The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
Abortion advocates have said a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade could insert confusion into an already tense reproductive environment in Ohio.
But Ohioans say that confusion already exists because of “crisis pregnancy centers,” which counter abortion clinics by offering services to discourage pregnancy termination, all with the help of millions in state funding.
Amherst-resident Kathleen Cooper said she was sent to a CPC for pregnancy verification by her local Jobs and Family Services office when she was seeking financial help for her pregnancy.
She was facing a third child at a time when she’d lost her job and her abusive partner was jailed. She knew about adoption, but she wasn’t aware of her other options.
“In the area that I live in and the education system I had, you’re not told about (abortion),” Cooper said.
What she received from the CPC was information on how to keep the pregnancy and recommendations for parenting classes.
Cooper decided to have an abortion, for which she was “ridiculed” by the members of the CPC, she said. She also said she was given false information that an “abortion reversal” pill was available if she began the process of the two-pill medication abortion, but hadn’t taken both pills.
That “abortion reversal” theory may become more prevalent in the state if the Ohio legislature passes a bill currently under committee consideration. House Bill 378 would require the Ohio Department of Health to distribute materials on abortion reversal at least 24 hours before the medication abortion is conducted.
While the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services confirmed pregnancy verification is required to be eligible for programs like Medicaid and Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a spokesperson said she did not “believe we have any particular places that we recommend.”
The center provided Cooper with pages and pages of pamphlets on abortion risks. One included “thoughts” from a Kentucky OB/GYN, who incorrectly cited the Mayo Clinic’s website for information on first-trimester fetal development. He said the clinic’s research said a “baby’s heart has already begun beating” six weeks after the last period.
The website’s page on first-trimester development says at week six, “the heart and other organs also are starting to form,” but it does not say the heart is beating, and also says the brain and spinal cord have not yet developed.
Pro-choice and pro-abortion organizations say these crisis pregnancy centers can provide misinformation to patients, and are based on the idea of discouraging abortion through the use of support like free baby supplies and charitable donations.
“These supports are tied to buying into these harmful ideas and false information,” said Maggie Scotece, interim executive director of Women Have Options-Ohio.
These centers have been consistently been funded through the state, receiving $7.5 million in the 2019 budget and another $6 million in 2021.
Earlier this year, Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order directing $3 million per year in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — funds federal funds sent to states for things like food assistance and financial support for low-income families — to go to the “Parenting and Pregnancy” program. Under Ohio law, that program provides services for those caring for children 12 months or younger and meet program requirements to “promote childbirth, parenting and alternatives to abortion.”
More than $1 million in additional funding was directed to the program through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in 2023.
Up to $300,000 went to Dayton-area Elizabeth’s New Life Center, who have 8 “Women’s Centers” throughout the state. The website for those women’s centers includes a page on the risks of abortion, stating without citation to any medical evidence that “post-abortion syndrome symptoms may include guilt, anger, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, sexual dysfunction, relationship problems, and alcohol and drug abuse.”
When asked to talk about specific services in Ohio, Elizabeth’s New Life Center referred questions to their national affiliate, the Virginia-based National Institute for Family and Life Advocates.
The services the clinics provide are listed as pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and pregnancy verification needed to apply for state assistance in health care, including Medicaid.
Heartbeat of Toledo, an affiliate of religious-based Heartbeat International, is set to receive up to $150,000 of the TANF funding. Heartbeat International’s program policies include promoting “God’s Plan for our sexuality: marriage between one man and one woman, sexual intimacy, children, unconditional/unselfish love and relationship with God must go together.”
“Heartbeat affiliates shall not advise, provide or refer for abortion, abortifacients or contraceptives,” the principles listed by Heartbeat International state, as well as a principle to “encourage chastity as a positive lifestyle choice.”
A study by the Ohio Policy Evaluation Network, which partners with The Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, found that CPC staff who were studied saw the role of a center as a way to provide “facts.” To that end, showing ultrasounds to clients fell under “informed consent” in their minds.
An ultrasound is required for an abortion in Ohio, but clients are not obligated to look at the ultrasound when it’s conducted.
But one staff member compared the ultrasound to other medical procedures where details and risks are explained, but several CPC staffers insert the discouragement of abortion into the ultrasound process.
“Our machine has a mission,” the study quoted the executive director of a CPC in Ohio. “That mission is to reveal the life within to the woman who is considering abortion … in hopes of confirming life.”
Some patients interviewed for the study said they withheld information about “their intentions or the certainty of their decision to avoid uncomfortable interactions while seeking care at the CPC.”
“When (abortion-seeking) clients disclosed their intentions, they were met with criticism and social distancing,” the study found.
Cooper said she hopes those still debating their pregnancy options get the knowledge they need to tell the difference between abortion clinics and crisis pregnancy centers, especially those that only provide advice, not medical services.
“It’s not talked about that these are not real clinics, and especially because Job & Family Services sent you there,” Cooper said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not released their ruling on a case that could reverse legalization of abortion through Roe v. Wade. If Roe is overturned, the state has several “trigger ban” bills under consideration in the legislature.
Gov. Mike DeWine, reliably anti-abortion throughout his tenure, has said he will support “additional legislation” on abortion, including the six-week abortion ban that was already passed, but has been tied up in the courts since its passage.