she wants despite a legal order granting her permission.

Thanks to the tireless work of the ACLU, which filed an emergency court case, Jane was finally able to obtain her abortion this week. However, before that, the federal Office of Refugee and Resettlement also forced her to undergo so-called “counseling” at a religiously-affiliated crisis pregnancy center. The Associated Press revealed that this Jane Doe case is not the first instance in which the federal government forced a pregnant minor to go to a crisis pregnancy center.

These stories illuminate a larger effort by government entities, whether federal or state, to legitimize crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs — which function primarily to dissuade people from accessing abortion care — and tout them as actual health care providers. Last year, the state of Texas granted The Heidi Group, a group of crisis pregnancy centers with no medical experience, millions in state family planning funding, only to ask for $4 million back from the organization this year.

This isn’t a new problem in Texas, which has been funneling millions to crisis pregnancy centers for more than a decade. In 2005, the Legislature created the Alternatives to Abortion program, siphoning money away from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant and other public health programs like family planning and redirecting that money to non-medical, biased organizations that lie and manipulate to keep pregnant Texans from getting an abortion. The 2018-19 two-year budget cycle, which went into effect on Sept. 1, includes $9.1 million in taxpayer funding annually for CPCs, with the possibility of increasing by $10 million a year if the state identifies a demand.

In financing crisis pregnancy centers, the state is funding lies, deception and coercion. In our years of research at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, we have uncovered devious practices behind the doors of CPCs. CPCs lure pregnant people into their facilities under the guise of being a “pregnancy resource center” or by advertising free pregnancy tests and sonograms, which volunteers — rather than trained medical professionals — often administer. Once inside, pregnant people are often subjected to coercive and religious counseling, bad science, fake medicine and misinformation about pregnancy, abortion, and contraception, creating a delay in accessing real health care. It is especially sickening to delay care as Texas’ maternal mortality rate — the highest in the country and developed world— continues to rise. Each of us should have access to licensed medical care when we need it, not ideological coercion.

Of the 169 crisis pregnancy centers we have identified in Texas, 49 are funded through the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program. Texas does not license these facilities, nor are they subject to regulations or health and safety standards. They provide their “services” with almost no accountability for the Texans whose taxpayer dollars fund these center.

Texas is one of 34 states that directly finance crisis pregnancy centers, which now greatly outnumber abortion clinics as a direct result of anti-abortion legislation that has shuttered real medical facilities across the state and country. As state funding for these centers continues to increase and this federal administration continues to validate their so-called services, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas remains committed to exposing their deceptive practices and ultimately defunding them in Texas.

Emily Martin

Program director, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas