Investigative

Meet the ‘expert’ behind the attacks on PRCs who admitted ‘some people value them’

Down syndrome, Live Action, choose life, foster

The abortion industry’s blatant attacks on pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) are a logical response to perceived competition, since abortion providers don’t profit when women choose life for their babies. Interestingly, most pro-abortion sources quote the exact same academic source in their bid to discredit PRCs. Who is this alleged expert on PRCs, and how credible is the “evidence” she presents to make her case that the work PRCs do is “unconscionable, immoral, and unethical”? Is there validity to the claims she made in a 2019 Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine position paper she co-wrote, stating that “by refusing to adhere to medical and ethical practice standards, crisis pregnancy centers are a risk to adolescent health”?

According to her curriculum vitae (CV), Dr. Andrea Swartzendruber is an associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, an assistant professor at U of G’s Institute for Women’s Studies, and an adjunct professor for Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. She earned a Biology degree from Goshen College, a Master of Public Health (MPH) from Emory University (where she now teaches), a doctorate (PhD) in Reproductive, Perinatal, and Women’s Health from Johns Hopkins University, and did postdoctoral work at Emory University.

Screenshot: Dr. Andrea Swartzendruber (YouTube)

Professional Publications

She has published dozens of articles on public health topics ranging from Zika virus prevention in Puerto Rico to substance abuse in African-American females to mother-child HIV transmission. But in the last few years, Swartzendruber’s work has increasingly centered on pregnancy resource centers, or “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) as she calls them. In the past twelve months alone, she’s co-authored multiple articles on PRCs in well-known or professionally well-respected journals.

In February, the Journal of Adolescent Health published her “Misconceptions about Crisis Pregnancy Centers Among a Sample of Emerging Adults Who Sought Services at CPCs in Georgia: A Mixed Methods Study.” Swartzendruber’s perspective was made clear in the first line, which read “Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are non-profits that aim to dissuade people from abortion, frequently using misinformation and deceptive practices.” In March, the same journal published her article, “Missed opportunities in emergency contraception messaging in Georgia: A comparison of crisis pregnancy centers and clinics that offer publicly-funded family planning services.” Also in March, the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases published “The Availability of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infection Testing and Treatment Services at Crisis Pregnancy Centers in the United States.”

But the most damning thing she’s written about PRCs from a professional perspective was the aforementioned 2019 position paper she co-authored with the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, which has been cited by many articles in peer-reviewed journals ever since. The abstract read in part, “While mimicking health care clinics, CPCs provide biased, limited, and inaccurate health information, including incomplete pregnancy options counseling and unscientific sexual and reproductive health information.”

Evidence of Persistent Bias

Interestingly, Swartzendruber had the same two co-authors for each article, Danielle Lambert, a fellow professor in the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health, and Amy Solsman, an Emory University PhD graduate research assistant. All three are affiliated with a project called “Evaluating Georgia Pregnancy Resource Centers’ Services and Quality” funded by Emory University’s RISE program. The project description claims that PRCs “have been widely criticized for using deceptive and coercive practices and providing inaccurate and misleading health information to clients,” though it fails to mention that it is the abortion lobby doing the criticizing. Swartzendruber and Lambert also maintain a website called crisispregnancycentermap.com, which lists locations of PRCs and refers to them as “fake women’s health centers.” In a curious case of self-reference, Swartzendruber’s articles consistently list her own website as a source.

READ: Pro-abortion researchers downplay study showing how pregnancy centers help women avoid abortion

Connection to Pro-Abortion Organizations

Swartzendruber maintains cozy relationships with aggressively pro-abortion organizations. Planned Parenthood paid Swartzendruber to perform a study published in April 2021. The Acknowledgments section reads: “We are deeply grateful to the staff at Planned Parenthood Federation and affiliates for their collaboration in this effort.” In both 2017 and 2020, she presented at the North American Forum on Family Planning, a joint effort of Planned Parenthood, the Society of Family Planning (which funded research on telemedicine abortion expansion years before the COVID-19 pandemic), and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (originally founded as The American Association of Planned Parenthood Physicians and funded in part by Planned Parenthood). Swartzendruber’s CV lists three professional memberships, all openly pro-abortionScholars Strategy Network, Society of Family Planning, and the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine.

