Women have a variety of reasons for visiting anti-abortion pregnancy centers

Picture of a pregnancy resource center
There are more than 2,500 anti-abortion pregnancy resource centers in the United States. These centers, which are mostly run by evangelical Christian groups, have faced criticism for spreading scientific misinformation and inappropriately interfering with women’s reproductive decision-making. In a new study, ANSIRH interviewed women who had visited pregnancy resource centers about their reasons for going and their experiences at the center. They found that pregnancy resource centers can play a role in meeting the needs of some low-income women who want to continue their pregnancies, whose reproductive desires can often be met with a lack of support by healthcare providers. However, ANSIRH also found that the services and goods the centers provide are often limited and contingent on women’s participation in center activities.

ANSIRH interviewed women in southern Louisiana and Baltimore who sought care at prenatal clinics after visiting a pregnancy resource center. The women said that they visited these centers not because they wanted an abortion and thought they could get one there. Instead, they went to obtain no-cost pregnancy-related services, material goods, and social support. All the respondents were deeply concerned about their ability to materially provide for a new baby.

The study found that the women were largely satisfied with their experiences at pregnancy resource centers. However, the services and goods they were able to access were limited based on the centers’ rules. The centers commonly required women to complete counseling or classes to earn “tickets” or “points” that they could then exchange for material goods, the quality of which varied across centers. These counseling sessions and classes sometimes had religious components. For the most part, women did not receive many concrete items, though a few received items like a quilt, a water bottle containing peppermints, a baby bib set with a bottle cleaner, lotions, or baby clothing. Several women described receiving prenatal vitamins from the center. Some said that they were unable to return to the centers to “earn” these goods because they didn’t have access to transportation. Others stated they missed work because they wanted to keep their appointments at the center. Although some women said they appreciated the emotional support the centers offered, that support was available only while pregnant.

Advocates and policymakers seeking to regulate pregnancy resource centers because of their potential to restrict reproductive choice should also consider the role they play in meeting some needs of low-income pregnant women who plan to continue their pregnancies. Women sought services and support from these centers because they could not afford to obtain those resources elsewhere. However, the constraints on the resources the centers offer mean that this support cannot be part of a reliable system of care.

ANSIRH’s findings suggest that pregnant women’s needs are not being met by health departments and social services programs, or that some women lack awareness of how to access these resources.