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The Landscape of Today’s Anti-Abortion Movement

The early, post-Roe v. Wade anti-abortion movement was largely defined by small, local activist groups, oftentimes connected to the Catholic Church. Today, it is a sprawling, well-funded, far-right operation that seeks to outlaw abortion entirely while severely restricting other forms of reproductive autonomy. It produces propaganda meant to shame and discourage people from seeking abortion and even birth control, while using our country’s legislatures and court system to prohibit people from accessing those services in the first place. And, today, when roughly 2 in 5 women of reproductive age live in a state where abortion is more restricted than it was before Dobbs overturned the constitutional right to abortion, it appears monumentally successful.[1]

This section of Anti-Abortion Extremism: Inside the Movement Dismantling Our Reproductive Rights details the most prominent and insidious components of the anti-abortion movement: well-resourced anti-abortion lobbying and legal firms connected to the Christian Right, abortion “abolitionists” who want those who have abortions to receive the death penalty, direct action anti-abortion “rescue” groups and crisis pregnancy centers that use public resources to spread anti-abortion propaganda while robbing people of reproductive health choices. Together, they constitute a political movement that believes women and all people who can become pregnant should not be permitted to exercise autonomy over their own bodies.

The Anti-Abortion Infrastructure of the Christian Right

While the Christian Right is adept at mobilizing grassroots activists, much of its power has come from building organizations that have been able to propel and institutionalize their deeply reactionary anti-abortion agenda. One arm of their movement has, for decades, built a cache of anti-abortion propaganda built on misrepresentations, pseudoscience and emotional appeals that often erase the women at the center of these difficult decisions in favor of a focus on the embryo or fetus.[2] Their “research,” often falsely presented as if it adheres to rigorous scientific standards, has extensively influenced abortion policy – frequently drafted by anti-abortion lobbying firms – and court cases argued by religious-right legal organizations that shape how and if Americans can seek out abortion-related health care.

Among the early foundational pieces of anti-abortion propaganda is the 1971 Handbook on Abortion, written by husband-and-wife team Dr. John and Barbara Willke. John “Jack” Willke, who was at one point president of the National Right to Life Committee, and his wife helped to shape anti-abortion rhetoric and, through their distribution of anti-abortion brochures, spearheaded the movement’s use of graphic (and, very often, deeply misleading) imagery. [3]

Dr. Willke, along with Bradley Mattes, in 1991 formed Life Issues Institute to create and promote anti-abortion propaganda and shape the rhetoric of activists in the movement. “You should say: abortion mill/chamber/killing center,” one of Dr. Willke’s posts on the organization’s website instructed. “You should not say: abortion clinic.” The same guide told activists to use the term “assault rape” or “forcible rape” instead of, simply, “rape.” The inclusion was part of Dr. Willke’s broader, and deeply inaccurate, argument that pregnancy is unlikely to result from rape and, therefore, need not be considered in writing abortion policy.[4] This lie has been repeated by politicians, most notably in 2012 by former Rep. Todd Akin, the late Missouri Republican who said that pregnancy rarely results from “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”[5]

Promotion block to next essay: Abortion Clinics Face Increased Harassment Post-Roe

Multiple states, including Tennessee, Texas and Alabama, currently have abortion bans that do not allow exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape.

In 2018, Life Issues Institute merged with Susan B. Anthony List (now Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America), a prominent organization that promotes policies and candidates that seek to ban abortion. It also has its own “research” arm: the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI). Like Life Issues Institute, CLI promotes deeply misleading research and cherry-picked statistics to support its anti-abortion stance, including arguing that abortion is associated with higher mortality rates and instances of breast cancer, as well as promoting the “life saving impact” of the Texas Heartbeat Act.[6] In reality, the American Cancer Society concludes that “scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer,” while medical literature consistently shows that carrying a pregnancy is far more dangerous than abortion.[7] David Reardon, a Lozier Institute researcher whose credentials include a Ph.D. from an unaccredited and now-shuttered online correspondence school called Pacific Western University, recently fed such misinformation to Tennessee lawmakers in a webinar designed to help them to defend the state’s abortion ban. The law itself is based on model legislation created by anti-abortion lobbying firm National Right to Life, the umbrella organization that oversees Tennessee Right to Life, which was hosting the webinar.

