Centers come under fire

Findings released last week from an eight-month investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice Montana into 20 statewide crisis pregnancy centers, including Care Net of Missoula, allege that the anti-abortion outposts are subjecting women to an "alarming trend of deception and manipulation."

"They're not up front with their anti-choice agenda," says NARAL Executive Director Maggie Moran.

During its investigation, NARAL evaluated advertising messages and literature provided to crisis pregnancy center, or CPC, clients. It also sent several undercover volunteers to inquire about CPC services.

According to NARAL's Oct. 31 report, 89 percent of CPCs in Montana provided inaccurate contraceptive information. "Examples of this include saying birth control is the same thing as abortion, condoms are not effective at preventing pregnancy or (sexually transmitted infections), and that birth control leads to breast and cervical cancer."

NARAL's investigation also found that 67 percent of CPCs linked abortion to breast cancer. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Cancer Society have refuted those claims.

Moran finds the misinformation troubling, especially in light of the increasing prominence of CPCs on the local and national landscapes. NARAL asserts that the organizations are part of a concerted effort coordinated by conservative groups to subvert a woman's right to choose.

In Montana, CPCs outnumber abortion clinics by five to one.

Care Net Missoula is among the centers that NARAL investigated. Part of a national organization of 1,100 affiliates, the Washington, D.C.-based umbrella group doesn't hide its pro-life agenda. Its website states that Care Net is employing a "political strategy to re-frame the debate over abortion."

Care Net Missoula Executive Director Jennifier Bartlett acknowledges the organization's pro-life stance, but denies that her center uses trickery.

"We are definitely committed to evidence-based medical care," Bartlett says, adding that Missoula physician Sandy Shepherd screens information provided to Care Net Missoula patients.

Bartlett also says her center doesn't use scare tactics, such as claiming that abortion causes breast cancer. The reason for doing so, she says, is not because Care Net believes that abortion is wholly safe, but rather, "We need to deal with what's happening right now."

Dealing with the present involves providing the support women need to carry pregnancies to term and to care for their infants, including free ultrasounds and diapers, along with maternity clothes and parenting classes, Bartlett says.

"We provide a lot of excellent services," she says, "that I think are being overshadowed."

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