Yet, despite these connections, a July 2021 article on Swartzendruber’s PRC map website noted that those involved with the map did so “on a volunteer basis” as Swartzendruber “has struggled to find any funding for her project.” According to her CV, Swartzendruber did receive a $509,473 grant from “Emory University/Anonymous Foundation” for her role as Primary Investigator on the previously mentioned Georgia pregnancy centers project.

Beloved by the Media

Swartzendruber’s opposition to PRCs has made her a media darling, and she’s routinely cited as an expert in progressive publications including Cosmopolitan, Ms. Magazine, The Guardian, Rewire, Vox, and the Huffington Post, criticizing PRCs for receiving Title X funding and decrying the allocation of COVID-19 relief funds to PRCs. She’s also been widely quoted in local news stories, which generally are considered less political and more objective.

False Claims about PRCs

While allegations of PRCs’ “deceptive” and “unethical” practices are the bread and butter of Swartzendruber’s articles, her core messaging is selective and often misleading. In just one short October 2020 interview, she touched on all her main points against PRCs. She took aim at PRCs’ earn-as-you-learn programs, claiming that nothing is actually free (debunked here). She insisted that PRCs offer misleading information when they discuss the link between abortion and mental health issues, though 79 of 108 studies on the subject have found a significantly higher risk for mental health issues and substance abuse problems following an abortion. She denied the possibility of a connection between abortion and breast cancer, though the possible link is far from a closed case. She took issue with PRCs informing women that emergency contraception can function as an abortifacient. She denigrated abortion pill reversal — which PRCs are increasingly offering referrals for — as “sham therapy” and mischaracterized the only study done on efficacy of the abortion pill reversal protocol, failing to acknowledge that the study done by a pro-abortion researcher was stopped when participants receiving the abortion pill alone experienced complications.

She lamented the “discouraging” information about contraceptive and condom use often found on PRC websites, when in fact PRCs are informing women of all the risks, enabling them to provide truly informed consent. Swartzendruber’s stance on contraceptive use is apparently informed by statistics in her home state of Georgia, as she claimed PRCs provide “a lot of discouraging information about the use of contraception and condom use, which is entirely problematic in that I happen to live in a state that has extraordinarily high rates of STIs and HIV and high rates of maternal mortality.” But she failed to acknowledge that while sexual activity among young people has decreased since the 1980s, rates of STIs in that same age range are at an all-time high, both in her state and nationally. Clearly the same-old shtick isn’t working.

Perhaps Swartzendruber’s most bizarre claims deal with miscarriage. First, she complained that PRCs falsely inflate the possibility of miscarriage when they state that 1 in 5 pregnancies will miscarry naturally — yet the Mayo Clinic’s own estimates on miscarriage predict that 10-20% of known pregnancies end that way.

Swartzendruber also claimed that PRCs tell women they can predict miscarriages, which is a new and unfamiliar accusation to most pro-lifers. In reality, medical PRCs use ultrasounds to determine viability — meaning an ultrasound scan may reveal either the presence of a heartbeat (viability) or the lack of one if a child has died in utero (miscarriage). Swartzendruber’s stance, then, is likely either one of ignorance of ultrasounds or deliberate obtuseness.

Admitted PRCs actually help women

Even in the 2019 anti-PRC position paper, Swartzendruber admits, “Despite the potentially coercive nature of CPC services and resources, many clients report needing and valuing them.”

PRCs have a greater than 90% client satisfaction rating. And surely the two million served in 2019 with $266 million in free goods and services can attest to what Swartzendruber begrudgingly admitted in another interview:

… [S]ome people find those resources and are in need of those resources and are grateful for those resources. We also know from some of our participants that many people feel like they got support at a crisis pregnancy center. There was someone there to listen who wasn’t rushed for time, who sat with them and heard, learned about their lives.

And some, many people were prayed for. And some of those people, that felt good to them. So I wouldn’t say there are no benefits to crisis pregnancy centers and that some people value them.

Despite her credentials and media clout, Schwartzendruber’s work is far from unbiased. Her mischaracterizations of the lifesaving work PRCs do are likely to hurt rather than help the pregnant women for whom she seeks to advocate.

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