Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pregnancy Centers Gain Clout in Anti-Abortion Fight

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pregnancy Centers Gain Clout in Anti-Abortion Fight

Article excerpt

WACO, Texas -- With free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, along with diapers, parenting classes and even temporary housing, pregnancy centers are playing an increasingly influential role in the anti-abortion movement. While most attention has focused on scores of new state laws restricting abortion, the centers have been growing in numbers and gaining state financing and support.

Largely run by conservative Christians, the centers say they offer what Roland Warren, head of Care Net, one of the largest pregnancy center organizations, described as "a compassionate approach to this issue."

As they expand, they are adding on-call or on-site medical personnel and employing sophisticated strategies to attract women, including Internet search optimization and mobile units near Planned Parenthood clinics.

"They're really the darlings of the pro-life movement," said Jeanneane Maxon, vice president for external affairs at Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group. "That ground level, one-on- one, reaching-the-woman-where-she's-at approach."

Pregnancy centers, while not new, now number about 2,500, compared with about 1,800 abortion providers. Ms. Maxon estimated that the centers see about 1 million clients annually, with another million attending abstinence and other programs. Abortion rights advocates have long called some of their approaches deceptive or manipulative. Medical and other experts say some dispense scientifically flawed information, exaggerating abortion's risks.

Claremont Graduate University politics professor Jean Schroedel said "there are some positive aspects" to such centers, but that "things pregnant women are told at many of these centers, some of it is really factually suspect."

The centers defend their practices and information. "Women who come in are constantly telling us, 'Abortion seems to be my only alternative, and I think that's the best thing to do,' " said Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, which she described as a "Christ-centered" organization with 1,100 affiliates. "Centers provide women with the whole choice."

One pregnant woman, Nasya Dotie, 21, single, worried about finishing college and disappointing her parents, said she was "almost positive I was going to have an abortion."

A friend at her Christian university suggested visiting Care Net of Central Texas. She met with a counselor, went home and considered her options. She returned for an ultrasound, and although planning not to look at the screen, when a clinician offered, she agreed. Then, "I was like, 'That's my baby. I can't not have him.' "

Thirteen states now provide some direct financing; 27 offer "Choose Life" license plates, the proceeds from which aid centers. …

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