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Pro-life leaders criticize attorney general’s pregnancy center alert

By Barb Umberger 
Catholic News Service 

Minnesota pro-life leaders denounced a consumer alert issued by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison criticizing the state’s crisis pregnancy centers. 

The impact of Ellison’s statement is to besmirch the good work of pregnancy resource centers and put people on notice that he has a target on their back, said Jason Adkins, executive director and general counsel for the Minnesota Catholic Conference. 

Adkins stressed that pregnancy resource centers “should be truthful about what services they offer and what they do not,” adding that “not all of them have medical staff, nor do they hold themselves out as having such resources.” 

Many of these centers focus on connecting women with housing and providing an environment where they can access clothing and other support, he said, noting that the attorney general’s alert is “a solution in search of a problem.” 

Ellison’s alert states that “many so-called crisis pregnancy centers may pose as reproductive health care clinics despite not providing comprehensive reproductive healthcare to consumers,” and some don’t provide any health care services at all. 

It says the centers are “private organizations that attempt to prevent or dissuade pregnant people from accessing their constitutionally protected right under the Minnesota Constitution to a safe and legal abortion.” 

Executives at Minnesota pregnancy resource centers — described by Ellison as crisis pregnancy centers — and leaders in the pro-life movement disagree with the way these centers are described in the alert. 

Vaunae Hansel, president of the nonprofit Elevate Life, that provides training and resources to a network of 37 pregnancy resource centers in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, said the alert is not factual and encourages people with questions to visit a local pregnancy resource center and ask about its services. 

Hansel took issue with most of the alert, except for one phrase which said the number of crisis pregnancy centers may, in fact, outnumber abortion clinics in Minnesota by about 11:1. That may be possible, she said. 

Adkins said he thinks Ellison hopes to generate complaints against pregnancy resource centers, impose penalties, and provide excuses for lawmakers to try to cut Positive Alternatives Grant funding, a state program that provides funding to some pregnancy resource centers. 

John Stiles, deputy chief of staff and media spokesperson for the Minnesota Office of the Attorney General, said several reasons prompted the attorney general’s alert. 

Ellison has issued other consumer alerts, including those addressing technology-related scams or warnings to be wary of door-to-door sales, he said. And the office has heard from some consumers who have concerns about “misrepresentations that some of these crisis pregnancy centers make.” 

Because crisis pregnancy centers are unregulated under Minnesota law, the attorney general wanted to use the power of his office to let people know that they should be careful and ask exactly what services are provided and which are not, Stiles said. 

But above all, the timing was prompted by national attention “suddenly focused on the right to abortion by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision,” Stiles said. 

Abortion remains legal in Minnesota under the state constitution. 

On July 28, Ellison said he wouldn’t appeal a separate ruling in Minnesota that struck down most of the state’s restrictions on abortion as unconstitutional, saying the state was not likely to win an appeal and had spent enough time and money on the case. 

Brian Gibson, executive director of St. Paul-based Pro-life Action Ministries, said Ellison’s consumer alert was “horribly disingenuous and harmful to these amazing places that help out so many in need.” 

“He was supposed to be defending laws that would help protect women who are going for abortions, and he failed miserably in doing his duty there,” Gibson said. “And now he’s attacking the very places that offer real, concrete help, generously helping women all the time, helping families.” 

Tens of thousands of people have been helped by crisis pregnancy centers over the years, Gibson said, and tens of thousands of babies’ lives have been saved “and he’s attacking them without knowing what they do.” 

Last year, Elevate Life affiliates offered educational and, in many cases, medical services including ultrasound and pregnancy testing, to more than 7,500 clients, Hansel said. The organization’s values align with the Catholic Church’s, but it is not directly connected with the church, she said. 

Hansel also takes issue with Ellison’s consumer alert claim that these centers do not counsel or provide accurate information about available abortion services. 

“We provide medically accurate information on all of their options, including abortion,” she said. “We encourage all of our centers to use the Minnesota Department of Health’s piece ‘If You’re Pregnant.’ We don’t refer for or provide abortions, but we do provide medically accurate information from the Minnesota Department of Health on abortion and abortion procedures.” 

The consumer alert also states that more than 95% of pregnancy centers do not provide prenatal or wellness care to “pregnant consumers, and a majority do not even provide prenatal referrals.” Hansel said that is not true. 

“Every one of our centers provide referrals for prenatal care,” Hansel said — and usually three referrals, so women have a choice. 

Umberger is on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.