Reardon and the Lozier Institute have repeated other falsehoods designed, ultimately, to limit and ban abortion access on the basis that women are not practicing informed, autonomous decision-making; rather, anti-abortion organizations push the notion of widespread “abortion coercion,” in which women are pressured into having abortions by abusive partners. Indeed, CLI argues that the vast majority of abortions are “coerced, unwanted or inconsistent” with women’s preferences – an assertion that is simply not backed up by any reputable research. One study from Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, which looked at the clinic intake forms of more than 5,000 women seeking abortions in 2012, found that only 1% said they were seeking the procedure because it was what someone else wanted.[8] This supposedly “hidden epidemic” of coerced abortions, as CLI put it, is especially demeaning because it both suggests that people seeking abortions are incapable of making decisions about their own reproductive care, and erases the large number of people who are coerced, through intimate partner violence, into carrying unwanted pregnancies (and who, one of the most comprehensive studies on abortion has found, are far more likely to have worse health and socioeconomic outcomes than those who received an abortion).

In an example of just how impactful the anti-abortion movement’s misleading research can be, three studies connected to Charlotte Lozier Institute were recently cited by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), representing anti-abortion doctors in a case, since rejected on procedural grounds, that challenged the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. All three were, in February, retracted by their academic publisher, Sage, after a review found that all the lead authors were connected to anti-abortion “advocacy organizations that explicitly support judicial action to restrict access to mifepristone,” including Charlotte Lozier, and that all three “were originally reviewed by a researcher who was also affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute at the time of the review.” In addition to the authors’ failures to cite conflicts of interest or adhere to the standard of peer review, the publisher also found that “the studies demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor that invalidates or renders unreliable the authors’ conclusions.” Other, scientifically rigorous studies – as well as more than 20 years of real-world use – have demonstrated that medication abortion, which now accounts for 63% of abortions overall, is incredibly safe and effective. A recent study found that 97.7% of medication abortions taking place in a telehealth setting were completed without further interventions and that 99.8% were “not followed by serious adverse events.”

The mifepristone case is far from the first ADF has brought before the Supreme Court. ADF, an that describes itself as a “Christian legal non-profit” committed to “protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, marriage and family and parental rights,” is the anti-abortion movement’s most effective legal arm. Founded in 1994, ADF has, most recently, focused its efforts on attacking abortion and anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people. Much like National Right to Life, ADF produces model legislation, and claims to have “authored” more than 100 bills in 34 states in 2022 alone.

ADF’s most impactful work, though, comes from using the courts to enact its anti-abortion agenda. It was instrumental in overturning the constitutional right to abortion, by both authoring the Mississippi law that banned abortion after 15 weeks and defending it in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Now, in addition to its efforts to revoke access to mifepristone, the organization is also defending the state of Idaho in another Supreme Court case over whether Idaho, which has a strict abortion ban, needs to provide abortions to patients when their health is at risk. The state, which the Department of Justice argues is not complying with federal law that requires hospitals receiving Medicare funds to provide patients with “stabilizing treatments” in emergency rooms, has been airlifting extremely sick pregnant patients out of state to receive care. The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in Moyle v. United States on April 24; the case is currently ongoing.

Even if ADF’s current cases before the Supreme Court fail to further limit abortion access, the organization, which claims to have pulled in more than $100 million in revenue as of June 2021 and employs more than 70 attorneys, remains poised to continue its attack on LGBTQ+ people and those who can become pregnant.

a group of protesters hold a sign that reads “Strong families make strong nations”
In a photo from Jan. 21, 2022, Thomas Ryan Rousseau, founder of the Patriot Front, leads his group during the 49th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Jemal Countess/UPI)

Abortion ‘Abolitionists’

Among the most radical members of today’s anti-abortion movement are abortion “abolitionists,” who believe that any attempt to end a pregnancy is murder. They call for equal protection of the “unborn” under the 14th Amendment, and demand that anyone who performs or has an abortion should be criminalized under homicide statutes, including possibly receiving the death penalty. “Can’t we end abortion without prosecuting mothers?” the group Abolitionists Rising asks on its website. “To put it simply, no.”

