A Texas blueprint for converting the ‘abortion-minded’: Lattes and a view

With abortion banned, a crisis pregnancy center plots a $10 million waterfront expansion for the post-Roe era

Jana Pinson, executive director of the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend, poses for a portrait with the center's staff at the future site of the center's new building, in Corpus Christi, Tex. (Marvi Lacar for The Washington Post)
Jana Pinson, executive director of the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend, poses for a portrait with the center's staff at the future site of the center's new building, in Corpus Christi, Tex. (Marvi Lacar for The Washington Post)
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CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. — Jana Pinson leaned over the table at the architect’s office, craning for a better look at the textures and patterns that would bring her post-Roe dreams to life.

At a meeting in mid-July, three weeks after the Supreme Court retracted the constitutional right to abortion, Pinson was plotting a new-age makeover for her crisis pregnancy center, an organization designed to persuade people to carry their pregnancies to term. She ran her fingers across samples of porcelain tile and beechwood-stained cabinets. The walls of her new building would be varying shades of green and gray, splashed with abstract pictures of trees, each detail designed to evoke, as she’d requested, the feeling of a “coastal spa.”

The executive director of the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend had recently overseen the purchase of what she sees as the most “strategic” plot of land in Corpus Christi, a city of 300,000 people on the South Texas coast. Right next to the local Texas A&M campus, looking out over the Oso Bay, Pinson’s $10 million crisis pregnancy center will be built to attract female undergraduates, with a coffee shop and a thrift store visible from the road, and a patio where students can sip their caffè lattes.

Chuck Anastos, the architect, gestured to the blueprint for the 20,000-square-foot facility. When it opens in February 2024, he said, the pregnancy center would be the “hip place for people to come.”

Over the past 50 years of legal abortion in America, crisis pregnancy centers have been one of the top tools of the antiabortion movement, and a target for intense criticism from abortion rights advocates. With more than 2,500 locations across the United States, these centers deploy what critics decry as overly aggressive — even deceptive — tactics to talk women out of abortions. Often religiously affiliated, they typically offer free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, sometimes initially presenting themselves as abortion clinics or objective sources of “abortion information.”

Now that abortion is banned across much of the South and Midwest, including Texas, many crisis pregnancy centers in these regions are preparing to assume a larger role, stepping into a void left by shuttered abortion clinics as the go-to place for ultrasound exams and pregnancy resources, despite the fact that they are not licensed medical facilities. The goal is to intercept women before they can access abortion some other way — through an online pharmacy or across state lines — and convince them that they’ll have support.

With its new building in Corpus Christi, the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend would become home to one of the largest such facilities in the country. The center’s plans, detailed in blueprints, artist renderings and other documents reviewed by The Washington Post, offer a rare glimpse inside the post-Roe strategy of a crisis pregnancy center in transition.

Pinson, 60, has emerged as a prominent champion of transforming these centers — often mom-and-pop shops that operate as small storefronts — into large-scale professional operations. In addition to directing the rise of her own organization, she has taken on the role of evangelist, training other center directors in the tools and tactics required for a new era.

In Texas, that means tapping into what has become a reliable stream of public money. The legislature approved $100 million for crisis pregnancy centers in 2021, to be doled out over two years, while simultaneously banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Pinson says the new building will be financed largely by state money — funding that is distributed with little government oversight. Records show the center received $776,000 last year.

Pinson’s plans are not widely known in Corpus Christi, and are likely to draw controversy as construction begins, especially on campus.

“They want to camouflage what their mission really is with iced coffee and a thrift shop,” said Molly Davis, a sophomore at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi, who leads Islander Feminists, an abortion rights group that plans to protest Pinson’s new building.

Since Roe was overturned, several of the five existing locations of the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend have been busier than ever, said Pinson, who plans to stay open an extra three hours each night to meet demand.

At the meeting with the architect, Pinson closely surveyed her floor plan for the future, pointing out the components she says will help her reach tens of thousands of women in South Texas over the next 50 years. The facility will have nine counseling rooms, six sonogram rooms and a “man cave” with a pool table, where men will be approached by a certified marriage counselor as they wait for the women they impregnated.

