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Recently Google was persuaded by NARAL to remove ads for crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) and similar pressure is being brought to bear on Yahoo to drop such adds from the search results for abortion services. NARAL demonstrated* the level of duplicity practiced by CPCs in their ads and asked Google and Yahoo to honor their own policies against misleading advertising:

These ads use vague language that masks their true motives. If you click through, you’ll get connected to a crisis pregnancy center (CPC). CPCs are anti-choice fake clinics don’t provide or refer for abortion care. The trouble is, a woman might think she’s made an appointment with a real medical provider, and she won’t know what she’s gotten into until she gets to a CPC in person, where she’ll likely face manipulation, misinformation, and even shame to stop her from considering abortion – and even birth control – as an option.

Crisis pregnancy centers misinform and manipulate vulnerable women in order to deny them recourse to abortion and contraception. A congressional report issued in 2006 found that “87 percent of federally funded CPCs ‘provided false and misleading information about the physical and mental health effects of abortion and grossly exaggerated the medical risks of abortion.'” The NARAL study shows that the deceptive practices extends to CPC internet advertising where over three fourths of the ads for CPCs that were examined couldn’t pass the truth in advertising smell test.

It may or may not come as a surprise to you that Missouri is one of the small number of states that both promotes CPCs and subsidizes them with tax dollars. In fact, state lawmakers have just passed legislation – with bipartisan support – raising the amount of tax credits that can be claimed by donors to CPCs in the coming year. HB1132 (and Senate companion  bill  SB638) specifies that the cap on such tax credits will be raised from $2 million to $2.5 million in 2014-15.** Additionally, according to a Guttmacher Institute Report, the House passed legislation in March that would allocate $2.1 million in state funding to CPCs, half of which was designated for publicity and advertising.

In fact, our lawmakers are so enamoured of CPCs and so desirous to promote them that the House also sought to insure that local jurisdictions couldn’t try any of that Google-like truth in advertising stuff. By pretending that the issue in question was “religious” speech,  HB1103 (and companion bill SB658 – which, so far as I can ascertain, languishes in committee) attempted to curtail efforts to regulate the abusive practices of Missouri CPCs.

One cannot expect lawmakers who either identify with or pander to rightwing evangelicals to understand the problem of identifying these groups as essentially religious in their goals and then endowing them with taxpayer dollars to pursue those goals. Nor should one expect them to appreciate the irony that these beneficiaries of my tax dollars, people whose religious  views I do not share, are the very people who claim to be  so fastidious abut the possible taint they suffer when their tax dollars are used to support contraception insurance coverage or agencies such as Planned Parenthood that offer the full range of women’s reproductive health services that they have intellectual conniption fits at the very thought.

And, indeed, the problem goes beyond irony. Huffington Post identified three large CPC networks that not only practice religiously-based discrimination in their hiring practices, but which actively proselytize clients. One of the three large networks of CPCs cited as egregious offenders by HufPo was National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA). If you check this list of NIFLA affiliates in Missouri, you will find that all are represented on the list (pdf) of “qualified” pregnancy resource centers promoted by the Missouri Department of Social Services. Something to think about maybe? After all, there are still a few of us that think we’re all better off when we prevent the state from funding and endorsing stealthy and coercive religious activity.


* If you don’t mind reading rightwing drivel and you want a laugh, take a look at this RedState take on the issue – if I understand the especially perspicacious blogger correctly, Google paid (?) NARAL to produce a report that would allow them to justify banning the ads for “legitimate” pregnancy centers because, doncha know, those evil lefties at Google just love inciting controversies that will miff some of their customer base.

** It’s possible that the bipartisan support for this bill increased when it was amended to add additional funds for food pantries. As they say, “a little bit of sugar makes the pill go down.” But only fools try to pretend that the bitter pill’s not there, inside the sugar-coating.