Texas students expose the real agenda behind fake health centers

Photo by Reynaldo Leal

In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, there are three anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and only one abortion clinic. These centers take advantage of marginalized people who already face too many barriers to accessing quality reproductive health care in order to advance an anti-abortion agenda. As a college student and journalist living in the region, I’ve joined with my fellow students to expose these fake health centers that deceive people seeking abortion care.

This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in NIFLA v. Becerra, a case that raises important questions about the harmful impact of fake health centers that often masquerade as real abortion clinics and shame, misinform or attempt to coerce young people who have made the decision to end a pregnancy.

Should these centers be permitted to lie to women? Should they have to disclose if they are not medical providers? While the Supreme Court case focuses on a California law, centers in Texas could be emboldened or put on notice depending on the outcome. If the California law is upheld, other states, including Texas, may pass similar legislation..

It’s hard to believe that it is legal for crisis pregnancy centers to pose as medical establishments, giving patients false information, delaying real health care and possibly endangering young people’s lives. Staff at these centers tell patients lies about the safety of abortion, intending to scare them away from ending a pregnancy. The centers also use delay tactics to manipulate patients: Staff will delay appointments, lie about how far along patients are in pregnancy and convince them that abortion access is easy.” This can lead to patients delaying care until they are no longer able to get an abortion, either because there are too many barriers or because their pregnancies have advanced past the stage where state law allows abortion.

To make matters worse, the state of Texas funds these centers even as lawmakers refuse to support real clinics that provide quality health care. Texas legislators take money from funds like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality in order to fund the Texas Pregnancy Care Network and Alternatives to Abortion programs.

When I began working with other students in the Rio Grande Valley to expose these centers and their effects on our community, many people did not know we had fake health centers in our area. They were shocked to learn that these sham operations were state-funded, and even more shocked when they learned about the coercive and misleading tactics the crisis pregnancy centers use.

That's why we started our efforts focused on peer education. By sharing videos and written content to show exactly what a fake health center is, we reached thousands. We talked to students on campus at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. We organized protests at fake clinics in McAllen and Brownsville.

Our efforts uncovered that the owners of one crisis pregnancy center continuously lied about being state-funded. They claimed they stayed open due to donations but were actually receiving state money to continue operating. They were not only lying to patients but to their own volunteers.

These centers also use their proximity to legitimate health clinics to harass people. The McAllen Pregnancy Center is located right next to the region's only abortion clinic — and that’s no accident. The employees in the McAllen center seem to spend most of their time harassing patients who are seeking abortions at Whole Woman’s Health. They have caused car crashes, verbally and physically harassed patients and trespassed on private property. We organized a protest in McAllen that successfully stopped the center staff from harassing a young patient as she went in for her abortion.

Young people need timely, medically accurate information and quality care. Crisis pregnancy centers should not be allowed to deceive patients, lie about medical facts or pretend to be real medical facilities, and they certainly shouldn’t receive state funds to do so. That’s why we are going to continue fighting against fake health centers that mislead, coerce and shame young people for their decisions while delaying access to real health care.

Ofelia Alonso

Student journalist, URGE