A few years from now, Pinson thought they might add a kayak launch and a few chairs beneath the palm trees, so women could spend an afternoon of reflection looking out at the bay.

“Perfect time, perfect space,” Pinson said with a smile. “I call it the post-Roe building.”

***

When Pinson took over the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend in 2014, the organization had seven employees and a budget of about $125,000, tax returns show. The center looked like “grandma’s house,” Pinson said, with a hodgepodge of discarded furniture donated by local churches.

“It was the way all the old pregnancy centers were,” she said.

A pastor’s wife and former marketing executive, Pinson carries her iPad with her everywhere she goes, tucked inside a leather Kate Spade tote. She has become a known entity within the Texas antiabortion movement, taking her place beside Gov. Greg Abbott (R) when he signed the Texas Heartbeat Act in the spring of 2021. Her phone is always dinging, and no matter what she’s doing, she always checks the message. It might be a new donor, eager to write her a check.

Pinson’s first mission as executive director was to do more to target “AMs,” what she calls “abortion-minded” women. The organization had purchased an ultrasound machine — widely regarded within the pregnancy center movement as the best way to reach people considering abortion — but they were still mainly seeing “LTCs,” or “likely to carrys.”

And so Pinson took to Google, she said, paying thousands of dollars to bid on key search terms. Now, whenever someone in Corpus Christi searches for phrases like “need an abortion” or “abortion cost Texas,” the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend is regularly the first item on the list.

Pinson simultaneously revamped the website, adding stock photos of girls gazing out at the ocean — and using the word “abortion” as many times as possible. Patients who visit the center’s homepage today can click on “I Want An Abortion,” which directs to a page that says: “CONFIDENTIAL ABORTION CONSULTATION — NO COST TO YOU.” There are detailed descriptions of both surgical and medication abortions, estimated costs and several buttons that allow you to schedule an appointment.

Looking at the center’s website, even antiabortion donors are confused. Occasionally, Pinson said, she’ll get angry phone calls from conservative members of the community, demanding to know why the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend is talking about abortion.

“I’m like, ‘What am I supposed to talk about?’ ” she said. “How else do you get an abortion-minded girl to know that you’re there?”

Eighteen-year-old Brooke Alexander — whose story was depicted in a Washington Post article in June — was one of the hundreds of abortion-minded women who found herself at Pinson’s pregnancy center in 2021. Like every client who arrives seeking an abortion, Alexander was advised on what a counselor told her were the potential risks of the procedure, including infertility, breast cancer and death. Those claims are widely disputed by leading medical organizations.

Even after leaving the pregnancy center — and deciding to continue her pregnancy — Alexander had no idea the organization had an antiabortion mission.

This Texas teen wanted an abortion. She now has twins.

Pinson has no qualms about her strategies, which she says have been highly effective: The first year she started Google advertising, she said the number of “abortion-minded” clients at the center increased by almost 90 percent.

Now they have 50 employees and an annual budget of approximately $2 million, Pinson said. Last year, she said, they convinced 583 women to carry their pregnancies to term.

On a recent Wednesday morning in July, Pinson drove 30 minutes to a branch of her pregnancy center in Calallen, Tex., where she has been piloting what she refers to as their “prenatal care program.” Housed in a medical plaza, next to several doctor’s offices, the center offers blood tests, ultrasounds and ultimately a referral to an OB/GYN during the client’s second trimester.

“Post-Roe needs to have prenatal,” Pinson said. “We’re taking care of the whole woman.”

When she became executive director, Pinson quickly amped up what she calls the center’s medical offerings. They purchased several state-of-the-art ultrasounds, including a $65,000 machine Pinson calls her “Ferrari,” following a broader national trend among crisis pregnancy centers to appear as professionalized medical facilities. In almost all cases, these centers have no doctors on staff, said Andrea Swartzendruber, a professor at the University of Georgia College of Public Health who studies crisis pregnancy centers.

On the website for the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend, a disclaimer appears at the bottom that reads, “Information is provided as an educational service and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional and/or medical advice.”

