Getty Images

How Conservatives Turned Pro-Life Propaganda Into A Thriving Business

Most US citizens understand very little about abortions, including how they are performed, who has them and how often they can be performed. That spells big trouble, particularly for women. It opens the door for anti-choice businesses to capitalize on the public’s abortion ignorance.

A 2013 Pew Research Study revealed that 57 percent of US citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 did not know that Roe v. Wade dealt with the issue of abortion, compared to 37 percent of citizens overall. This youngest demographic was the most likely to believe that Roe v. Wade was about another issue — such as gun control or desegregation — or have no guess at all.

In 2014, a sociologist at the University of Cincinnati composed a six-question poll about abortion. A dismal 13 percent of the individuals surveyed were able to correctly answer four or five questions, and only one question — a true-or-false statement about the legality of first-trimester abortions — was correctly answered by more than half the participants. The researcher “conclude[d] that men and women making sexual and reproductive health decisions may not be well-informed about the relative safety and consequences of their choices.”

If individuals do not learn the facts about abortion in school, they’re left with word of mouth, dramatizations and soundbites as their sole sources of information. That’s problematic enough, and it’s only made worse by the fact that media representations of abortion stray far from the truth.

In on-screen abortion narratives, nearly one in 10 women die as a direct result of the procedure. This is a nonsensical number, considering the fact that a woman’s chances of dying from an abortion are statistically zero. Fictional women are also nine times more likely than their real-life counterparts to decide on adoption instead of abortion.

When people don’t have access to reliable information, they can easily be led to believe anything. In this way, the American public’s abortion ignorance fuels the Republican war on women. US citizens of all stripes — from “values voters” and CEOs of large corporations to some anti-choice politicians — are often swayed by misinformation. This allows anti-choice businesses to profit from their ignorance.

After the Affordable Care Act required businesses to provide their employees with contraception, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) called for an amendment to the ACA that would allow employers to deny insurance benefits of any kind to their employees, provided the employer had a “moral conviction” that opposed said benefits.

The senate voted against the Blunt Amendment, but the fight over the birth control mandate didn’t stop there. Two weeks after the amendment was shot down, the right-wing American Center for Law and Justice filed a suit against the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming that the contraception mandate violated its client’s First Amendment right to religious freedom.

Within two years, more than 70 companies would challenge the mandate. Many of them were for-profit businesses with shaky (at best) religious ties.

Today, religious non-profit organizations continue to fight tooth and nail against their employees’ rights to contraceptive access, in spite of the fact that they do not have to pay a cent for birth control. But why do these companies campaign so mightily against contraceptives?

Unfortunately, many people in the US do not understand how birth control methods work. Anti-choice groups regularly assert that safe, effective contraceptives — such as birth control pills and IUDs — are actually abortifacients, and people believe them.

For many, the argument over the abortifacient qualities of contraceptive methods boils down to whether they believe pregnancy begins at fertilization or implantation. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) considers fertilization “the first step in a complex series of events that leads to pregnancy,” but not the beginning of pregnancy itself. From a scientific standpoint then, a contraceptive that prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg is not an abortifacient.

But, scientific evidence matters very little because in the US, a corporation can adopt virtually any non-scientific myth about abortion and use it as a discrimination tool, as long as it presents the myth as a sincerely-held religious belief. The Supreme Court itself admitted as much in its opinion about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, penned by Justice Samuel Alito: “The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs, the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.”

Regardless of the reason companies want to refuse contraception for their employees, this ridiculous myth-legitimization accounts for some of the anti-women gains businesses have made. Worse yet, companies can use these insincere claims to decrease their expenditures and increase profits. They are essentially making money off abortion ignorance.

Contraceptive denials from Hobby Lobby and its ilk are despicable and underhanded, but they pale in comparison to the tactics used by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). The Hyde Amendment blocks federal dollars from covering abortion procedures, but it doesn’t stop CPCs from receiving taxpayer money to lie to women.

CPCs advertise themselves as abortion providers. They also outnumber abortion clinics in the US.

So, when a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy looks for a provider in her area, she’s far more likely to wind up at a CPC than a Planned Parenthood or other similar clinic. CPCs understand this. Misleading women in need is part of their overarching strategy to “prevent” abortions.

