Iowa Republicans know we’re all sick and tired of the abortion bans sweeping across the country lately, which is why they want to assure us their new bill, the “More Options for Maternal Support,” or MOMS bill, isn’t exactly an abortion ban. It’s just a slightly more long-winded approach to screwing over pregnant people and shaming those who have abortions.
“We’re not trying to restrict abortions in any way, we’re just trying to help make them rarer—to help provide women with the support they need to feel confident making that decision to have that baby,” state Sen. Mark Costello has said of the bill.
MOMS, which passed out of Iowa’s Senate on Tuesday, would offer $1 million in state funding to so-called crisis pregnancy centers across the state, which exist to prey on often young, low-income pregnant people seeking abortion services. Many of these anti-abortion centers attract people with promises of free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, since many states—including Iowa—require people to receive costly ultrasounds prior to having an abortion. But once they enter, they’re subjected to a barrage of terrifying lies about abortion and contraception, including that abortion causes breast cancer (it does not), that medication abortions can be reversed despite lack of evidence for this, and that birth control causes hair loss and memory loss (no???).
In other words, Iowa’s MOMS bill may not be an outright abortion ban—but it’s still designed to force people to go through with unwanted pregnancies, and, err, become MOMS, nonetheless.
Crisis pregnancy centers have a documented history of lying about the free services they provide: A recent study found in most cases, CPCs don’t provide the free prenatal and pregnancy resources they claim they do. Rather, provision of these basic resources is made conditional on “the client’s participation in ‘earn while you learn’ classes or counseling, Bible studies, abstinence seminars, video screenings, or other ideological CPC programming,” researchers found. CPCs aren’t providing “alternatives” to support low-income parents and families that might be considering abortion—they’re just diverting state funding away from actual resources that could help these families, which is especially shameful amid an ongoing, national maternal and infant mortality crisis.
At least 10 states allocate public funding to CPCs. Recently, the Associated Press found that this fiscal year, $89 million has been allocated across a dozen states to fund CPCs, compared with $17 million a decade ago. And at the same time Texas passed its sweeping, near-total abortion ban last year, it also gave a whopping $100 million to its crisis pregnancy centers—despite evidence of rampant fraud and virtually zero transparency on how their money is being spent. Across the country, the ratio of crisis pregnancy centers to abortion-providing clinics in the US currently stands at three to one—an absolute outrage.
CPCs have thrived on both the massive amounts of funding they receive and our increasingly digitized world to expand upon their ability to reach vulnerable pregnant people, using targeted ads on search engines and social media to pose as real health care providers. Their digital presence poses an especially chilling threat to pregnant people’s privacy, through the information that crisis pregnancy center conglomerates like Heartbeat International are known to collect and store via online interactions with people considering abortion.
Today, the widespread collection of pregnant people’s personal data from CPCs as well as popular anti-abortion fertility apps could be wielded as evidence against pregnant people and abortion providers, as more and more states like Texas and Idaho enact abortion bans that rely on snitching, citizen surveillance, and civil lawsuits for enforcement. We’ve already been seeing some version of this for some time: In several cases, online searches for abortion pills and text messages have been used to criminalize people who have lost their pregnancies or induced their own abortions.
Surveillance of pregnant people has always been a core mission of CPCs, despite their best efforts to pose as safe havens for low-income mothers. In 2015, one South Dakota woman said that a “counselor” at a crisis pregnancy center she visited called her every day for several weeks—at times from restricted numbers—saying she just wanted to “chitchat.” States like Iowa might claim they’re helping moms and pregnant people with funding for CPCs, going so far as to name a bill that would be devastating for access to essential reproductive care, “MOMS.” In reality, by funding these anti-abortion groups, they’re providing fodder to collect evidence against and possibly criminalize the mothers and pregnant people they claim to support.