Pro-life pregnancy centers a growing concern for health care void, Part IV

Care Pregnancy Resource Center in Visalia is part of a growing network of “clinics” which blur the lines between providing health care and “pro-life” advocacy

EDITOR’S NOTE: This series is split into four different parts and highlights what Care Pregnancy Resource Centers offer locally. In particular, the series looks at their prevalence in light of Planned Parenthood’s withdrawal from moving into a larger facility on Mooney Boulevard in the face of a virulent backlash from the community. The introduction of each installment is the same. 

If you have not read Part 3 that reports on the tactics pregnancy resource centers use to attract young people, you can find it here. Part 4, below, looks at the legislative and administrative policies that allowed federal funding to flow into pregnancy resource centers, while simultaneously retracting it from some Planned Parenthood locations, and what local stakeholders think Tulare County missed out on after Planned Parenthood could not expand their services. 

After repeated attempts, Care Pregnancy Resource Center in Visalia declined to be interviewed or comment for this series.

VISALIA – For a few weeks this spring, Visalia City Council meetings became a battleground. Terms used during public comment included “devil worshippers” and “baby murderers,” among others. Despite Planned Parenthood never having plans to start offering abortions in Visalia, the community’s response to the clinc’s attempt at moving into a larger office underlined just how deep divides over the procedure still run in parts of California. 

The controversy ultimately caused Planned Parenthood to withdraw their plans for relocation, relegating the clinic to the small side street office where they currently offer services three days a week to a handful of patients per day. If they’d moved into the larger office, the new site would have extended its operations to six days per week and been able to serve 40 patients per day instead of just five. The move would have allowed Planned Parenthood to add primary and pediatric care to the list of services they already offer such as pregnancy tests, STI screenings and gender-affirming care.

The gaps in reproductive health care access that the expansion might have filled remain left to a few other providers in the area. Patients in need of reproductive health care who aren’t able to be fit into Planned Parenthood’s limited client list must search elsewhere, and that search doesn’t always lead to the same places. 

Sometimes it leads a block away, to a charming craftsman-style bungalow on Main Street with a sign out front offering pregnancy services free of charge. Located down the street from the buzz of downtown Visalia, Care Pregnancy Resource Center appears as innocuous and unassuming as a dentist’s office. And this is by design.

A systemic problem

Crisis pregnancy centers around the country appear to be run in similar ways. The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) study found that roughly 90% of crisis pregnancy centers operate under one of three larger conglomerate organizations: The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Heartbeat International and, in the case of CPRC, Care Net. 

Care Net is an anti-abortion Christian nonprofit that operates over 1,200 crisis pregnancy centers around the country, 117 of which are in California. 

Centers affiliated with Care Net must pay the organization an annual fee and agree to adhere to their “standards of affiliation.” Among these standards are requirements that all staff, board members and volunteers of affiliated centers must “have made a profession of faith to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord” and commit to “sharing the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ with those it serves,” mainly by dissuading clients from seeking abortions. The standards forbid centers from providing or referring clients to abortion services or any methods of contraception.

Organizations like Care Net provide support for affiliated centers through advertising, digital infrastructure, legal advice and training materials. Care Net’s web site states that affiliated centers “receive expert best practice advice on operations, client care, medical services, marketing, board leadership and more.” Rhetoric from the web sites of Care Net’s other local affiliated centers—Dawnings Pregnancy Resource Center in Dinuba and Crossroads Pregnancy Center in Hanford—is nearly identical to that of Care Pregnancy Resource Center (CPRC) in Visalia. 

Most of Care Net’s centers are located in rural areas, away from large cities—although according to NARAL’s study, an increasing number of centers are making an effort to target inner-city women of color, particularly Black women, in an attempt to expand their client base. The majority, though, are still located in places like Tulare County where comprehensive reproductive health care is harder to come by. NARAL’s study states that in California, only 59% of counties have one or more abortion provider, while 93% have at least one crisis pregnancy center. Nationally, crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion providers by an average of 3 to 1. 

In 2019, the Trump administration awarded a grant to Obria, a conglomerate organization for crisis pregnancy centers, under the federal Title X family planning program. That same year, the administration also barred Title X funding recipients from providing or referring abortion services to clients. This caused 98 Planned Parenthood locations and 60 other clinics in California to stop receiving Title X funds—a total of 40.4% of Title X recipients in the state, according to a 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) report on women’s health. 

Though crisis pregnancy centers in California no longer receive state or federal funding, centers in about a dozen states are still given tens of millions of dollars from the government every year. This is one example of the role groups like Care Net play in the national push against reproductive health care access. Research suggests that these organizations use crisis pregnancy centers as a crucial tool in advancing the global anti-abortion movement, one that operates at the local level. 

“When we were talking about the lack of abortion access in the area, a few people from the health care and stakeholder leader side said that part of the reason that there is no abortion provider locally is because of opposition from a lot of groups, including crisis pregnancy centers,” Usha Ranji, associate director for Women’s Health Policy at KFF report on Tulare County said. 

Representatives from CPRC declined requests from The Sun-Gazette for comment.

Limited options

Despite crisis pregnancy centers’ goal of reaching people who are considering abortions, research shows that the majority of their clients have every intention of carrying their pregnancies to term and are primarily seeking the free services the centers offer, especially pregnancy tests and infant supplies like diapers. 

All things considered, it could be said that the centers might provide valuable support to a very specific group of people. Problems arise when their strategies target those outside this niche—many of the centers’ main intentions.  

“Offering services for free really helps a lot of people,” Ranji said. “I think the question to ask is, what services are they providing? My understanding is that many do not provide the full range of counseling options for people who are pregnant.”

Ranji and Michelle Rivera, program manager at ACT for Women and Girls, both noted that as states like Texas and Oklahoma continue to pass legislation further banning or restricting abortion access, health care providers and state representatives in California are gearing up for a potential surge of people coming to the state to seek abortion services. 

One such effort is the introduction of Assembly Bill 2320, which would establish pilot programs in five counties across the state to direct funds toward providers of comprehensive reproductive health care. The programs would require participating clinics to implement staff trainings on reproductive justice principles and trauma-informed care, with a focus on serving historically marginalized patients.

Rivera expressed that despite statewide legislation like the proposed bill, not all parts of California are as protected from the anti-abortion efforts that are strengthening in other states, and Tulare County is a prime example of this. 

“California is known to be kind of a sanctuary state for getting these services. I think a lot of people don’t understand that here, we struggle with that too, especially in more rural communities where it’s so hard to access these things,” Rivera said. 

However, through her work at ACT, Rivera has noticed a change making its way through the area’s younger generations. 

“The young folks are really making this whole narrative shift,” she said. “They show up to actions for these types of issues, and I can see a huge shift rising up because a lot of them are really stepping up.”

This was evident at the Visalia City Council meeting debates over Planned Parenthood’s expansion, where youth from all over the county showed up and spoke in support of the clinic. 

“It’s a safe place where people can go and ask for whatever medical services they want,” a young person named Karina said at one of the meetings. “It’s not just one thing. It’s not just about abortion. It is primary health care, something that in Tulare County is really hard to find.”

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