Once she’s inside a CPC, a woman may fall victim to any number of lies about her pregnancy. In addition to telling women that abortion causes breast cancer, depression, suicide and infertility, CPCs may also lie about how advanced a woman’s pregnancy is.

They may even tell her she isn’t pregnant at all. All of this works toward a single goal: preventing a woman from procuring an abortion by any means necessary.

In many cases, the people who operate CPCs wear scrubs and lab coats to give the appearance of being medical professionals. However, very few — if any — of these anti-choice locations have licensed personnel working under their roofs. Although New York City requires CPCs to tell women they are not professionals, many cities and states allow them to lie with impunity.

Thanks to legislation intended to promote abstinence-only education, CPCs are eligible for federal grants to fund their efforts. States that choose to fund “abortion alternatives” pay out huge sums to CPCs, both directly and through the sales of “Choose Life” license plates.

Between 2012 and 2017, Pennsylvania will pay one anti-choice organization a hefty $30 million to operate CPCs and other facilities. TRAP-law states may even require women to attend lectures at a local CPC before they can move forward with their abortion procedures.

Women who are ignorant about the realities of abortion when they walk into these buildings are very likely to be swayed by their lies. These manipulative tactics are abhorrent, and they net them millions of unearned tax dollars. But there's an even worse development on the horizon for the abortion-ignorance cash grab: the “abortion reversal.”

Let’s be clear here: You cannot reverse an abortion. It is the termination of a pregnancy. It is final.

There is no way to put an aborted embryo or fetus back into a woman’s uterus. The very name "abortion reversal" is a lie.

But, that hasn’t stopped anti-choice organizations from championing this new means of saving the unborn. Proponents of the abortion reversal claim it has allowed hundreds of pregnancies to continue after a medical abortion.

A medical abortion is made up of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. Women who undergo medical abortions receive a dose of mifepristone at the clinic, and they are sent home with a dose of misoprostol and instructions to take it one or two days later. Mifepristone blocks progesterone and misoprostol induces the uterus to empty. Taken together, they make for a highly effective abortion method.

In an abortion reversal, a woman is given injections of progesterone to counteract the effects of mifepristone. Abortion reversal advocates claim that this method can rescue an embryo from a medical abortion.

However, mifepristone by itself is not a reliable means of medical abortion, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that abortion reversals are anything other than snake oil. Regarding the procedure, ACOG notes:

Because medication abortion requires this combination of medications, many women will not abort just from using the first medication. In the 30 to 50 percent of women who take mifepristone alone, the pregnancy will continue. Available research seems to indicate that in the rare situation where a woman takes mifepristone and then changes her mind, doing nothing and waiting to see what happens is just as effective as intervening with a course of progesterone.

Unlike CPCs — which make their money from tax dollars and donations instead of client fees — abortion reversal providers charge women for their services. George Delgado’s abortion pill reversal website refuses to give women a ballpark number on the procedure’s cost. Instead, it suggests they discuss their financial options with a medical provider.

Of course, by the time a woman does this, she may no longer be able to safely undergo a medical abortion, should she ultimately decide to terminate. Once again, it’s clear that the anti-choice movement will resort to underhanded tactics to prevent an abortion, regardless of the consequences.

As of April 2015, two states — Arizona and Arkansas — require abortion providers to tell women that they may be able to reverse their abortions. Like the warnings regarding breast cancer and depression, this is just another attempt to force doctors to lie to their patients and dissuade them from going through with their decisions.

A woman who does not understand the mechanics of an abortion cannot be expected to understand that what her doctor is telling her in these instances is neither truthful nor medically accurate. Mandating that patients be notified of the abortion reversal procedure sets abortion-seeking women up for unnecessary heartbreak when the miraculous event does not occur.

As long as people are miseducated about abortion, change will not come. Women will be forced to fight for the rights to make basic decisions about their bodies and lives.

Anti-choice laws will coerce doctors into spewing junk “medicine” onto their patients. While quacks and liars continue to capitalize on our collective abortion ignorance, voters and politicians alike will allow this status quo to continue. Even they do not know any better.