Most of us are all-too familiar with anti-abortion activism that utilizes highly public, offensive, and violent tactics. Anti-abortion activists threaten, attack, and murder abortion providers. They have bombed and burned reproductive health centers, including down the road in Danville. Picketers show up at schools and clinics waving grotesque signs displaying what the co-founders of the MYAabortion Network call “misleading fetal imagery” (when in fact, approximately 85% of abortions take place before nine weeks of pregnancy, resulting in the removal of tissue that looks nothing like a fetus). Since the fall of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, regressive legislatures have passed a head-spinning number of laws restricting or banning abortion outright. Some people who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, and ectopic pregnancy have been denied life-saving care and faced increased criminalization.
But not all anti-abortion activism is so overt. Beware the anti-abortion center! Immediately after Hawai’i legalized abortion in 1967, a “crisis pregnancy center” (CPC) opened there. Now, over 2,500 of these centers exist around the country, outnumbering legitimate reproductive healthcare clinics 3-to-1. Anti-abortion centers are well-funded, faith-based centers that operate with one goal: to prevent people from accessing abortion care. This is why I follow the lead of organizations such as Equity Forward and Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights (GRR!) to call CPCs what they really are: anti-abortion centers (AACs).
The Crisis Pregnancy Center Map has identified 97 AACs in Illinois, two right here in Champaign. Birthright of Champaign is one of over 450 chapters of Birthright International, an anti-abortion organization that has been around since 1968. Birthright is guided by the belief that “It is the right of every pregnant woman to give birth…and the right of every child to be born.” The other AAC in our area is Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resource Center (pictured at top of article), which will be holding their Champaign/Rantoul fundraising banquet this October to “remember what God has done in 2023 and dream for the coming year.” Sponsorship levels offered include Protector, Guardian, Defender, and Rescuer. Have no doubt, if you walk into one of these centers, their main goal will be to prevent you from accessing abortion care.
Here are just some of the tactics they use to achieve that goal:
They pretend to be what they are not. AACs often open near licensed medical clinics and use misleading names. Case in point: the Women’s Care Clinic of Danville is an AAC. Some also mimic medical centers by offering “free” pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. However, most AAC staff do not have medical licenses, and therefore they are not subject to HIPAA rules. In such cases, AACs have no legal obligation to protect your privacy — including information about your pregnancy.
They delay, confuse, and scare people seeking medical care. The Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resource Center advises people to book an appointment before taking emergency contraceptives (EC). But even a short delay can reduce the effectiveness of EC, which should be taken within the first 72 hours after unprotected sex. Staff will also emotionally manipulate and coerce people into continuing their pregnancies, encouraging them to return for multiple “mentoring” appointments. These delay tactics put pregnant people’s well-being at risk. Abortion as early as six weeks is banned in many states, sooner than most people know they are pregnant. Each week a pregnancy progresses can result in relatively higher cost, higher risk abortion procedures.
They spread anti-abortion propaganda. Living Alternatives claims abortion “may have various side effects, including…uterine scarring causing future infertility…pre-term birth and emotional and psychological impact.” These statements directly contradict medical consensus that abortions are safe and do not impact future fertility. Anti-abortion activists also spread the false idea that something called abortion pill reversal can “give your unborn child a second chance at life.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states unequivocally that “reversal” procedures are unproven, unethical, and dangerous to people’s health.
Now that you know about these fake clinics, what comes next?
Know your local resources. There are two legitimate reproductive health clinics in Champaign-Urbana: Champaign Health Center (operated by Planned Parenthood) and Equity Clinic (privately run). Other reproductive health resources are available through non-faith-based, unbiased organizations, including CU Public Health District (CUPHD), McKinley Health Center, and Cunningham Township. Each of these organizations protect clients’ privacy and will refer you to abortion care, if that is what is right for you.
Stay current on the legal landscape. Illinois is currently a regional haven for those who must travel to access reproductive healthcare. This will only remain true if we all get engaged. Be sure you are registered to vote. Then, vote in every election — local, statewide, and national — and ensure that every candidate you support has a pro-abortion stance. Reach out to your state legislators and Governor Pritzker and thank them for passing the January 2023 Reproductive Health Act and a new law expanding consumer protections that will hold AACs accountable for their deceptive practices. Though the most recent law is currently caught up in the courts, it is important to let our elected leaders know that we support their pro-abortion/pro-bodily autonomy legislation.
Put your money where your mouth is. Donate to regional abortion funds such as Chicago Abortion Fund or Midwest Access Coalition. Champaign-based Elevated Access is also doing phenomenal work flying people to the health care they need.
Donate your time and skills. If the AAC issue is particularly of interest to you, get in touch with Reproductive Transparency Now (RTN), which is working to build a downstate coalition. Reproductive justice organizations could always use volunteers to support their work. You could apply to be a Planned Parenthood clinic escort and support those attending abortion appointments. Students at the University of Illinois can connect with Planned Parenthood Generation Action and the new RSO Illinois Students for Reproductive Justice. And community members interested in getting engaged in the work should check out upcoming events and volunteer opportunities through grassroots organizations such as Urbana-Champaign Reproductive Justice, Uniting Pride, and BIPOC for Better Birth.
Most of all, I encourage you to educate yourself and then take some action. Reproductive justice for all can only be achieved through our deliberate, creative, and sustained collaboration.