THE BLOG
09/25/2014 11:17 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2014

The 'Misconception' Deception

Vice News just released a film called "Misconception," which was highlighted in an article last week here on Huffington Post.

I was interviewed extensively for the film, and parts of my interview appear in the film. That, among other troubling issues, compelled me to write this response.

In short, the film is biased activism posing as unbiased journalism. The claims made in the film are deceptive, and it was produced in a way that should raise red flags for anyone interested in honest journalism.

Let's start with the film's deceptive misinformation. Misconception's major claim is threefold: crisis pregnancy centers (which, incidentally, is a term that is rarely used anymore; at Care Net, we have been referring to our affiliated centers as Pregnancy Resource Centers since the late 1990s) are intentionally deceiving women into thinking they are abortion clinics, making themselves appear to be medical in nature, and then providing women with false or misleading information to steer them away from having abortions.

Let's break down the film's threefold claim to see just how deceptive the film is.

First of all, the assumption that all Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs) are the same is inaccurate. There are over 2,500 PRCs in North America. How many did the producers "investigate" to find one that was making women, like Donna who was featured in the film, feel as though they were being deceived?

To give you an idea of how little journalistic effort they put into interviewing a representative sample of women who have visited pregnancy centers, consider the following facts. Since 2008, Care Net centers have served over 2.3 million women. We survey those women to ensure they are getting good service, and the results are clear: 98.7 percent of Care Net center clients who completed a written exit survey in 2013 indicated that their overall experience at the center was positive.

Moreover, virtually all of our centers receive visits from women who have been referred to the center by friends or relatives -- women telling those close to them to go to our centers for help when facing an unplanned pregnancy. This evidence flies in the face of the claim made by the abortion clinic worker quoted in the film who says, "If they [PRCs] were up front about what they did, no one would go." (emphasis mine)

Moreover, the film's ominous accusations about PRCs using Google ads to deceive women are unfounded. Anyone who has a website knows that in order for your website to be found, especially on a small budget, keyword advertising is a smart option. And the biggest "smoking gun" that was ever exposed about these supposedly deceptive Google ads turned out to be either greatly exaggerated or possibly completely untrue.

Therefore, in order for Misconception's claim to be true -- that PRCs are routinely misleading women -- the film's producers would have to assume that women are stupid. They go to a PRC, get terrible service, and then go and tell their friends to go get that same terrible service! And this unlikely scenario would have to be occurring at an alarming rate, because, as the film rightly claims, the PRC movement is growing, as is the number of women centers see each year. We do not believe women are stupid; we believe they simply want to be fully informed about a very important decision regarding their pregnancy.

The second pillar of Misconception's claim is that PRCs only "appear" to be medical in nature, and all appearances are kept up to deceive women. I cannot speak for every PRC in the country, such as the one where the filmmakers went undercover, which is not a Care Net affiliate. But I can say that, according to Care Net's affiliation standards, all of our centers that provide medical services do so in accord with their state laws and operate under the direction of a licensed medical director. So, our medical centers are not simply appearing to be medical -- they are medical. Honest journalists could have easily found out this information.

The third, oft-repeated, pillar of Misconception's claim is that PRCs give women false information. The film erroneously states that "the science" does not agree with PRCs' claims about the physical, psychological, and emotional risks associated with abortion. While documentation on the physical risks are widely available, initiatives like The Silent No More Awareness Campaign have collected the stories of thousands of women who have experienced emotional distress over their abortions. For example, Kristin in Florida wrote, "I spent two years of guilt, self-hatred, resentment, and anger before I decided to own up to my mistake. This generation has taught us that it is okay to abort our children. Not only that, but we are told that we shouldn't feel guilty or broken because of it."

Every claim that Care Net advises our centers to make about the potential effects of abortion has been checked, double-checked, and triple-checked against the available social science and medical research, and those claims are solid and grounded in the research.

For example, we just released a 36-page publication called Before You Decide, which gives women the full information they deserve before making a pregnancy decision. In just 36 pages, there are 192 references to research on the potential negative consequences of abortion. Unbiased journalists would have found this data.

And what are some of the examples the film gives of "misleading" information? They show a PRC worker talking about the fetus' heartbeat. How is that misleading? Real science shows that a fetus' heart starts beating just 22 days after fertilization. Anyone who has ever had or witnessed a sonogram during a pregnancy that has reached that stage has heard that amazing heart beat. Is that the best the film could do to "corner" us on the misleading information we are providing?

Next, it is important to note that the very nature of the film's production is deceptive. Allison Yarrow, the film's co-producer, went undercover into a PRC in concert with Katie Stack, the pro-choice activist featured in the film. That's fine. But did she, as an unbiased journalist, also go undercover with someone like Lila Rose, who goes undercover at Planned Parenthood locations? No. Why not? This is a critical question to ask, and get answered.

Because here is an inconvenient truth - women don't die as a result of the services they receive at a PRC, but women have died at abortion clinics. Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was convicted on three counts of first-degree murder as a result of cutting babies' spinal cords with scissors after they were born alive after botched abortions. Several low-income African American women were endangered by his practices, resulting in at least one death for which Gosnell was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. If the producers of Misconception are so concerned about the well being of women, why aren't they investigating abortion clinics?

Moreover, it is illogical that pro-choice activists would be so threatened by the work of PRCs. After all, they are pro-choice, which implies that they support women regardless of what they choose. However, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers do not provide support to mothers who choose life and then require physical, emotional, and social support. They don't make money off of providing such support to mothers. Neither do we (all of the services that Care Net centers provide are free), but that does not stop us from providing compassion, hope, and help to women and couples facing pregnancy decisions. Even Misconception recognizes this reality when it shows the room full of diapers, clothing, and other material supports offered by many PRCs. And that does not include the other non-material support routinely provided by centers, such as emotional counseling, engaging the father, and providing love and kindness to women in need.

Planned Parenthood has admitted this ugly truth. In a New York Times article from last year, a Planned Parenthood health educator in Waco, Texas said, "We're our patients' medical provider, not their emotional support."

Indeed. They don't do compassion; it doesn't pay. But PRCs are not in a transactional, retail business, like Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Ours is a transformational, relationship-based effort, in which we work to meet women and men at their points of need. We are their emotional support.

Finally, Misconception's narrator, Fazeelat Aslam, ends the film saying, "And if lawmakers like these have their way, we could see the end of safe and legal abortion in our lifetime." Do these sound like the words of a journalist, or an activist? Only someone with a huge financial or emotional stake in the outcome would make this statement, not a journalist working to show both sides of the story.

This desperation should be heartening to the pro-life movement and PRCs. Because, at the end of the day, the compassionate, loving support we provide to women is enormously threatening to people who don't "do compassion."

If Donna from the film has an abortion, we will still love and help her. What will Planned Parenthood do for her after the abortion? The silence you will hear when you ask that question is all the confirmation you need to understand the critical role that PRCs play in our nation today. But rather than illuminating that role, "Misconception" chose to deceive you about it.