(Courtesy of Flickr)

“A girl walks into a fake pregnancy clinic…” This sounds like the beginning of a joke, and what comes next is so outrageous that it might be laughable if it weren’t dangerous.

When Caitlin, a volunteer for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, entered a “crisis pregnancy center” (CPC), as these fake clinics are called, posing as a scared woman in need of help, she got just the opposite. The video below highlights the lies:

Caitlin was told in this facility that birth control pills are a form of “enslavement,” that they would give her cancer and that condoms don’t work because they’re “naturally porous.” But Caitlin didn’t get her lies straight up; they also came with a side of shame. The counselor also told her, “I don’t think you should be having sex because you’re not married.” And, worst of all, when this young woman tested the counselor’s response to an assault victim by telling a hypothetical story about being raped while intoxicated, she was told, “OK, well just don’t do it again.”

Taking a page from the junk science that fuels climate change denial and “reparative” anti-gay therapy, CPCs claim to be medical facilities but are nothing more than outposts of an extreme movement whose agenda is to—by any means necessary—frighten women out of having premarital sex and out of exercising their constitutional rights to terminate an unintended pregnancy. Caitlin’s experience was not an anomaly. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia conducted an investigation of fifty-six crisis pregnancy centers in the state, and a full 71 percent of them shared bad information with women seeking their services, posing extreme danger, both physical and emotional, to the women who seek their services.

The obvious question is how these places stay open. In Virginia, part of the answer is Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general and Republican candidate for governor. He has said he was “proud” to help establish a “Choose Life” license plate as a state senator, the proceeds of which go directly to CPCs. (Similar plates fund CPCs all over the country, from Mississippi to Massachusetts.)

License plates aren’t the only way states divert money to CPCs. In June, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a budget that diverts money away from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and sends it to crisis pregnancy centers. That’s money meant to help the most vulnerable families pay for things like food or clothing or rent, now paying for facilities to harass and misinform some of those very same women who might need that assistance. And North Carolina’s budget moved $250,000 out of the Women’s Health Fund, which provides care for the poor and uninsured, and sent it to the state’s largest group of CPCs.

I’ve written before about the extreme lengths these politicians go to in order to pass unpopular mandates that rob women of our constitutional rights. Knowing that these measures are out of line with modern American family values, anti-choice politicians bury them in budgets, call endless special sessions and attach them to completely unrelated bills. In North Carolina, anti-choice restrictions were plugged into a motorcycle safety bill, spawning a glut of “motorcycle vagina” jokes that had women around the country laughing for days—we have to laugh not to cry.

Colorlines exposed the disturbing campaign to target women of color and poor communities by crisis pregnancy centers. The in-depth report looks at how CPCs use deceptive tactics to lure women into their facilities and then, with no regard for the issues they face, shame them into thinking they have only one choice:

Fueled by a race-baiting, national marketing campaign and the missionary-like evangelism of its affiliates, Care Net has turned the complex reality behind black abortion rates into a single, fictional story.

We can and must educate women about their full range of choices before and after they are pregnant. We must support policies that reduce unintended pregnancies and increase access to abortion for all women. We must fight the efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and other high-quality health centers and fight to keep clinics that offer genuine medical services to women (and men!) when they need them.

While CPCs are the vehicle trying to rob women of our rights and our autonomy, the drivers are the politicians like Ken Cuccinelli who support them with special protections and taxpayer funds. Accountability starts at the ballot box. No politician who supports crisis pregnancy centers should see another term. That starts with making sure Cuccinelli loses his race for governor come November. This would be a victory not just for Virginia, but for women around the country.

How did the “opt-out revolution” affect men?