Virginia abortion-seekers face manipulation, misinformation, nonprofit report finds

One of Virginia’s leading abortion rights groups says about 70 percent of the state’s crisis pregnancy centers told patients that the procedure leads to psychological damage, alcoholism, drug addiction or eating disorders.

The NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation says when it conducted a year-long survey it also found that more than 40 percent of crisis centers in the state tell patients that abortions also can cause infertility and pregnancy complications and that a little less than a third tell patients that abortions cause breast cancer.

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The survey, conducted between June 2012 and June 2013, also found that some crisis centers were unwilling to help women comply with a state law requiring transabdominal ultrasounds at least 24 hours in advance of an abortion, the group said. The report concludes that three crisis clinics — advertised on the state’s list of no-cost ultrasound providers — indicated that they would refuse copies of ultrasound images, preventing women from getting approval to terminate a pregnancy at an abortion clinic.

“Ultimately, NPCVF finds it deeply troubling to know that a Virginia woman — at the direction of [the Virginia Department of Health] — may seek ultrasound services at one of the [crisis centers] listed only to face biased counseling, emotional ma­nipu­la­tion, medical misinformation and, quite possibly, denial of documentation for her intended abortion,” the report stated.

In its report, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia warns that the new ultrasound law benefits the state’s 50-plus crisis centers — many of which are affiliated with pro-life national organizations — because those facilities offer ultrasounds for free. The group says there are more than twice as many of these clinics compared with the number of free-standing facilities that offer abortion.

The crisis centers “increasingly target groups that are the most underserved by the current health-care system and are therefore most vulnerable to the misinformation [crisis centers] provide,” the report’s authors state. “These groups include women of color, young women, women living in rural locations, and low income women.”

But Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, raised doubts about the report.

“The last time NARAL issued a so-called report it was profoundly flawed, unscientific and blatantly misleading,” Cobb said in a statement Monday. “It’s hard to believe anything the group claims. Virginia’s lucrative abortion industry is watching women make a different choice than abortion and it’s eating into profits.”

For its report, the nonprofit trained a dozen investigators to make appointments at the crisis centers and then visit the facilities with a partner. Volunteers and interns visited 10 clinics and called the vast majority. (None of them were pregnant.)

The group’s report focused on some clinics advertised on the state’s list of no-cost ultrasound providers. In Danville, the Little Life Pregnancy Center told one of the nonprofit’s investigators that it was unwilling to provide a patient with an ultrasound image if the patient was seeking an abortion.

Carol Slaughter, the clinic’s executive director, said Little Life’s policy is to always supply patients with the ultrasound images. She attributed the nonprofit’s findings to a “mix-up in communication.”

State Sen. Ralph S. Northam (D-Norfolk), a pediatric neurologist running for lieutenant governor, said that it is “deeply troubling” that the commonwealth is “legitimizing” the crisis clinics by including many of them on its no-cost ultrasound provider list.

Lauri Kalanges, the acting director of the state’s Office of Family Health Services, said the public should not view the clinics on the list as medically endorsed by the state. The clinics have merely met the minimum requirements that they offer free ultrasounds and their ultrasound providers and physician supervisors have been certified and licensed to practice in the state.

The NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia volunteers found that “multiple” crisis centers wouldn’t discuss their services over the phone. One of its volunteers said she was incorrectly told that state law “actually mandated a visit” to such a facility, according to the report.

Others who visited clinics in Falls Church, Alexandria and Petersburg reported that the facilities’ officials tried to scare them off from abortions with gruesomely detailed portraits of the procedure.

Rosemary Codding, director of the Falls Church Healthcare Center, which provides abortions, said sometimes crisis clinics try to dissuade patients from getting abortions. One patient who wound up at her facility had first gone to a crisis center to obtain an ultrasound.

“The sonogram eventually came back and printed on the sonogram was ‘Hi Dad’ — more intimidation right there,” Codding said.

 
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