So, you’re pregnant, and you didn’t plan to be. A crisis pregnancy center provides insights for options of all situations. Maybe your partner is pregnant, and you don’t know what to do. Either way, that’s a tough position to be in, and I promise that there are many paths through this. Let’s talk about your options.

In order to make an informed decision about your future, you’ll need resources. You’re already using an important one, the Internet. You can also ask parents, friends, teachers, clergy and other trusted individuals. You may talk to your doctor or therapist. One additional place you might consider going for information is a crisis pregnancy center.

 What is a crisis pregnancy center, you ask? Just the mention of that three-word moniker can raise intense emotions due to political convictions. The subject is a bit controversial.

Let me explain what you can gain and learn from a crisis pregnancy center.

What is a crisis pregnancy center not

I think it’s important to outline what a pregnancy center isn’t in order for you to decide whether or not to visit one. Let’s debunk a few myths so that you can decide for yourself using true information.

First and foremost, a pregnancy center is not an abortion provider. In fact, crisis pregnancy centers are exactly the opposite. They are known to do business right next door to abortion clinics and try to talk women out of abortions in the parking lot. Some crisis pregnancy centers even falsely advertise themselves as abortion clinics and then discourage termination of the pregnancy once the woman shows up for her appointment. If you’ve already decided to have an abortion, or you want to keep that choice on the table, then it’s important for you to know that a crisis pregnancy center does not offer that service and will actively discourage you from going through with it.

A crisis pregnancy center is not a medical facility. If you visit a crisis pregnancy center, it’s likely that staff will be wearing scrubs or lab coats, but don’t assume that that means they’re medical professionals. Crisis pregnancy centers do not require medical licensing in most states and aren’t bound by the same laws as medical clinics—including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects your private medical data. There are essentially no rules about what a crisis pregnancy center can and cannot say to you. Medical regulations don’t apply because crisis pregnancy centers are not healthcare facilities. Federal Trade Commission laws don’t apply because the centers give away their services for free. In fact, a number of lawsuits have resulted in court rulings that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (which protects free speech) gives crisis pregnancy centers the right to teach whatever information they’d like, regardless of medical verification. 

Depending on the state, some crisis pregnancy centers are allowed to offer services like pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, but since they aren’t medical centers, staff don’t have to be properly trained to administer these tests. If you decide to use a crisis pregnancy center, you need to also be sure to visit a legitimate medical professional for prenatal care.

A crisis pregnancy center is not a birth control provider. Crisis pregnancy centers won’t give you free condoms or refer you to a doctor who can help you select birth control that requires a professional. In fact, some crisis pregnancy centers will actually discourage the use of any contraception, citing misinformation about the effectiveness of birth control. For counseling on birth control to avoid future pregnancies, you’ll need to consult your doctor.

A crisis pregnancy center is not a replacement for mental health counseling. The counseling provided at crisis pregnancy centers is about where to go next with your pregnancy, specifically whether parenting or adoption is the right path for you. This kind of advice may be helpful, but it does not qualify as medical treatment for mental health concerns. Since pregnancy is such a drastic life change, seeking psychological counseling might be beneficial for stress management. If you choose to pursue such treatment, you need to see a licensed medical professional.

What is a crisis pregnancy center?

At this point, you are probably wondering, so what is a crisis pregnancy center? Basically, a crisis pregnancy center is a nonprofit organization that will 1) help you decide to carry your pregnancy to term if you’re on the fence or 2) provide and/or connect you with select resources during and after pregnancy.

Most crisis pregnancy centers fall within one of three networks: Care Net, Heartbeat International, or Birthright International, which are founded and run by religious conservatives who oppose abortion. In fact, the first crisis pregnancy center opened in Hawaii in 1967 as a reaction to the state’s legalization of abortion. 

The crisis pregnancy center locator identifies 2,525 crisis pregnancy centers in the United States; that’s an average of more than 50 per state, so chances are, there is a crisis pregnancy center within accessible distance from you. The site even lists the crisis pregnancy center in my small town, if that makes any difference in credibility to you.

Many crisis pregnancy centers solicit donations from their communities, but they are also subsidized by state and federal tax dollars. For example, in 2018, Care Net received a substantial grant from the United States government to help finance its operations across the country. Because each crisis pregnancy center likely receives tax-payer money, there are rules about how much care a center can provide to each patron and how frequently you may attend.

In a study published in March of 2020, the University of California San Francisco associate professor Katrina Kimport found that most of the women she studied had already decided against abortion before visiting a crisis pregnancy center. If you are not interested in terminating your pregnancy, then a crisis pregnancy center could prove a useful tool as you prepare for your next steps.

While not a healthcare facility by any definition, a crisis pregnancy center can sometimes offer a few preliminary medical procedures. A good first step as you decide what to do next is a pregnancy test to make sure you are positive. Many crisis pregnancy centers will provide you with a free pregnancy test if you need one.

