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Yvonne Abraham

The truth is better advice

Not all attacks on abortion rights are as bald as Mississippi’s “personhood’’ amendment, the over-the-top, (mercifully) failed initiative that would have outlawed all abortions and some forms of birth control.

Take, for example, those antiabortion rights outfits called Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which have set up shop across the country, including Massachusetts. A report released yesterday by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts shows you don’t need a ballot to undermine Roe v. Wade: A flexible view of the truth works, too.

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In the NARAL study, volunteers posing as women with unwanted pregnancies called or visited 24 of the state’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers for advice. There, they found what they described as deception and misinformation.

These centers, which outnumber advertised abortion clinics three to one, have names like “Problem Pregnancy,’’ and “Pregnancy Care Center.’’ Fewer than a third of the centers contacted by NARAL volunteers disclosed that they were not medical facilities.

Some are clearly trying to deceive women into thinking they are legitimate pregnancy information centers. Take Problem Pregnancy of Worcester, for example, which set up shop in the same building and on the same floor as abortion provider Planned Parenthood. In the 1980s, a court found Problem Pregnancy guilty of trademark infringement for using a logo too similar to Planned Parenthood’s. When Planned Parenthood moved, the antiabortion group relocated directly across the street.

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Some of the women visiting these centers have no idea what they’re walking into. Inside, counselors promptly set about trying to dissuade them from having abortions, often by giving them medical misinformation in addition to moral pressure. For example, at a third of the centers, staff members said abortion may cause infertility or ectopic pregnancies in the future, an extremely rare complication. A video at one center made the bogus claim that most women are infertile after abortion.

Volunteers were also told that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. One counselor told a NARAL volunteer the risk increased by close to 100 percent. Not true, according to the National Cancer Institute. Teresa Larkin - president of A Woman’s Concern, which runs several crisis pregnancy centers - said they changed their materials once the Institute discredited the cancer link. But plenty of other centers and their websites continue to insist that abortion gives women a 50 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer.

The figures counselors offered on miscarriages were equally misleading: Most pregnancies are not viable, they told women. But by six weeks, the time most women would be seeking abortions, the chances of miscarriage are closer to 8 percent. The inflated figures are clearly intended to persuade women to avoid abortion. “Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you’ll stay pregnant,’’ one NARAL volunteer was told.

Some advice veered from misleading to messed up. When one woman said she had been drinking heavily through her pregnancy, a counselor told her “new studies prove alcohol is not too harmful to a fetus.’’

Appalling. Larkin, of A Woman’s Concern, says her centers are upfront about not providing or referring women to abortion services. But things are clearly murky out there.

I disagree with their views vehemently, but abortion rights opponents have a right to try to make their case to women considering abortion. But they have no right to deceive them, offering bogus science intended to make them delay, or fail to exercise, their legal right.

Honesty is always best, even if it makes it harder to get your way.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at
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