Two weeks ago, a crisis pregnancy center was allowed a table at Middlebury College’s Student Involvement Fair. On behalf of the NESCAC Coalition to Ban Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), we invite you to sign our petition to ban CPCs from our campus in the future. And we, as concerned members of the Middlebury community, want our peers to be equipped with information about the harm that CPCs cause to the public health of vulnerable populations not only within Middlebury but also beyond.
The reversal of Roe v. Wade this past summer only exacerbates the problems CPCs create. That is why we founded the NESCAC Coalition to Ban CPCs, because now, more than ever, CPCs constitute an active threat to public health and safety — both on our campuses and throughout the country.
Never heard of a crisis pregnancy center? CPCs are anti-abortion nonprofit organizations that critics describe as “fake clinics.” Scholars and activists have documented the many deceptive strategies CPCs use to reach their goal of preventing abortions. About 80% of CPC websites contain false or misleading medical information. They suggest that safe abortions lead to a higher risk of breast cancer, depression, suicide and infertility. Many professional medical organizations — including the National Cancer Institute and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — make clear that these claims are untrue. Following the closure of Middlebury’s Planned Parenthood in June 2022, it is especially concerning that students are at risk of receiving information that exaggerates the risks of abortion and downplays the risks of pregnancy and birth. Studies have found that the risk of death from childbirth is on average 14 times higher than abortion.
Alarmingly, CPCs are subject to almost no governmental oversight. They often gather the private medical information of their clients even though they do not have to be HIPAA compliant. In fact, CPCs are believed to share this private health information with national anti-abortion networks. This is a huge data privacy concern, especially following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Most notably, CPCs also disproportionately target poor women and women of color with their tactics.
This past summer, Middlebury College promised to “reimburse costs for travel for an individual and a support person to receive reproductive health care in another state,” if they are unable to access safe abortions in their home state. The administration’s quick action in support of abortion access was commendable. However, the administration continues to uphold the standard of inviting an organization to campus that is actively circulating medical misinformation in the name of preventing abortion. This is explicitly counter to Middlebury Codes of Conduct. The Codes of Conduct policy “Honesty and Cooperation in Middlebury Matters,” notably states that, “this obligation includes […] providing accurate information to Middlebury personnel, offices and committees.”
It’s often difficult to determine the core ethos of CPCs by looking at their websites and social media platforms, likely because they notoriously employ confusing tactics in an effort to trick and manipulate possible clients. They set up near abortion facilities and in buildings that were formerly abortion clinics. They use names that obscure their anti-abortion agendas (such as “Options for Women”). And, alarmingly, they often pose as medical facilities, with volunteers wearing white lab coats and offering sonograms. All of this works to obscure their true purpose: preventing abortions. Today, there are more than 2,600 CPCs in the U.S., but fewer than 750 abortion clinics. Even here in Vermont, there are more CPCs than abortion clinics.
The CPC in Middlebury is called The Women’s Center, formerly known as “The Pregnancy Resource Center,” and uses many of these strategies. It is located in a former Planned Parenthood office. The Women’s Center advertises itself as a “confidential” and “medical” resource, though it is not required to be HIPAA compliant and protect clients’ private medical information. Its nonprofit status allows it to navigate without the regulation and community accountability checks that registered nonprofit medical facilities are required to follow for their not-for-profit status in the state of Vermont. Further, it frames abortion as a traumatic event that causes Post Abortion Stress Syndrome in pamphlets attributed to their offices (a condition which is not medically recognized; in fact, 95% of abortion patients say it was the right decision). The Women’s Center also advertises the use of the Abortion Reversal Pill as a viable option for pregnant people, when it is clearly not supported by science. This kind of information can have serious consequences — and this is why year after year students and faculty have pushed back against their presence on campus.
To those who believe this is a matter of free speech or that we should encourage a diversity of viewpoints on campus, we say that CPCs and abortion clinics are not simple stand-ins for pro-choice or pro-life positions. Abortion clinics are highly regulated and provide legitimate medical care. CPCs are unregulated and spread medical misinformation in their quest to prevent people from accessing medical care.
This year we handed out informational flyers at yet another Student Involvement Fair. We wonder where our right to “free speech” is. We were told that our demonstration must not be disruptive and must take place within a marked zone outside of the student involvement fair. And yet, the college will protect the CPCs’ right to spread medical misinformation, lies and anti-abortion propaganda despite evidence of the risks to community public health that CPCs create.
There are many ways to get involved, and everyone is welcome. You do not need consider yourself pro-choice to be opposed to deceptive, manipulative strategies that can cause serious harm to people’s health and wellbeing. You can still sign our petition and come to the art exhibit about CPCs that is viewable in the Axinn winter garden.
We hope you will join us in this fight for reproductive justice and holding Middlebury College accountable.
The Middlebury Branch of the NESCAC Coalition to Ban CPCs
For more info on CPCs: Go/CPCInfo
This is a Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies informed, student-led and faculty-supported coalition to demand that the college ban crisis pregnancy center (CPC) advertising and involvement on our campus. Activism to ban CPCs from campus has been ongoing for years. This iteration of activism is informed by the prior research, documentation and momentum of our movement. This op-ed was compiled by Elissa Asch ’22.5 and Bella Cady ’22.5.
Editor’s Note: Access to JSTOR and other academic websites may vary based on subscriptions. If you have concerns regarding any information cited, please reach out for a more comprehensive bibliography.