It is estimated that one in seven Ohio women of childbearing age has visited a crisis pregnancy center, according to a new study.
In a survey of 2,529 women, almost 14% said they had ever attended a center. The prevalence was more than twice as high among black women and 1.6 times as high among those in the lowest socioeconomic group, found a research team from Ohio State University. Their study appears in the journal Contraception.
Pregnancy crisis centers are often supported by religious organizations and are designed to discourage women with unwanted pregnancies from choosing abortion, although they do not generally promote themselves as anti-abortion. In Ohio, where more than 100 centers are located throughout the state, they are funded by state dollars. In 2019, at the time of the investigation, the state committed $ 7.5 million over two years to support the centers. Centers that focus on adoption may also receive funding from the sale of “Choose Life” license plates.
Marketed to pregnant teens and women trying to make a decision about their pregnancy, the centers typically offer pregnancy testing and counseling, and often carry items such as diapers, formula, and other baby supplies. Some centers also offer ultrasounds. They are not medical providers and are not regulated by the Ohio Medical Board.
“Emergency pregnancy centers are visited by large numbers of women in general, and even more women from populations that already face serious barriers to reproductive health care, raising concerns that this could be a threat. another barrier to medical care, ”said Robin Rice, the study’s lead author and medical student at Ohio State.
“They look like medical clinics, and some women might not know if it is a medical facility or not,” she said.
The new study provides insight into the prevalence of interactions with centers at the population level, a measure that could help clinicians, reproductive rights advocates and others seeking to ensure that women in Ohio receive appropriate medical care, including information on all of their legal options, she said.
Maria Gallo, co-author of the study and a professor of epidemiology at Ohio State, said previous research found that the centers sometimes provided misinformation about reproductive health, which is of particular concern in cases where women mistakenly think they are visiting a health center. provider.
The state spends millions of dollars on these centers every year, which makes it even more important that pregnant women are aware of their missions and that they are not providers of medical care, but usually in religious outfits that oppose abortion.
If these centers attract people who do not have other options for pregnancy counseling and care, or who are unsure of what those options might be, this is a concern. And if they perform medically adjacent procedures, like pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, it could increase the chances that women will think they are receiving regulated health care when they are not. “
Maria Gallo, study co-author and professor of epidemiology, Ohio State University
Gallo said delays in getting medical attention could prevent women from receiving a proper diagnosis of early pregnancy complications, such as a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy.
Rice said it’s important for healthcare providers to understand the reach of these centers and recognize that their patients’ experiences can be influenced by the information they receive. Another potential action item based on the study’s findings: “We may seek to establish legitimate state-funded antenatal clinics in areas that may not have them,” she said.
“Mitigating financial barriers is also important. Emergency pregnancy centers are free, so we could also think about ways to offer alternative free support services that also attract women for convenience and to get free supplies. “
From a political perspective, Gallo said lawmakers might want to rethink the use of public funds for unregulated organizations that have been found to provide health misinformation.
Rice, R., et al. (2021) Who attends a crisis pregnancy center in Ohio ?. Contraception. doi.org/10.1016/j.contraception.2021.05.011.