Updated: May 16
By Juliet Martinez
In early November, a mobile unit the size of an RV with “Image Clear Ultrasound” printed on its side parked near Second Avenue and Glen Caladh Street in Hazelwood. The words, “Free Pregnancy Testing and Prenatal Ultrasound,” and “Immediate Results, Walk-ins Welcome” seemed to make the purpose of the unit clear.
Although the mobile unit appeared to be a medical clinic or provider of medical services, it is run by an anti-abortion group called Choices Pregnancy Services and does not offer medical care or advice.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), this is what is called a crisis pregnancy center.
The ACOG website says, “Crisis pregnancy centers are organizations that look like abortion clinics, but do not offer abortion care. Their goal is to prevent people from getting abortion care.” Crisis pregnancy centers offer free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds but are run by people without medical training; they spread misinformation about abortion and birth control.
Both the Image Clear Ultrasound website and its parent organization’s site contain misleading statements about pregnancy and abortion.
The groups’ websites list risks of induced surgical and medical abortion without placing those risks in context. Induced abortions are extremely safe, according to ACOG, which says the risk of dying in childbirth is 14 times higher than the risk of death from an induced abortion. The safest time to abort a pregnancy is in the first 12 weeks, but the statement says serious complications are rare at any stage.
The websites also include statements about medication abortion being reversible. There is no FDA-approved or medically accepted way to reverse a medication abortion.
“Crisis Pregnancy Centers are not medical facilities but intentionally mirror the wording and branding of one,” Sara Dixon, public relations manager for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, wrote in response to my email. “This is a deceptive practice to get people in the door and it confuses patients looking for health care.”
Courtney Cloud manages Planned Parenthood’s call center. She emailed that a mobile ultrasound van often parks near the Planned Parenthood clinic in Downtown. She has heard from call center conversations how the crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs, work. The centers’ main goal is to convince people to continue their pregnancy, she wrote.
“Patients have told me stories of going to a CPC thinking they were going to get an abortion and being told they were past the state legal limit to get an abortion,” Ms. Cloud wrote. “Patients also shared stories about CPCs telling them they were further along than they actually were during their ultrasound. I've also heard instances of CPCs having patients book multiple appointments weeks apart so their time to obtain abortion care is limited.”
In contrast, Ms. Cloud outlined the Planned Parenthood philosophy in these terms: “Our goal is to help patients make the decision that is best for them regarding their pregnancy, whether that is to end the pregnancy, continue the pregnancy and parent or continue the pregnancy and start the adoption process. We offer resources for all options and approach our patients with empathy and without judgment."
The Planned Parenthood clinic in Downtown provides ultrasounds to confirm the age of the pregnancy and its placement. Surgical abortion services are available up to 18 weeks of pregnancy, and medical abortions are available up to 11 weeks.
I asked Image Clear Ultrasound and Choices Pregnancy Services for comment multiple times and was told a manager would get back to me. I did not hear from them by the time the Homepage went to print. When I called Choices Pregnancy Services, the call was forwarded to Heartbeat International, an anti-abortion advocacy group.
ACOG recommends if you have questions about pregnancy and abortion, you should talk to a gynecologist.