The bulk of the medical offerings are administered by seven registered nurses, a nurse practitioner and two diagnostic medical sonographers, one of whom, according to Pinson, orchestrates and oversees a 40-hour training to teach the nurses how to read ultrasound scans. While Pinson says she can’t afford to hire doctors, two local OB/GYNs volunteer as “medical directors,” reviewing ultrasound scans and calling in to consult on any potentially high-risk situations via FaceTime. As a “kindness,” Pinson said, a doctor might come into the center to see a patient every six months or so.

Whenever Pinson’s staff sees what they think might be an ectopic or a molar pregnancy — potentially life-threatening conditions that crop up at her centers a few times a year — they text a photo to one of the medical directors, who advises on whether the client should be sent to the emergency room. Even without a doctor on-site, Pinson said she feels “phenomenally confident” that they will catch any serious complications.

Leading medical organizations see it differently.

“These places are incredibly dangerous for our patients,” said Nisha Verma, an OB/GYN and a spokesperson for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

ACOG has voiced concern about the medicalization of crisis pregnancy centers, arguing that the trappings of health care lead patients to believe that center staffers are fully trained to identify potential complications. Because pregnancy centers aren’t licensed medical facilities, Verma said, they are exempt from the laws and statutes that govern medical clinics — putting them in the extraordinary position of providing unregulated medical services.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which licenses health-care facilities, does not monitor crisis pregnancy centers because they do not fall within its “regulatory scope,” said Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the HSCC.

In her new building, Pinson says she will offer more medical services than ever before, including an expanded prenatal program. Along with the sonogram rooms, the building’s floor plans include a nurses’ station, two “medical services offices,” two rooms for “blood drawing” and a doctor’s office.

She also plans to expand their “abortion reversal” offerings over the next few years, as more women in South Texas take abortion pills obtained illegally or in Mexico. The practice — denounced by ACOG as potentially dangerous but widely embraced by the antiabortion movement — involves administering the hormone progesterone to a patient soon after they take the first of two abortion pills, in an attempt to “reverse” the abortion.

A clinical trial for abortion reversal ended abruptly in 2019, after several patients started hemorrhaging so severely that they had to be rushed to the hospital.

Andrew Folley, Pinson’s only medical director who will participate in abortion reversal, said he has “no concerns” about the procedure, which he says he has facilitated a handful of times since Pinson’s center started offering the service a year ago. The doctor is open about his reasons for prescribing progesterone and volunteering at the center.

“I feel that conception is the beginning of life,” he said. “I don’t see where there’s a woman’s right or a human right to murder an unborn baby.”

Every week, Pinson sits down at her desk with a stack of thank you letters, signing a few dozen notes to donors. Since Roe was overturned, the center has seen a spike in support, Pinson said — and she is determined to keep it going.

Pinson, who according to the center’s treasurer was paid $75,000 in 2021, said she raised more money in the first half of 2022 than any six-month period in the center’s history, with donors energized by the prospect of a post-Roe future. For the center’s annual banquet in March, over 2,800 people packed into the entertainment megacenter downtown — a space that has hosted Flo Rida and the WWE SmackDown — to hear about the pregnancy center and see Tim Tebow, an NFL player turned antiabortion activist. After the audience enjoyed a barbecue dinner, Pinson directed their attention to 15-foot-wide mock-ups of the center’s new building.

That night, the center raised over $850,000 — a sum Pinson will mostly put toward her daily operations.

To finance her grandest ambitions, she relies on the state.

Texas started funding crisis pregnancy centers in 2006, when lawmakers allotted $5 million for what they called the “Alternatives to Abortion” program. Since then, the Texas program has grown exponentially alongside similar initiatives in about a dozen other states, where legislation has often accompanied abortion bans.

The Texas program has garnered sharp criticism for its failure to provide detailed information on how this ballooning pot of money is used.

“It is very frustrating that the legislature has continued to pour funds into a program where there is practically no transparency, no accountability and basically no metrics to the tune of $100 million without any medical or health services being provided,” said state Rep. Donna Howard (D), a member of the appropriations committee. “Half of what they do is give out pamphlets.”