Abolitionists reserve some of their most aggressive critiques for the “pro-life” movement, which they claim is plagued by “unbiblical thinking and treachery.” Abolitionists believe that “incremental” anti-abortion bills, including bans based on gestational age, undercut the ultimate goal of banning abortion without exception. “The end game for Bible-believing Christians when it comes to the issue of abortion should never be ‘reducing’ it or attempting to regulate it as ‘health care.’ ABORTION MUST BE ABOLISHED AND CRIMINALIZED AS MURDER IMMEDIATELY,” the communications director for abolitionist group End Abortion Now has argued. Their desire to criminalize women has been criticized by more mainstream anti-abortion organizations, who agree with abolitionists’ goals of ending abortion but generally believe that providers, not those who have abortions, should face criminal penalties.

These militant activists have chosen to portray themselves as the successors of 19th century abolitionists who fought against slavery. Their unsubtle attempts to paint their movement – which aims to deprive people of rights – as one firmly embedded within the country’s long history of civil rights struggles are well worn within the anti-abortion movement. When white conservatives and many white religious activists began to face greater public criticism for their opposition to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1970s, many searched for ways to assert white people’s role as moral guardians. Abortion was the perfect issue, historian Jennifer L. Holland has argued, bringing together a broad constituency of white, often religiously motivated conservative activists who could claim to be saving the country from moral decay in their roles as “freedom fighters and justice warriors.”[9] It also allowed them to conveniently sidestep the question of women’s rights, instead focusing on a group anti-abortion activists saw as society’s most vulnerable and most oppressed: the unborn.

Abolitionists, whose leadership appears to be overwhelmingly made up of white men, are strongly tied to the militant wing of the anti-abortion movement that was prominent in the 1990s. Groups like End Abortion Now and Operation Save America (OSA) maintain relationships with activists like Matthew Trewhella, who in 1993 was among those who signed a letter arguing that the actions of Michael Griffin, who had murdered abortion provider Dr. David Gunn, were justified. “We, the undersigned, declare the justice of taking all godly action necessary to defend innocent human life including the use of force. We proclaim that whatever force is legitimate to defend the life of a born child is legitimate to defend the life of an unborn child,” the letter declared.

Trewhella is the father-in-law of OSA founder Jason Storms and a frequent speaker at the group’s events. He is well known within anti-abortion circles for his 2013 book The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates, which argues that “tyrannical” and immoral laws must be defied by lower-ranking authorities by three “boxes” established by the American founders: “the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.”[10] Before Roe was overturned, OSA used the doctrine outlined in Trewhella’s book to argue that lawmakers should outlaw abortion despite the Supreme Court’s ruling. They have likewise argued that LGBTQ+ rights and marriage equality are immoral and therefore should be defied by local authorities. Trewhella’s book, which he claims to have spoken to at least 11 state legislatures about, and which he regularly promotes at speaking events hosted by county-level Republican Party organizations, continues to be cited regularly by far-right activists seeking to deprive people of their rights.

The network of abolitionist organizations uses a variety of strategies to fulfill its mission. Many activists protest outside clinics and hold “sidewalk ministries” and “sidewalk counseling” sessions in which they publicly pray outside reproductive health clinics and, often, harass women entering them. Others post sermons and other videos on social media sites to spread their message. Recently, abolitionists have started to concentrate their efforts on advocating for so-called "abolitionists laws,” which would outlaw and criminalize abortion, in states across the country.

