Lies and threats: Iowans share what fake pregnancy resource centers are really like

Mica Chase and Elizabeth Feldman

By Nikoel Hytrek

February 22, 2024

When Mica Chase, then 19 years old, set foot in an anti-abortion center 14 years ago, all they wanted was a free pregnancy test.

But when the test was complete and the Cedar Rapids resident said they didn’t want to be pregnant, staff members started talking about religion.

They told Chase abortion is murder. They lied about the dangers of abortion. They threatened to tell Chase’s family they were pregnant and thinking about getting an abortion. 

This went on for two hours, Chase told Starting Line. 

“When you’re young like that and you don’t know a lot about the world, listening to all these people that are older than you saying you can’t leave, or you’re gonna go to hell and stuff like that…It’s just very scary to try to escape that situation,” they said.

Anti-abortion centers and Iowa

Approximately 55 anti-abortion centers operate in Iowa. Branded as “pregnancy resource clinics,” these centers lie about abortion and pregnancy to encourage people to keep their pregnanciesno matter whatoften offering resources like diapers, adoption, or financial aid. Many are associated with Christian organizations.

Iowa Republicans and the broader anti-abortion movement have, for years, touted anti-abortion centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, as helpful sources for pregnancy counseling and resources.

In fact, Iowa’s More Options for Maternal Support (MOMS) program was created to support those centers with taxpayer dollars, and Iowa Republicans have set aside $2 million for it so far.

This year, four centers were chosen for state grants through the MOMS program, despite the state failing to find a manager for itan issue Iowa Republicans have been working to solve. 

Legislation introduced this year would loosen requirements for managers of the program or allow the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to oversee it directly, which would put it more directly under Gov. Kim Reynolds’ control.

The program currently requires HHS to find an Iowa nonprofit with three years of experience managing a statewide web of multiple anti-abortion centers and be committed to promoting childbirth instead of abortion. The program manager would also need to create the network, maintain records for each anti-abortion center and monitor compliance with terms and conditions.

New legislation removes the requirement that a manager have those years of experience managing multiple clinics all over the state. It also removes the requirement that HHS publish the name of the manager and the criteria for anti-abortion centers applying for the MOMS program.

Long-term harm

For years after their visit to the anti-abortion center, Chase said they had trouble trusting genuine reproductive health care clinics.

The offer of a free pregnancy test got Chase through the door of an anti-abortion center in the first place, and the resulting harm could have been avoided if they’d had other options for seeing a genuine medical provider.

“These crisis pregnancy centers, they are geared towards people that were like me,” Chase said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young, I was impressionable.”

Chase’s experience with an anti-abortion center is a typical one. 

As a young home-schooled student, Elizabeth Feldman volunteered at an anti-abortion center as part of the curriculum.

In her six months there, Feldman said she became “terrified of sex and of men” because of what she heard from staff members at the center.

“This so-called ‘crisis pregnancy center’ was actually an anti-abortion center and used deceit and shame to manipulate vulnerable people looking for health care,” Feldman said during a subcommittee hearing about the bill to loosen requirements for managers of the MOMS program. “Many who walked through its doors were completely unaware of the center’s mission.”

Anti-abortion centers rarely keep trained, licensed medical providers on staff and are not regulated. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called them a danger to public health because they frequently endanger people’s lives by missing urgent health issues like ectopic pregnancies or high blood pressure.

After leaving the anti-abortion center, Feldman eventually healed and fell in love. But when she found out she was pregnant, the shame rushed back. 

She planned to have an abortion, and her decision got firmer after she learned the pregnancy was ectopic—meaning it had implanted outside her womb, had no chance of surviving, and would likely kill her.

“Releasing myself from [the shame] was something that I had to put incredible effort into. I prayed a lot,” Feldman said. “I slowly but steadily came to terms with the fact that the worldview I had committed myself to didn’t make sense anymore, and neither did the false ideas about love, sex, and pregnancy that had been so deeply ingrained in me.”

Chase said state officials should put resources into real medical clinics instead of anti-abortion centers because they hadn’t had another option.

“I think that we’re just choosing the wrong organizations to put our faith in instead of places that use fact-based sex education, fact-based reproductive health care,” they said.

The legislation changing management of the MOMS program (HF 2267 in the House and SF 2252 in the Senate) passed the Iowa Senate on Tuesday and is on the calendar for debate in the House, though there’s no set date for when it might come up.

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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