Georgia is in the news after joining other states in passing legislation to fund crisis pregnancy centers as an alternative to Planned Parenthood. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS explored these centers, which may offer some pregnancy services but not abortion, in its May 9 edition.
The segment argued that the centers, run by groups opposed to abortion, often try to set up shop near existing abortion clinics and promise to give clients information about their pregnancy and help dealing with it. Some offer to give women information on abortion, leading pregnant women to believe that the center offers the procedure.
Once inside, the Full Frontal segment said, women who ask about abortion are falsely told that if they have one, they won't be able to have more children, they will suffer from psychological problems and they will face a higher risk of breast cancer. Some offer ultrasound, not necessarily as a diagnostic tool, but as a way to discourage abortion.
"They create the illusion that they're an abortion clinic by adapting names that are similar to abortion clinics, adapting the same logos and fonts," said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, in the segment.
At the end of the segment, Saporta threw out an interesting statistic: "There are more than twice as many fake clinics as there are legitimate abortion providers in the United States."
We wondered if Saporta's ratio was correct and whether pregnant women seeking an abortion were really twice as likely to come across one of these centers than a clinic that offers abortion.
Saporta uses "fake clinics" to describe crisis pregnancy centers. Any count of these centers is complicated by the fact that most of them don't explicitly say they offer abortions when they try to get clients. Some may promise information about abortion, even if their goal is to discourage them. Others may not mention abortion at all until someone comes through the door or the pregnant woman brings it up.
We contacted the federation to ask for its sources. For the tally of abortion providers, spokeswoman Alissa Manzoeillo offered data from the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health, and supports abortion rights. Its latest survey, done in 2011, found 1,720 abortion providers in the United States, including 839 that do more than 400 abortions per year. The 1,720 total includes those clinics, doctor's offices where abortions are performed, and hospitals, which usually perform abortions for serious cases and only provide about 4 percent of all such procedures.
As far as the "fake clinics," Manzoeillo sent us media reports with a variety of estimates including 2,500 to 4,000 (from a 2003 Mother Jones article) and "at least 3,000" (a 2015 Cosmopolitan article). The federation also cited a Salon article reporting that the crisis pregnancy centers now outnumber abortion clinics "by an estimated 3 to 1."
Some of those permutations support Saporta's claim. Some don't. And there are some flaws in both counts.
Reliable estimates are tough to come by
Getting a reliable count of crisis pregnancy centers "is really hard because they are not licensed. They are not in anybody's database," said Elizabeth Nash, a senior state issues associate at Guttmacher. She said she's seen estimates of 3,000 to 8,000. The lists of the three major chains "do not include the more local chains or the individual centers that might be run out of a church basement or something like that."
We contacted some of the chains affiliated with the centers and asked them for their best count.
One of them, Heartbeat International, said it counts 2,573 total pregnancy center locations, including 1,145 that offer medical services such as ultrasounds and testing and/or treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Heartbeat spokesman Jay Hobbs cautioned, however, that "organizations need not affiliate with a national organization such as Heartbeat International or Care Net (another group) to open their doors to clients."
"Much like local churches, pregnancy-help organizations are stand-alone non-profit entities overseen at the local level by a board of directors," Hobbs said.
Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which opposes abortion, said his organization counts 2,643 centers nationwide, 1,231 of which have medical personnel and services on the site. The others may offer just information and counseling.
That's a conservative figure, he said, because adoption service agencies, hotlines, social service agencies with anti-abortion views, and maternity homes could also be included, Donovan said.
"Over the last 10 years, I’ve seen numbers ranging from 1,800 to 4,000, however, these numbers were typically offered in both mainstream and Christian media without any indication of how the author arrived at a particular number," said Kimberly Kelly, a sociologist at Mississippi State University, who studies religion and reproductive politics.
"There are no definitive data sources," but most centers are affiliated with Care Net or Heartbeat International, she said.
There's a lingering question over how effective these centers are at ultimately discouraging abortion. Earlier this month, the online news website Rewire, which covers sexual and reproductive health issues, reported that data from an anti-abortion Texas software company used by 1,200 crisis pregnancy centers to track clients, found that fewer than 4 percent of women are dissuaded from having an abortion. Most come in for the free services, never having planned to seek an abortion in the first place.
Abortion provider figure may also be lower
It's worth noting that the 2011 Guttmacher count totaling 1,720 abortion providers is likely a bit out of date.
Today the number of clinics is probably lower because states such as Texas and Ohio have aggressively tried to shut down clinics that provide abortion while diverting money to crisis pregnancy centers. On March 25, Florida Gov. Rick Scott cut off all state funding for preventive health service clinics that provide abortion.
Saporta said, "There are more than twice as many fake clinics as there are legitimate abortion providers in the United States."
The last count of the number of abortion providers, around 1,720, is probably a bit high.
Meanwhile, the number of crisis pregnancy centers run the gamut from 1,800 to 8,000. There's no widely recognized tally.
Saporta's claim only holds up if you accept the higher estimates.
We rate the statement Half True.