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CL goes undercover in a Charlotte 'crisis pregnancy center' 

What resources do the Pregnancy Resource Center offer?

Page 2 of 3

I answer the questions, telling her my cycle is normal, I haven't been on birth control, and I have a clean bill of health.

Then comes the question you wouldn't expect from a health-care provider: "What about faith and religion? Does that play a role in your life at all?"

That's the same question Alexandria (not her real name) faced four years ago when she went to the Pregnancy Resource Center — which, according to its website, has been in business since 1982. The 34-year-old Bank of America employee had taken a home pregnancy test that came out positive. Because she wasn't sure if it was accurate, Alexandra did a Google search for pregnancy testing centers in Charlotte. The Pregnancy Resource Center popped up near the top of her screen.

Alexandria says she assumed she was going to a Planned Parenthood-type facility.

"I didn't know what to expect," she says. "While I waited, they gave me a pamphlet to read over about the services they provided and what to do if I was pregnant."

As it turns out, Alexandria was pregnant. When two women at the center asked what she planned to do, Alexandria told them she would keep the baby. "They said, 'That's a good choice. God will forgive you,'" Alexandria recalls.

When results of her test confirmed her pregnancy, Alexandria says she cried. "Then they prayed over me and said I'd be fine and they said the next time I have sex, they hoped that I was married."

The prayer, Alexandria says, made her feel pressured and guilty. "I felt like I'd done a bad thing by having sex," she says. Adding to the emotional distress was the video they showed her of fetuses in different stages of development.

Scare tactics are where crisis pregnancy centers become particularly problematic, says Carey Pope, executive director of the foundation that conducted NARAL's investigation.

"If a group wants to promote an anti-choice or a pro-life choice agenda, that's fine, as long as they are up front with women about it," Pope says. "What we found in our investigation is that the majority of crisis pregnancy centers in North Carolina are not up front about that agenda."

Not only that, but Pope says some of the centers that her group investigated flagrantly lie to women in ways that could put their health at risk. "In a state that has the ninth-highest AIDS rate in the country," Pope says, "why would you tell someone that condoms are not effective?"

Other inaccurate information the NARAL report found include:

• 26 percent of the centers claim that abortion leads to breast cancer.

• 48 percent claim that none of the common methods of birth control effectively prevent pregnancy.

• 56 percent say abortion most often results in "post abortion stress."

• 24 percent suggest women should avoid abortion due to the high possibility of miscarriage.

"Telling women that the possibility for a miscarriage is really high — that sort of puts a false possibility in their head that, 'I don't need to get an abortion because this pregnancy could end on its own,'" Pope says. "That really concerned us. They're not medical clinics."

Medical clinics and Planned Parenthood facilities are regulated by the state and held to high standards. But there's no state oversight of crisis pregnancy centers, even though 60 of the 122 centers get taxpayer funding. According to the NARAL report, North Carolina's new "choose life" license plates, which were approved by the GOP-controlled General Assembly at the close of the last legislative session, will fund the centers to the tune of $15 out of every $25 the state charges for the plates.

Calls to the Charlotte-based Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, the umbrella organization for crisis pregnancy centers, were not returned by press time.

After my visit to the Pregnancy Resource Center, I call the facility back to speak with executive director Erin Forsythe about my experience there. Forsythe doesn't return my calls, but the center's director, Mary Fleischman, eventually does. She tells me the Charlotte facility is not deceptive in its practices. "We're very up front with people that we don't perform abortions, nor do we refer for abortions," she says. "We would, for a client who has chosen to carry, we would offer parenting classes with some material needs to go along with those."

When I ask about medical procedures, Fleischman says the center does "basic medical things," like dating a pregnancy and performing ultrasounds. As for professional medical staff, "We have volunteer doctors who give their time to the center. Everything we do at the center is done with a standing doctor's order, and we have a nurse who is on staff at all times," she says. But no staff doctor? "Not a doctor in the building."

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