The number of abolitionists bills increased dramatically after Dobbs. While lawmakers introduced only three such bills in 2022, the following year at least 14 bills that treated abortion as murder were introduced in 10 states across the country. So far in 2024, at least five of these bills have been introduced in as many states. Their existence is, in part, due to the increasingly extreme nature of the anti-abortion movement, but it is also a result of lobbying on the part of abolitionist organizations. Jeff Durbin, who leads the group End Abortion Now, claims that the group spent upwards of $100,000 pushing for an abolitionist bill in Louisiana, though it ultimately failed. In Texas, the group Abolish Abortion Texas, headed by Bradley Pierce, who also heads the nationwide organization Foundation to Abolish Abortion, has asked political candidates to pledge to uphold abortion abolitionist principles. In the 2024 primaries for the Texas House, 33 candidates signed the pledge, about three-quarters of whom were men. Eleven of those candidates won their primaries, while five would enter runoff elections. Dusty Deevers, a self-identified abolitionist who appears regularly at events like Abolitionists Rising’s annual conference, was elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 2023.

In addition to seeking murder charges and the death penalty for people who have and provide abortions, abolitionists have hinted that violence might be necessary to implement their agenda. “You’re going to shed blood in the womb, you’re going to reap it in the streets,” Philip “Flip” Benham, who once led OSA, said at the organization’s 2023 gathering in Atlanta that marked the 35th anniversary of its “siege” on the city. “How is abortion going to end? I don’t know, maybe it’s going to be a civil war, maybe it’s going to be a whole variety of other means,” Storms, the group’s current leader, said during a panel at the same event and, elsewhere, “We are talking about the very real possible reality that we have to take up arms against our own tyrannical government, and are we prepared to do it and win.” Storms was one of numerous anti-abortion activists present at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

‘Rescuers’ and Direct-Action Anti-abortion Activists

OSA is one of many anti-abortion groups that engage in protests at clinics, harassing supporters, providers and people seeking medical care. The group is a rebrand of Operation Rescue, a militant anti-abortion organization that, in the 1980s and 1990s, spearheaded the use of “rescues” at abortion clinics. Operation Rescue was unrelenting. It hosted training camps around the country to prepare anti-abortion activists and targeted specific cities for weeks with protests. By the mid-1990s, some 60,000 people had been arrested at its demonstrations. During a “rescue,” anti-abortion activists carpeted the outsides of clinics with their bodies in an attempt to block patients and workers from entering. At some of these demonstrations, protesters would forcibly enter a clinic, oftentimes barricading themselves inside, locking themselves in patient rooms, chaining themselves to equipment or each other, and damaging equipment. Between 1977 and 1993, there were 345 such clinic invasions, according to data published by the National Abortion Federation.

Rescue-type demonstrations declined dramatically after President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which made it a federal crime to obstruct access to a reproductive health care clinic, in May 1994. From 1990 to 1993, clinic invasions averaged 24.5 per year, while protesters engaged in an average of 56 blockades. From 1994 to 1999, those numbers fell to just over three and 10 per year, respectively.

While invasions fell out of favor among anti-abortion activists after the FACE Act, they have trended upward so far this decade, reaching 20 in 2022 (the most recent year for which NAF has statistics). OSA members have participated in numerous blockades and invasions in recent years, including a 2022 action against a Tennessee clinic in which one participant told police, “We got men out here who are willing to do what needs to be done. …We are going to be obedient to God’s law, not man’s.”[11] After a group of 11 anti-abortion activists associated with OSA were charged with FACE Act violations in October 2022 for a blockade of the clinic the previous year, 10 were eventually convicted and found guilty in the first half of 2024 following two separate trials. Other anti-abortion groups have praised Operation Rescue’s earlier wave of activism and cited it as a template for their own actions. “This has been such a huge inspiration for me,” Terrisa Bukovinac, the founder of the group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), said on a 2022 podcast. “I’ve had the honor of meeting and working alongside Randall Terry, who was the founder of Operation Rescue, and I have come to the conclusion that it’s time to bring the rescue movement back.”