The Texas Pregnancy Care Network, the contractor that administers the state funds and is responsible for monitoring the Pregnancy Center of the Coastal Bend, does not oversee any service considered “medical,” Pinson said, including ultrasounds. John McNamara, the network’s executive director, has not responded to calls and emails from The Post.

The Texas money comes with one condition that has led many pregnancy centers to turn down state support, Pinson said: To qualify, centers have to ask a client’s permission before they broach anything spiritual. While Pinson agreed to those terms when she began accepting the funding in 2018, the center’s clients are incentivized to sign up for Bible study classes, where attendance is rewarded with “points” redeemable for diapers and baby clothes.

“We have staff that are committed to share Christ with every girl that walks through that door,” Pinson said in a 2019 promotional video, calling the center a “ministry.” Pinson will refer women who need additional support to local churches, which she says do “a beautiful job of coming around mamas and walking them through.”

Since Roe was overturned, Pinson said she’s heard from a lot of angry abortion rights advocates, demanding to know how she intends to help the women she helps convince to carry to term. Sometimes she offers to give them a tour of her stock room, where diapers are stacked to the rafters.

“We gave out 200,000 diapers last year.” If there’s a woman in need, she says, “there is absolutely nothing we couldn’t help them with.”

According to government estimates, the average cost of raising a child in the United States is $233,610.

Pinson’s final stop of the day was the church where her husband preaches. Eight women had already arrived, waiting for her with thick white binders, ready to be trained as volunteers.

“Abortions are closed in Texas,” she told the group: The closest abortion clinics to Corpus Christi, in San Antonio and McAllen, had just announced plans to shutter and move to New Mexico.

That was a great sign, Pinson said — but they could not allow themselves to become complacent.

Other threats still loomed.

By the end of 2023, Meg Autry, an OB/GYN based out of the University of California at San Francisco, plans to sail a vessel into the Gulf of Mexico and provide abortions for women on federal waters, nine miles out to sea. Deep in South Texas, with no direct flights out of state, Corpus Christi will be a priority, she said.

“It’s the most critical point,” said Autry, who got the idea from gambling boats that sail up and down the Mississippi River, skirting local laws. “If your idea is to try to provide abortion access to the most number of people on the water in the U.S., this is the place to do it.”

If her efforts are successful, she will provide the people of Corpus Christi with the most convenient abortion access they’ve had since the local clinic closed in 2014.

“I’m going to need a pregnancy center boat,” Pinson told her husband as soon as she heard about Autry’s plans on the news.

‘We’re done’: Chaos and tears as an abortion clinic abruptly shuts down

If they can get an “abortion-minded” woman to have a conversation, Pinson feels confident that the center’s staff can change her mind. In their counseling sessions, Pinson says, they “pour into girls,” persuading them that, no matter the obstacles in their lives, they can become successful mothers.

Pinson welcomes even the most devastating cases.

“I’ve seen a lot of 13-year-olds do phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a negative thing.”

She closely followed the case of the 10-year-old rape victim who was denied an abortion in Ohio last month. If that girl came into her center, Pinson would suggest she consider adoption, she said, adding that abortion would not fix the girl’s problems.

“That life is still a life and, even at 10, she knows a life is inside her.”

***

Whenever a new crisis pregnancy center opens in South Texas, Pinson says, she usually hears from its leaders. They call her up, asking for advice — and she invites them to shadow for the day.

In the wake of the Roe decision, Pinson met up with Nelda Flores, who plans to open a small center in Mission, Tex., in August.

“You’ve absolutely got to go medical,” Pinson said, hands on the steering wheel, shuttling Flores from one of her centers to another. “I will beg, borrow and steal to get you an ultrasound machine.”

Flores took furious notes all morning as Pinson advised her on how to attract volunteers, which grants she should apply for and how to find a medical director.

“God will grow your center as fast as you will step out in faith,” Pinson said.

Just look at what they’d done in Corpus Christi, she added.

In 10 years, Flores could build an operation just like hers.

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