For George Mason University women facing an unplanned pregnancy, the green and white fliers posted on bulletin boards throughout campus might seem like the first step in making a decision. The fliers, advertising “Pregnancy Center” in bold letters, offer free and confidential pregnancy testing and resources. However, if students go to the center they will not be entering a medical facility, but a religious one.

The LifeChoices Resource Center advertised in the fliers is part of Sanctity of Life Ministries, a pro-life Christian organization, which also includes the Fairfax Pregnancy Help Center and the Alexandria Pregnancy Help Center.

One thing students should not expect when they visit the centers, or call them, is a recommendation for an abortion.

“We want to offer life-affirming options,” said Holly Gilbo, campus coordinator for LifeChoices Resource Center, “We are not going to refer for an abortion.”

The religious nature of the LifeChoices Resource Center and other pro-life centers like it, sometimes called “crisis pregnancy centers,” is not evident in their fliers, something that provokes pro-choice advocates.

“It’s all about up-front information,” said Joseph Richards, program and communications manager for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, a state affiliate of NARAL Pro-Choice America, formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation conducted an investigation into 52 Virginia “crisis pregnancy centers,” such as the LifeChoices Resource Center, and reported that they found 35 of the 52 centers they called or visited “shared some degree of medically erroneous information.” The report also stated that advertisements for the centers, such as the fliers on campus, are often misleading about the pro-life intention of the services they provide, as well as the fact that the centers are not medical facilities.

“Everyone should have the right to their own choice, but everyone deserves access to complete, unbiased information,” Richards said.

However, Gilbo said that the center fills a void in options for women facing an unplanned pregnancy; she questions why it’s so easy for a woman to get an abortion, but not so easy for a woman to find the resources she needs if she wants to finish college and still keep her baby. Gilbo said the center provides support and resources that women might need to care for their baby including cribs, clothing, diapers, baby items, and baby food.

Although the LifeChoices center is not a medical facility, they do have a nurse in the staff who can perform an ultrasound on site.

SLM says in a statement of principle on its website that it is “committed to providing its clients with accurate and complete information about both prenatal development and abortion.” However, the information about abortion on their website leans toward highlighting the risks and negative impact of an abortion.

Other services advertised in the fliers on campus include sexually transmitted disease testing and referrals, but those services also seem to have a religious leaning as SLM states that they do not refer for contraceptives. Indeed, they discourage their use, said Gilbo. Instead they encourage people not to have sex until they are married, she said.

Some of the issues that the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation identified in its investigation involve claims of misinformation about breast cancer and abortion. For example, the LifeChoices Resource Center claims in their website that there is a connection between a “possible higher risk of breast cancer” and abortions, a claim not supported by scientific evidence according to the American Cancer Association.

However, Gilbo said that counseling at LifeChoices Resource Center is focused on their desire to “take care of all involved” including the woman, the unborn baby and the father.

“We genuinely care for college students as individuals,” Gilbo said, “We really are compassionate to a woman and her particular circumstances.”

Student Health Services

For a college woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, the first resource she might turn to is Student Health Services at Mason. As of the time this article was written Student Health Services gave a routine referral sheet for unplanned pregnancies to patients which listed LifeChoices Resource Center as well as several other religion-based crisis pregnancy centers. The sheet also listed a referral to Planned Parenthood.

Celestine Jones, a certified family nurse practitioner with Student Health Services, said the referral sheet is a standard general resource sheet and not meant to direct patients to any particular option regarding their unplanned pregnancy.

Jones said that when a patient facing an unplanned pregnancy walks into Student Health Services, one of their main concerns is to tell the patient their options and offer them resources.

“Our primary goal is to help direct that patient to the resources that they need for whatever choice they are making,” Jones said.

“We don’t advise toward an abortion. We don’t advise away from an abortion,” Jones said. “All of us really work hard to make sure we make that person feel supported in whatever decision they are making.”

Jones said Student Health Services would look into having the unplanned pregnancy informational sheet updated. Student Health Services recently updated the links on their website for unplanned pregnancy referrals.

Student Health Services currently provides referrals in their website to Fairfax County Health Department resources as well as medical clinics such as Planned Parenthood and the Falls Church Healthcare Center and also the religion-based center “A Woman’s Choice,” in Falls Church and the Catholic-run Gabriel Project.