Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) exist to discourage people from receiving abortion treatment. To that end, their tactics can include posing as legitimate abortion providers online, providing false information about the supposed dangers of abortion treatment, and lying to patients about how far along they are in their pregnancy.
According to a July report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, CPCs may also deceive at least some foundations and donors and otherwise conceal the amounts of money going into their work and the anti-abortion movement. The Threat of Crisis Pregnancy Centers to the Future of Abortion Access is the result of more than a year of research into the intricate world of CPCs, their associated organizations and networks, and the funders who support them. At least some of these supporters, according to the NCRP, believe they donate to organizations that are dogma-free groups dedicated to promoting maternal health and other positive outcomes.
The crux of the problem is that CPCs present themselves as small community clinics or even legitimate health centers when they are not. Most of them are associated with well-funded anti-abortion networks and are often housed in other much larger charities, with many even sharing the same tax identification numbers. The result is an extensive funding pool that is difficult to analyze.
Even Candid’s Foundation Directory Online, the leading source of philanthropic data, has a “Right to Life” category that captures advocacy for the criminalization of abortion care, but misses out on far larger amounts of anti-abortion funding, including for CPCs, by failing to do so Such groups mislead categories according to the NCRP report. In response, Candid VP of Data Jake Garcia noted that they collect data across millions of organizations and “the amount of data available for those organizations varies greatly.” The platform is improving its categorization of anti-abortion funding, Garcia said.
While the level of deception by the CPCs’ web is worrying, it is unlikely that much of their funding comes from donors who have been misled. The interlocking movements denying women’s rights, restricting voting rights and otherwise undermining democracy have strong support from a core of wealthy individuals and Republican lawmakers. Even more troubling is the portrait the NCRP report paints – one similar to other corners of conservative finance – in which vast amounts of money are sloshing around, with little clarity as to where it’s coming from or exactly what it’s being paid for, and much more of its actors, flying under the radar.
Foundations alone provided an estimated $278 million to CPCs alone from 2015-2019, or an average of $55 million per year, according to the NCRP report. That amount, along with Candid’s $53 million ($10.6 million annually) in funding under its Right to Life category, taxpayer money funneled to these organizations, and the war chests funded by accumulated by the larger organizations affiliated with many of the CPCs amount to a movement supported by NCRP estimates in the billions.
By comparison, donors moved about $45.6 million a year into abortion rights and services during the same period, with just 3% — or just over $5.4 million a year — going specifically to abortion funds. While delivery to frontline abortion services in the wake of Dobbs Leaks and decisions have historically given organizations that provide actual care and advice to pregnant women, including help accessing abortion treatments, far less funding than CPCs.
“CPCs had to be identified; they had to be called”
The NCRP conducted its research on CPC funding, said Stephanie Peng, senior movement research manager, after being approached by several people asking the organization to find out how much endowment funding the centers receive. They were asked, Peng said, because while organizations like Reproaction and the Women’s Law Center have worked to uncover federal and state funds being moved into CPCs, little to nothing was known about their private sources of funding. NCRP used Reproaction’s database of more than 2,600 fake abortion clinics as a starting point for its research.
“That’s what local people have been saying for decades roe would be lifted,” said NCRP Movement Engagement Manager Brandi Collins-Calhoun, who worked as an organizer and midwife before joining NCRP in 2020 and therefore has frontline experience of the damage done by CPCs. “So we wanted to create content that not only informs philanthropy but can also be used as an organizational tool for the frontline. … We knew that in response to whatever Dobbs The decision was that CPCs had to be identified – they had to be called.”
Even after more than a year of digging, Peng said, NCRP researchers are still not confident they were able to trace all the numbers. “I think we have pieces,” she told IP. “We have funds for what we could track down for crisis pregnancy centers and we have funds for what Candid describes as a ‘right to life,’ which broadly covers advocacy around the anti-abortion movement, but there’s likely to be even more.”
Fraud as a business plan
NCRP researchers were able to find tax information for approximately 2,400 of the 2,600+ CPCs in Reproaction’s database. Almost half of these groups shared tax identification numbers (EINs), meaning that instead of being small, independent organizations, these CPCs are part of other, larger legal entities. Of the 2,400 total groups that publicly identify themselves as separate entities, NCRP was able to identify 1,291 unique c3 entities that filed at least one tax form between 2015 and 2019.