four people stand at a podium, in front of a sign that says 'Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising'
In a photo from April 5, 2022, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry joins Terrisa Bukovinac and Lauren Handy of Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising during a news conference in Washington, D.C., to address reports of fetuses recovered by police in Handy's apartment. (Credit: Zach Roberts/NurPhoto/Alamy)

Terry, who, by his own count, has been arrested 49 times for his activism, has recently appeared at PAAU events and seems to be attempting to capitalize on the recent wave of anti-abortion organizing. He is currently raising money on a Christian crowdfunding site to fund a documentary about Operation Rescue’s activism, which he describes as “the largest peaceful civil disobedience movement in American history.” He also reportedly plans on running a longshot presidential campaign as a nominee for the Constitution Party. He has raised just over $15,000 despite raising money for more than a year.

PAAU, an organization comprised mostly of women, cloaks itself in the language of progressivism and feminism while supporting “direct action” aimed at denying people the ability to make choices about their own reproduction and health care. The group has ties not only to Terry, but to Joan Andrews Bell, a longtime militant anti-abortion activist and member of Operation Rescue who has been arrested more than 120 times for harassing clinics. As a keynote speaker at a 1999 conference, Bell said she could consider the murder of an abortion provider “justifiable homicide.” “If you shoot them at home, it’s not. If they’re shot as they’re walking into an abortion mill, I will accept whatever the church teaches on that,” she said. Bell and her husband employed James Charles Kopp at their crisis pregnancy clinic shortly before he murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian, an obstetrician who provided abortions, by shooting him in his Buffalo, New York, home in 1998.

In 2020, Bell participated in a clinic invasion organized by PAAU Director of Activism and Mutual Aid Lauren Handy at the Washington Surgi-Clinic, an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C. Handy largely relied on Facebook to reach out to activists and coordinate the action. On the day of the invasion, Handy and her co-conspirators forced their way into the clinic, injuring a nurse in the process. Part of the group who entered the clinic, including Bell, quickly used chairs to block the entrance of the procedure area and chains and bike locks to link themselves together. One of the clinic invaders, Herb Geraghty, told a woman who came up the elevator, and who was in the midst of a multiday abortion she sought after learning her fetus had a fatal defect and would not survive birth, that there were no abortions being performed today. She collapsed in the hallway in pain. Other invaders yelled at patients, telling them, “We just want you to know that if you die during your abortion procedure, you might wake up in a place you don’t want to be!”

When police arrived, several anti-abortion activists left. The remaining went limp and had to be carried out by law enforcement. More than three years after the invasion, nine of the participants, including Handy, Geraghty and Bell, were convicted on two charges: conspiracy to obstruct civil rights and violating the FACE Act.[12]

In May 2024, Handy was sentenced to nearly five years in prison. “Your views took precedence over, frankly, their human needs,” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly told her during sentencing. Bell and Geraghty both received 27-month sentences.

In addition to criminal charges under the FACE Act, anti-abortion activists currently face civil penalties. In New York, Attorney General Leticia James is pursuing a lawsuit against Red Rose Rescue, an anti-abortion group that has repeatedly obstructed and invaded reproductive health clinics in the state. In December 2023, a judge granted a preliminary injunction against the group, ordering that they stay 15 feet from clinics in 13 New York counties.

The actions of PAAU and other militant anti-abortion groups have, if anything, brought them closer to the far-right wing of the Republican Party. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene recently hosted a hearing titled Investigating the Black Market of Baby Organ Harvesting” – a long-running anti-abortion conspiracy – where PAAU’s Bukovinac detailed how the group allegedly came to possess 115 fetuses, five of which, they claim without evidence, were the result of illegal abortion procedures (police found the fetuses in Handy’s home). Former President Donald Trump has also expressed his support for members of the group. At the 2023 Pray Vote Stand Summit hosted by the Family Research Council, Trump said that if he were elected to a second term as president, he would commute the sentences of the clinic invaders and “appoint a special task force to rapidly review the cases of every political prisoner who’s been unjustly persecuted by the Biden administration.”[13]

