The Corner


What Pro-Lifers Can Learn from a Paper on Pregnancy-Help Centers

Pro-life demonstrators outside the Supreme Court during the March for Life in 2011. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Last week, Alexandra DeSanctis had a Corner post covering an important new study that appeared in the journal Plos One, analyzing the effect of pregnancy-help centers. Although the number of such centers has increased significantly in recent years, these organizations tend to receive scant attention from scholars.

The researchers who conducted this study evidently are skeptical of pregnancy-help organizations. One researcher is affiliated with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, which supports legal abortion. Additionally, the authors claim, with no evidence, that pregnancy-help centers provide “inaccurate information” about the risks of abortion. Even so, the results of the study indicate that women who visit pregnancy-help centers are less likely to obtain abortions and more likely to continue pregnancies. This is good news for pro-lifers.

Indeed, a closer look at the study provides some important insights of interest to pro-lifers, particularly those who support pregnancy -help centers. Through online ads, the researchers who conducted this study were able to survey more than 800 pregnant women who were considering obtaining an abortion.  About 13 percent of these women reported visiting a pregnancy-help center, enabling the researchers to compare the group of women who visited a center to the group of women that did not. This provides some insight into what makes abortion-vulnerable women more likely to seek assistance from a pregnancy-help center in the first place.

The two cohorts of women were fairly similar demographically. African Americans were less likely than the average woman to report a visit to a pregnancy help center, while Asian Americans were more likely. However, these differences were relatively slight. Furthermore, the two cohorts were similar in terms of age, education level, gestational age of their unborn child, geographic region, and religiosity.

Interestingly, women who did not identify with a particular faith tradition were actually slightly more likely to visit a pregnancy-resource center than women who reported adhering to a particular faith. The two groups of women were also similar in terms of whether they’d had a previous abortion and whether they’d given birth previously.

But there were also some notable distinctions between the two groups. One key difference is that women who lacked health insurance were more likely to visit a pregnancy-help center, suggesting that the services offered attract women who lack access to health care. Another difference is that women reporting higher levels of decisional conflict about obtaining an abortion were more likely to visit a pregnancy-help center.

But overall, the differences between the two cohorts were not as dramatic as one might expect. In fact, the results indicated that about 47 percent of women who visited a pregnancy-help center were at the lowest of the three levels of decisional conflict, demonstrating that pro-life pregnancy centers interact with a wide range of pregnant women, including some who feel fairly certain about wanting to obtain an abortion.

Another important, if unsurprising, finding was that proximity to a pregnancy-help center had an effect on results. Women who lived less than five miles from a center were likely to report a visit than women who lived farther away. Similarly, women who lived far from an abortion facility were more likely to seek assistance from a pregnancy-help center.  This illustrates that efforts by pro-life activists to launch pregnancy-help organizations in underserved areas can have a positive effect, as well as that pro-life efforts to close abortion facilities likely have been effective.

Most important, the researchers were able to analyze how visiting a pregnancy-help center affected pregnancy outcomes. They found that only about 30 percent of women who visited a pregnancy-help center obtained an abortion, as opposed to about 50 percent of women who did not report a pregnancy-center visit.

One nice feature of the study is that the researchers held constant decisional conflict, so we know that even among women who reported high levels of conflict about whether or not to obtain an abortion, the visit to the pregnancy-help center made them more likely to choose life. Multiple statistical models, holding a range of factors constant, indicated that a visit to a pregnancy-help center significantly increased the likelihood that a woman would carry her pregnancy to term.

According to Heartbeat International’s Worldwide Directory of Pregnancy Help, the number of organizations that offer assistance to pregnant women increased by approximately 86 percent between 1988 and 2015. Many states are finding creative ways to assist pregnancy-help centers through grants and tax credits, among other means. The results of this study should encourage pro-lifers, as it offers statistical evidence that pro-life efforts to build durable organizations devoted to assisting pregnant women are bearing fruit.

The results demonstrate that pregnancy-help centers are saving thousands of preborn children and sparing countless women from a lifetime of regret.

Michael J. New is a research associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New


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