Of the more than $4 billion transferred to organizations in the CPC industry during the years covered by the report, at least $2.2 billion, or more than half, went to larger entities that do not provide maternity-related services main purpose are. In other words, according to the report, “this means that it is reasonable to assume that only a portion of those dollars went directly to crisis pregnancy centers or counseling centers.”
Among the largest of these institutions by revenue between 2015 and 2019 is Lakeview Center, Inc., which received more than $687 million during the study period. Lakeview describes itself as a full-service mental health provider and does not disclose its affiliations with CPCs on its website. Bethany Christian Services, which raised over $446 million, is a social services agency that provides foster care and adoption services and only agreed to end discrimination against LGBT couples in 2021 if taxpayers’ dollars threaten it. Bethany openly offers what she calls “help” to pregnant people and claims the agency empowers her to “make a plan.” Both the Lakeview Center and Bethany Christian Services are listed in Reproaction’s database of fake abortion clinics.
As the NCRP report states: “CPCs are not, as their proponents would like us to believe, small, individual, church-based operations; Instead, they are deeply integrated into the core infrastructure of the major organizational players in the anti-abortion movement.”
The deception doesn’t end there. “Many CPCs have multiple names,” Peng said. A CPC may show one name on their Google location but have a different name on their website. “And then their 990 could have a completely different name, which makes it really difficult to even try to find the right tax information for them.” The relationship between individually named CPCs and the larger entities they support can also be difficult to see.
“The research really helps confirm what we already knew: that CPCs are really fallacious,” she said.
Given the maze of CPCs’ various names, affiliations, and other misleading information, Peng and Collins-Calhoun said it would be easy for funders to believe that they actually provide agenda-free services to promote maternal and child-being. For example, Peng said, a CPC could apply to a community foundation or other mainstream funder that uses a reproductive justice or maternal health lens “without disclosing that they don’t provide abortion services or offer that choice to people, who come through the door. ”
Positively noted Collins-Calhoun, “I think the more public CPCs have gotten, the closer we got to that Dobbs decision people started to figure out what CPCs are. If they funded them, they stopped.” During the height of awareness of the black mothers’ health crisis, “they may have received more funding for the childbirth classes, the diaper banks, and the baby closets” than they do today.
Candid’s Foundation Directory Online is another source of misinformation about crisis pregnancy centers. According to the NCRP report, “these fake clinics hide themselves in other (often counter-intuitive) categories of data, including women’s rights, individual liberties, and even maternal health and prenatal care,” despite the fact that the vast majority of them are non-healthcare institutions and do not provide medical services.
In response to questions about the accuracy of the CPC data, Jake Garcia, VP of Data at Candid said, “Candid processes data on approximately 4 million grants per year. We’ve also collected data on more than 2 million organizations in the US and abroad. The amount of data available for these organizations varies greatly.”
While Candid’s goal is to accurately code grants and organizations using a combination of human resources and automation, Garcia said, “this may be limited by the quality of information available,” Garcia said. And Garcia said, as NCRP itself noted, “CPCs have so misrepresented their intentions that many legitimate health centers and community centers list them alongside genuine abortion providers.”
Mainstream coverage of the harm CPCs wreak has been slow to come, and although the first CPC opened in 1967, public awareness has increased since at least 2017 given the threats posed by CPCs and the larger movement they are part of belong, it has not been more proactive in its due diligence in this area.
Garcia said Candid is in the process of recoding CPCs into a new category called “abortion restrictions.”
“Candid has also been proactive in improving its data on abortion restrictions, including removing false codes. This is an ongoing process to provide the most accurate data possible.” Garcia said these changes “will be incorporated into our next round of taxonomy updates, scheduled to take place in the coming months.”
Meanwhile, donors who want to support services for pregnant women that aren’t driven by an anti-abortion agenda have other options. The NCRP report lists several steps donors can take to do due diligence when sending funds to these services, including an audited list of reproductive health and human rights nonprofits.