For at least five years, our school Carleton College leased building space to a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) called the Northfield Women’s Center. Although CPCs appear to be unbiased women’s health clinics, they are in fact the opposite. CPCs are run by people who are anti-choice, who give pregnant people false or misleading information about the risks of getting an abortion in order to prevent people from learning about the full, unbiased spectrum of healthcare options available to them.
Examples of some deceitful–yet routine–practices at CPCs include:
Providing incomplete and/or inaccurate information about all pregnancy options (birth, abortion, adoption, and parenting).
Misrepresenting the medical and emotional effects of abortion and giving birth.
Convincing pregnant people that their pregnancies are less far along, which tricks people into delaying seeking abortion services, thus effectively limiting access by making the procedure more difficult to obtain, for financial as well as legal reasons (ex. twenty week bans). Similarly, CPCs are known to falsely tell people that they have already passed the cutoff point for legal abortion, and therefore have no choice but to carry their pregnancy to term.
Discouraging people from using certain methods of birth control that are actually very safe and effective (e.g. saying that IUDs cause abortions).
Deceptive naming practices. For example, the Northfield Women’s Center sounds eerily similar to the Northfield Women’s Health Center, a legitimate women’s medical clinic nearby.
At a trip to the Northfield Women’s Center, Carleton students received a pamphlet intended for the “boyfriend” of the client titled Before She Decides and one for the client titled Before You Decide. These pamphlets were made by CareNet, a network of anti-choice CPCs, whose goal is to coerce women “to choose life for their unborn children and abundant life for their families.”
These pamphlets included messages for the pregnant person’s partner like, “There is nothing safe or natural about a medication that ends a life” and “You may also feel powerless in a culture that says it is her choice, not yours… After all, it’s your unborn child too!”
A pamphlet for the client included the message, “By taking emergency contraception before knowing you are pregnant, you may be putting yourself at risk for no reason” and “the bottom line is that scientific evidence indicates that abortion is more likely to be associated with negative psychological outcomes when compared to miscarriage or carrying an unintended pregnancy to term.”
As leaders with Student Advocates for Reproductive Choice, a group that fights for reproductive freedom on our college campus and in our local community, we knew we needed to speak up against our college’s lease of building space to the Northfield Women’s Center.
Knowing that the center’s lease would be up for renewal in a few years, we decided to use the power we had as students to put pressure on our administration not to renew. We knew that we had to frame this not as a political issue but as an issue of dishonest and unethical use of college resources in our community. Though we had our own clear opinion on the issue of choice, we believe firmly that Crisis Pregnancy Centers transcend the political nature of the abortion debate–regardless of where you stand on the issue of reproductive choice, it seems clear that lying to people about their bodies, disseminating false medical information while masquerading as a legitimate health clinic, and using humiliation and scare tactics to coerce people into making a choice is wrong. As we pointed out to members of our administration, as an academic institution, it was particularly hypocritical to lease space to a center that spread scientific information so discounted or faulty that it would not be held up by a single member of the college’s biology or chemistry faculty.
We used a mixture of tactics in our campaign against our college’s lease to the CPC. We widely circulated a petition, which was signed by more than a thousand Carleton students, alumni, parents, faculty, and staff. We spread awareness on campus through documentary screenings, tabling in our student center, and articles in various school publications. We gave a powerpoint presentation to three key members of our administration. Our student senate passed a resolution in our favor. On a day of action, we encouraged hundreds of our community members to call college administrators. We also staged a protest in collaboration with St. Olaf College outside of the Northfield Women’s Center’s annual fundraising gala.
In the fall of 2017 we received news that the Northfield Women’s Center notified the college that they would be moving to a new location before our college had officially made their decision. Though the Center did give a reason for leaving their former location, we believe that the pressure and publicity elicited by our campaign contributed to their choice to leave the space. They have recently moved to a new location about one block away from their former space, but, luckily, it is located off the main drag of downtown Northfield, which we hope will decrease traffic to their clinic. We are continuing our work to raise awareness of their deceptive practices in our community, and will keep fighting for accessible and comprehensive reproductive healthcare for all people.