Activist groups like PAAU, along with Republican elected officials, are now targeting the FACE Act. Even though it is doubtful the law will be overturned, it signals that GOP officials are now increasingly comfortable with the tactics deployed by militant anti-abortion groups.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), or fake reproductive health clinics, are a massive – and growing – arm of the anti-abortion movement. Though they present themselves as health care clinics, CPCs overwhelmingly lack legitimate health care services. Instead, they are ideological outposts of the anti-abortion movement designed to lure pregnant people, especially those who are low-income, into a fake medical setting where they will very likely receive medical misinformation designed to dissuade them from seeking abortion or other reproductive care. “These tactics can have dire health consequences and rob patients of their [health care],” concluded 16 state attorneys general in a 2023 open letter on the dangers of CPC.[14]

CPCs were first established in the 1960s and grew rapidly after the Roe decision. Robert Pearson, who founded the first CPC and helped foster their growth throughout the country, made his intention to mislead women clear: “Obviously, we're fighting Satan,” he declared in a 1994 speech.[15] “A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her.”

Promotion block to Anti-Abortion Extremism page.

CPCs are designed to fool people into believing they are legitimate medical centers. In 1998, for example, the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group, conducted market research to determine which name would hold high “appeal among pro-choice women,” concluding that “Women’s Resource Center” would be most strategic for its purposes. Many choose names that are remarkably similar to actual abortion clinics, adopt similar signage and locate nearby legitimate clinics in an effort to confuse patients.

Google aids their efforts by misdirecting people searching for “abortion clinics near me” to ads for fake clinics – which have earned the company an estimated $10 million in revenue, according to a 2023 report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate.[16] Advertising is purposely deceptive, like one Baltimore CPC that promised “FREE Confidential Options Counseling” and “FREE Services,” leading to an increase in “abortion minded callers” who were under the impression the CPC “assisted in paying for abortions.” CPCs will schedule appointments for people without disclosing that they do not offer abortions. Training materials from Care Net, one of the largest networks of CPCs, directed volunteers to evade inquiries about abortion services and direct those callers to a CPC. The network has also specifically instructed its “clinics” not to provide information about birth control.

As of 2022, CPCs outnumbered abortion clinics 3-to-1. One study from 2021 found that roughly half were associated with large right-wing network of anti-abortion groups, which include Heartbeat International, Care Net and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.

That study, conducted by a coalition of state-based law and policy centers called The Alliance: State Advocates for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, examined 607 CPCs and found that these “clinics” provide “virtually no medical care.” The vast majority – 95% – did not offer prenatal care, while only one offered contraception. The services they did frequently offer included the same pregnancy tests that can be purchased at stores, “counseling,” material goods such as diapers and wipes that could be “earned” through programming like abstinence seminars and Bible study, and nondiagnostic ultrasounds, which cannot give a patient any important health information pertaining to themselves or their fetus or provide diagnoses of dangerous conditions like ectopic pregnancy. CPCs cannot offer services like diagnostic ultrasounds because the vast majority do not have affiliated physicians or nurses.

What CPCs do offer is a blend of medical misinformation and disinformation aimed at scaring and shaming women. In the literature and “counseling” they provide, CPCs consistently exaggerate the risks associated with abortion and falsely argue that abortion is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, infertility and a fictitious mental health condition called “post-abortion syndrome.” Many clinics also promote an unethical and experimental practice called “abortion reversal,” which is alleged to counteract mifepristone – the first dose of medication used in most medication abortions. “Claims regarding abortion ‘reversal’ treatment,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has concluded, “are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.” One study designed to evaluate this procedure was ended early by researchers due to safety concerns after three study participants experienced severe hemorrhage. In May, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Heartbeat International, which manages more than 2,000 CPCs, alleging that their “false and misleading statements” on abortion reversal “constitute persistent fraud and illegality” under state law.

