March 22 was a bad day for crisis pregnancy centers. The same day the Washington Post published an article exposing the Bush Administration’s massive federal funding for anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), Rhode Island education officials ordered the public schools to stop teaching one of these federally funded group’s curriculum, “Right Time, Right Place,” a product of the South Carolina-based Heritage Community Services, for promoting sexist stereotypes, ignoring the state’s comprehensive sex education standard, and for promoting of religious views.
Back in the 80s when I was in college, these small, obscure anti-abortion groups began setting up shop next to legitimate family planning clinics. They would put on white medical coats, even though they were not medical professionals, and try to persuade women who came into their offices not to have abortions. CPCs had a variety of tactics up their sleeves to “persuade” women to take a pregnancy to term including, but not limited to, having women read misleading anti-abortion literature, showing women doctored pictures of fetuses, forcing women to watch anti-abortion films, and, as was reported in Texas, chopping up dolls to depict “what an abortion does to the baby.”
Fast forward 20 plus years, and crisis pregnancy centers are the recipients of more the $60 million in federal taxpayer dollars to spread the abstinence-only-until-marriage message to America’s children. In fact, the vast majority of these organizations would not even exist if it weren’t for the federal trough to feed from.
For example, Heritage Community Services has successfully secured millions in federal abstinence-only-until-marriage grants. As a result, Heritage went from a $51,000 crisis pregnancy center to a $4 million non-profit operating in three additional states — Maine, Rhode Island, and Georgia. Additionally, family members who now work for Heritage have launched projects in other states including a number of locations near resort communities such as Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; West Palm Beach, Florida; and St. Lucia.
Moreover, Heritage, like virtually all of the groups receiving the federal abstinence-only dollars, have no public health experience in teen pregnancy prevention or HIV and STD prevention. They also have been unable to document the impact of their programs and have not been subject to any oversight or audits by state or federal officials.
Heritage’s curriculum is like a time warp back to the 50s. For example, the curriculum states that “girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts,” and that “a man is strong and courageous, while a real woman is caring.” Included in a Heritage video, a host explains how abstinence helped him to “honor my relationship with Jesus.” On the other hand, the materials do not even include information on sexuality-related topics such as STDs, condoms, contraception, sexual orientation, or pregnancy options.
I give huge kudos to the state of Rhode Island for putting the smack-down on Heritage. I hope that all the negative publicity of these programs influences other states to follow suit, or at the very least, take a second look at what these programs are teaching our young people.
Adrienne Verrilli is the director of communications at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. The views and opinions expressed in this communication do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the staff, management and directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, its affiliates, or its chapters.