‘Crisis pregnancy centres’: the anti-choice movement in disguise

Policy and advocacy   |   3 March 2023   |   6 min read



Anti-abortion centres, branded as ‘crisis pregnancy centres’, are in the spotlight after a recent BBC Panorama documentary in the UK investigated their agenda and conduct. The centres say they help women who are grappling with unplanned pregnancies by offering advice, counselling, and options, but the reality can be quite different—they’re often designed to prevent people from accessing abortion care. 

What are crisis pregnancy centres? 

These centres—sometimes also called ‘pregnancy resource centres’ or ‘care centres’—supposedly exist to support those facing unplanned pregnancy or struggling with pregnancy concerns. But many come with an agenda that is not made clear on their marketing materials: they aim to dissuade women from accessing abortion care. 

Established by anti-choice groups, and often rooted in religious beliefs and social conservativism, these centres are often unregulated, manipulative, and promote dangerous misinformation about pregnancy and abortion. 

They target vulnerable pregnant people, particularly young people, and some even masquerade as abortion providers. Once clients are there, they face coercive tactics to mislead them and convince them not to get an abortion.

These tactics include: 

  • misleading people with false information about their stage of pregnancy 
  • telling people false and exaggerated risks of abortion that are not grounded in evidence or reality 
  • giving out leaflets with graphic and often medically-inaccurate imagery
  • pressuring pregnant people to have an ultrasound, which is not always medically necessary but rather used as a tactic to pressure and shame them  

These centres’ false narratives create a culture of shame and silence around abortion and impede access to essential healthcare.  

Crisis pregnancy centres in the UK 

The BBC undercover investigation revealed that more than a third of crisis pregnancy centres in the UK (set up as registered charities and operating outside the National Health Service) are peddling false information and unethical guidance about abortion.  

Their undercover footage showed the centres’ staff using stigmatising language like ‘baby’ instead of ‘embryo’ or ‘foetus’ and telling people that if they have an abortion, they’ll experience debilitating mental and physical health problems lasting years or a lifetime—even going as far as falsely linking abortion to breast cancer and infertility. There is no evidence to support these claims.  

MSI UK’s Medical Director Dr Jonathan Lord debunked their assertions and told the BBC:

“These centres are set up to target women who are struggling and give them false advice to try and sway them away from an abortion. They risk causing significant harm and damage to vulnerable clients.” 

The evidence makes clear that abortion is a safe and common healthcare procedure, and while these anti-abortion centres mislead people with claims that they’ll experience years of anxiety and health issues following an abortion, we know that clients can feel a range of emotions. In fact, when MSI UK clients tell us their abortion experiences, they often share feelings of relief and gratitude.  

Crisis pregnancy centres are operating across the world 

As a global abortion provider, we know that anti-abortion centres aren’t unique to the UK. They emerged in the 1960s in the US and the anti-choice movement boasts 2,750 of these centres in the US alone (significantly outnumbering real abortion clinics). But they’ve also spread a lot further, now spanning the globe, and are often propped up by US groups’ funding and support—to the tune of $280 million

MSI teams see them being established in their local communities and witness the harm they’re causing. They’re a major concern in Kenya, where some groups advocate for ‘the sanctity of life’. Kenyan anti-abortion centres offer ‘abstinence programs and community outreach’, instilling fear in teenagers through misinformation.

Elizabeth Munyefu, Director of People and Culture at MSI Kenya shared:  

“It’s a tactic that’s spilled over from anti-choice groups in the US. Pregnancy crisis centres here in Kenya are usually established by the Pentecostal churches to ‘rehabilitate’ pregnant teens. They target young women, especially those from low-income communities, and promote rampant misinformation.” 

Anti-choice groups also target people seeking abortion advice and services via Google advertising. These ads appear to be providing abortion services but are in fact redirecting people to crisis pregnancy centres.

We’ve seen a rise in this online anti-choice activity since Roe V. Wade was overturned last year, a concerning trend that aims to undermine the work of MSI and our partners in building awareness and access to accurate sexual and reproductive healthcare information and services, so that everyone can make informed choices.  

How do you know where to find legitimate information about pregnancy and abortion?  

When people are seeking abortion care, they need accurate healthcare information and compassion, not ideology.  

When searching for abortion-related information and centres online, keep in mind that Google has recently introduced ad disclosures, which appear at the top of promoted Google search results, where ads will either state “Provides abortions” or “Does not provide abortions”. Keeping an eye out for this will help you know whether a clinic is legitimate or not.  

And pregnancy counselling is available via regulated abortion providers like MSI Reproductive Choices (find MSI UK services and global MSI services). MSI is committed to supporting our clients with whatever choices are right for them. 

We strongly call on governments across the globe to fully regulate these harmful anti-abortion centres. Until then, if you’re seeking information about your reproductive choices—without any manipulation or judgement— know that we are here to support you and your right to choose. 💙 

For more information on Crisis Pregnancy Centres in the UK and where to find impartial advice, visit the MSI UK blog.



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