Some crisis pregnancy centers are authorized to administer free STD/STI testing for conditions such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and genital herpes. Depending on your sexual history, this testing may be valuable to you.

As your pregnancy runs its course, you may find it both medically helpful and emotionally satisfying to view ultrasound images of the fetus. Many crisis pregnancy centers will perform free ultrasound tests, but remember that the volunteer or employee who runs the procedure doesn’t have to be medically trained. If it makes you feel more comfortable, don’t be afraid to ask for the person’s credentials and/or request someone more qualified.

Since most crisis pregnancy centers are faith-based organizations, they often offer spiritual counsel. If you’re religious or curious, you may take advantage of services such as community prayer, Bible study, or ecclesiastical advice. Services vary between crisis pregnancy centers, but your assigned consultant can inform you about what’s available locally.

If you decide to parent your baby, a crisis pregnancy center can help you prepare for that life change. Expectant mothers may be eligible for a number of services from a crisis pregnancy center, depending on the facility. Some crisis pregnancy centers offer free parenting and/or financial literacy classes. Some have diapers or clothing drives so you can dress your baby after he or she is born. Crisis pregnancy centers frequently provide emotional support as you adjust to the sometimes overwhelming reality that you’re about to become a parent.

Professor Kimport’s study revealed that crisis pregnancy centers are sometimes used for proof of pregnancy for documentation such as Medicaid or Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) application. If you’re in a position of needing to verify your pregnancy without breaking the bank, a crisis pregnancy center may be able to help you with that.

You may be discouraged by your peers from carrying your pregnancy to term based on your racial identity or socioeconomic status. If you want to give birth, you should be supported in that desire. A crisis pregnancy center can connect you with a network of other expectant parents who can relate to your life experience.

If you opt to place your baby for adoption, a crisis pregnancy center can give you a referral to an adoption agency

No matter what you choose in the end, having all the information is vital to feeling good about your decision.

Now what?

You now have the answer to your question of “What is a crisis pregnancy center?” and you’ve decided to check out the one closest to you. What’s the next step?

First, you’ll need to make an appointment. If calling your local crisis pregnancy center is a source of anxiety for you, maybe you can ask a trusted friend to make the call for you or sit with you while you call. Some centers also have text lines or online chats available, if those media make you feel more comfortable.

When you arrive, the consultant you work with will ask you a bunch of questions about your pregnancy. It’s okay not to know all the answers. You’re allowed to ask any questions you have, too.

If you have a romantic partner, it’s a good idea to bring that person with you. If not, a trusted friend can offer emotional support as you attend your crisis pregnancy center appointment.

It’s important to evaluate your long-term needs. Once your pregnancy is confirmed, you need to decide what other help you require. Does this particular crisis pregnancy center offer STD/STI testing? If not and you need that service, ask for a referral. Will you need some financial help? Find out which specific services your crisis pregnancy center offers. Are there group meetings with other expectant parents? Find out how you can enroll.

One thing you need to be sure to discuss is prenatal care. Crisis pregnancy centers offer limited medical services, and if you intend to bring a child into the world, you need more than that. Be sure to ask for a recommendation for a local obstetrician (doctors who deliver babies) and pediatricians (doctors who treat infants and children). 

If you plan to parent, now is a great time to start learning about options and resources. Your crisis pregnancy center may offer classes for both you and your partner. If it doesn’t, your consultant is probably aware of other community options. Additionally, the Internet is full of parenting resources. Start practicing skills now that you will need when the baby is born.

If you have decided to place your baby for adoption, know that while that choice can be excruciating, it is also noble. Each child deserves to have parents who want to and are in a position to raise him or her. If you aren’t able to do that yourself, placing your child for adoption is the greatest act of love you could conceive.

Your crisis pregnancy center can connect you with other expectant or birth parents who have made the same choice and can understand what you might be feeling right now. The center should also be able to help you select an adoption agency and start making an adoption plan.

If you’re at all considering bringing your pregnancy to term, a crisis pregnancy center can offer you many benefits, from an initial pregnancy test all the way to parenting or adoption. Now that you know the facts, you can decide whether a crisis pregnancy center is a good option for you.

I’ve never personally used the services of a crisis pregnancy center, but maybe some of you have. What was valuable about your experience that I didn’t cover in this article? What additional drawbacks should expectant parents be aware of before visiting a crisis pregnancy center? Be sure to share and discuss in the comments. 

Leah Ward is a reporter at southwest Minnesota’s regional newspaper. With her academic background in professional writing, she has found a journalism niche in local crime, education, and politics. Outside the newsroom, Leah enjoys embracing community events like lutefisk suppers and donkey basketball, as well as exploring state parks with her camera. She often spends weekends at her parents’ home helping foster infants.