Although the debate about crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) has now reached the Supreme Court, it is still challenging for both women and seasoned health professionals to recognize which clinics are legitimate.

At first glance, CPCs look like professional clinical organizations. They claim to provide counseling and ultrasounds for women with unplanned pregnancies and to help these women consider all viable options. In reality, many CPCs are unlicensed and unregulated, and their goal is to persuade women to consider adoption or parenting rather than abortion.

An article published in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics addressed some of the deceptive practices and potential public health concerns surrounding these centers.

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“They are purporting to provide medical information, but they’re not required to be licensed and they are not necessarily providing accurate information, which can be harmful to patients,” said Amy Bryant, MD, MSCR, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and co-author of the study, in a phone interview with Medical Bag. “[A patient may] miss the deadline to get an abortion or, if these aren’t licensed people providing ultrasounds, something like an ectopic pregnancy could be missed.”

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CPCs are protected under the First Amendment and are exempt from any standard regulations that other clinics must follow. Secret shopper studies and surveys have found that CPCs tend to provide women with inaccurate information — they may tell a patient, for example, that abortion is a dangerous procedure, when studies show that abortions are typically safer than childbirth.

“It’s really important for medical professionals to be aware of these kinds of organizations,” Dr Bryant added. “And to make sure that if they’re referring a pregnant woman somewhere that they know it’s a legitimate center and not a place that’s meant to dissuade her from learning about or obtaining all of her options.”


Bryant AG, Swartz JJ. Why crisis pregnancy centers are legal but unethical. AMA J Ethics. 2018;20(3):269-277.