On Monday night's Full Frontal, Samantha Bee took on "crisis pregnancy centers" — fake pregnancy clinics whose real purpose is to try to dissuade women from having abortions.
Aided by Patton Oswalt, channeling Orson Welles from the 1973 film F for Fake, Bee discussed how these clinics use taxpayer money to deceive women. As Oswalt put it, they are "the ultimate hustle — a conception deception."
You might have noticed these facilities without realizing it. They run ads on billboards that say things like, "Pregnant? Scared? Need Help?" They also used to run online ads alongside internet searches for the word "abortion" — at least before search engines like Google and Yahoo agreed to take those ads down due to concerns about false advertising.
Crisis pregnancy centers look a lot like clinics that provide abortions, but the difference is in their tactics. Staff members — often people with no medical training — may wear white coats and give women what appears to be medical advice, and provide free ultrasounds, but the ultimate goal is to dissuade (or scare) women from having abortions.
In Bee's sketch, as "(not an actual) Docter Bee," the comedian squirts ultrasound gel all over her patient and makes her watch inaccurate videos about abortion with her eyes taped open, Clockwork Orange-style.
As Bee points out, and as multiple in-depth investigations by NARAL Pro-Choice America and Cosmopolitan have found, crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women about the risks of abortion. They say that abortion will perforate your uterus and make you infertile (a possible but incredibly rare complication of abortion), or that it causes breast cancer or mental illness (both of these connections have been thoroughly rejected by reviews of the evidence).
During the segment, Cherisse Scott, a woman who says she was taken in by the lies of a crisis pregnancy center clinic, described her ordeal. Scott said she wanted an abortion but said she was scared by the center's warnings that she would become infertile, and so she ultimately decided to give birth.
The crisis pregnancy center staff "disappeared without a trace" once her son was born and times got hard for her, Scott said. When she struggled to get on food stamps or to make her child's father pay child support, they weren't there.
Scott said she dearly loves her son, but she also said that if she had to do it all over again, she would have the abortion.
"My son deserved to have a situation where he didn't have to worry about his mother struggling to make the ends meet until I was able to figure it out," Scott said. "He deserved to be able to come into a loving situation, not in a situation where I was confused, or because of a lie."
Crisis pregnancy centers get away with this kind of deception, Oswalt said, because they "hide behind the fig leaf of the First Amendment, which I guess gives them the right to trick scared teenagers into not seeing a doctor."
Crisis pregnancy centers are often given state funding, but California, for one, has tried to regulate crisis pregnancy centers and require them to disclose that they don't provide medical services and that women have a right to an abortion. But both the enactment and the enforcement of laws like these have been an uphill battle against anti-abortion activists who are determined to fight them.
These centers operate under the illusion of being helpful to women who want to have an abortion. While tricks and illusions can be fun, Oswalt says, "crisis pregnancy centers are just plain assholes."
Correction: Oswalt was channeling Orson Welles's F for Fake, not Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. We regret the error and the author's cinematic illiteracy.