Though CPCs are largely unregulated and provide little in the way of actual medical care, anti-abortion politicians have recently awarded them increased public funding. In 2023, 12 Republican-led legislatures passed 25 bills that resulted in $250 million in new funding for CPCs. “It’s time to equip them with the resources they need to play a bigger role,” Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said of crisis pregnancy centers in 2023, after all the abortion clinics in the state closed. In total, the organization Reproductive Health and Freedom Watch estimates, CPCs have secured at least $1.4 billion in funding, at least $344 million of which came from the government, since the Dobbs decision. The U.S. House in January passed a bill that would prohibit the secretary of health and human services from restricting funding from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for crisis pregnancy centers. Speaker Mike Johnson, who oversaw passage of the bill, previously served as an attorney for ADF and worked for a crisis pregnancy center in Louisiana. The center operated a mobile van, with an exam table and ultrasound machine, used to target “abortion-vulnerable women” where they “are likely to be – outside of abortion clinics, on university campuses, in rural areas, and at public events."

While CPCs are one insidious arm of the anti-abortion movement, entering their doors is also to experience the anti-abortion movement’s ultimate vision of the country in microcosm: a place where women, those who are pregnant, and other vulnerable people are disrespected, denied access to real medical care, deprived of information about their bodies and pregnancies, and told, ultimately, that they lack the authority to make the most personal decisions one can make for themselves and their families.

Illustration at top by Cristiana Couceiro.

[1] Geoff Mulvihill, Kimberlee Kruesi, Claire Savage, “A year after fall of Roe, 25 million women live in states with abortion bans or tighter restrictions,” Associated Press, June 22, 2023,

[2] Simon Maloy, “Live Action’s Latest Abortion Clinic Undercover Video A Bust,” Media Matters, April 28, 2013,

[3] Emma Wallenbrock, “Inside the Handbook on Abortion,” Slate, June 8, 2022,

[4] Pam Belluck, “Health Experts Dismiss Claim Assertions on Rape,” The New York Times, August 20, 2012,

[5] John Hanna and Jim Salter, “Ex-US Rep. Todd Akin, sunk by ‘legitimate rape’ remark, dies,” Associated Press, October 4, 2021,

[6] Kavitha Surana, “‘We Need to Defend This Law’: Inside an Anti-Abortion Meeting With Tennessee’s GOP Lawmakers,” ProPublica, November 15, 2022,

[7] Elizabeth G. Raymond and David A. Grimes, “The comparative safety of legal induced abortion and childbirth in the United States,” Obstetrics and Gynecology, 119 (2 Pt 1) (2012): 215–219,; Adebayo Adesomo, “Pregnancy Is Far More Dangerous Than Abortion,” Scientific American, May 30, 2022,

[8] D.G. Foster, Heather Gould, Jessica Taylor, Tracy A. Weitz, “Attitudes and decision making among women seeking abortions at one U.S. clinic,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health Vol. 44, Issue 2 (June 2012): 117–124,

[9] Jennifer L. Holland, Tiny You: A Western History of the Anti-Abortion Movement (University of California Press, 2020), 65.

[10] Matthew Trewhella, The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates: A Proper Reluctance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012).

[11] Travis Loller, “Restraining order against anti-abortion activists extended,” Associated Press, August 3, 2022,

[12] U.S. Department of Justice, “Three Defendants Convicted of Federal Civil Rights Conspiracy and Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act Offenses for Obstructing Access to a Reproductive Health Services Clinic,” news release no. 23-1014, September 15, 2023,

[13] Kate Sullivan, “Trump vows to appoint task force to review cases of those he claims were unjustly prosecuted by the Biden administration,” CNN, September 16, 2023,

[14] Kimberly Kindy, “Partisan Battle Grows Over State Funding for Antiabortion Centers,” Washington Post, September 14, 2023,

[15] “How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center,” The Pearson Foundation, 1984, p. 14.

[16] “Profiting From Deceit: How Google Profits From Anti-Choice Ads Distorting Searches For Reproductive Healthcare,” Center for Countering Digital Hate, June 15, 2023,