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As a rule of thumb, if your position depends upon lying to people to maintain itself and if you can’t use the truth alone to maintain it, it’s not the right or moral position to take. That’s why I speak out like I do against the network of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) that dot the United States.

You’ve probably seen the bus benches and billboards: “Pregnant? Scared? Need help?” And a phone number. There might be a picture of a cute, confused-looking baby on it too. If you call this number, you will almost certainly land in the clutches of the Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which will invite you in to take a free pregnancy test. This test will probably take a few hours to run, which they will explain as being caused by how complicated and sensitive the test is, and which will allow them to bombard you with “pro-life” videos and books and “counseling,” during which time they will lie to you with every breath about pregnancy, childbirth, contraception, sex, and everything else related to those topics. If you’re not pregnant, hooray! Better get another test done–because the CPC is known to lie to women about not being pregnant in hopes they’ll be past 20 weeks when they really find out they are in fact very pregnant. If you get told you are pregnant, though, your troubles are just beginning. If you thought the CPC would help you do anything that doesn’t involve a live birth, you’re in for a wild ride. The CPC and organizations like it are why I don’t call those groups “pro-life,” because they certainly don’t seem to care about “life.” What they care about is forcing women to give birth by any means fair or foul. And so you’ll notice I use the term “forced-birth.”

I need to make clear here one thing: if you personally don’t like the idea of abortion but you are not interested in stopping another woman from making that choice, then you are not someone I have a beef with. I don’t care what an individual thinks he or she would do if he or she were put in that position. You’re allowed to not like abortion. You’re allowed to think you wouldn’t get one if you experienced an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy. But the second you move to stop another woman from making that choice or take away her legal right to evict intruders in her own body, then yes, you and I have a problem. This is my personal flesh and body you’re talking about, my rights, my ability to consent to each and every use of my body, my freedom, my personal sovereignty, and yes, I get kind of tetchy when my own bodily freedom and self-ownership gets put up for grabs. Funny that, I know. I bet black and gay people get the same way when they hear about white people talking longingly about “the good old days” (as would wives of a certain age, back before marital rape became a crime–though even in my home state, by the way, you’ll be enraged to hear that the local cops use a “no bruises, no marital rape” rule of thumb). It’s terrifying to imagine that my personal rights could be erased and removed like that. But if your personal feelings about abortion remain your own personal feelings and you’re not trying to force women to endure slavery against their wills, then you’ll never hear a peep of argument out of me. Do as much as you want to honestly and truthfully persuade pregnant women to finish their pregnancies–do whatever legal and honest thing you want to make sure unwanted pregnancies are rare–and as long as you’re not trying to remove access to abortion care or limit abortion rights, we’ve got no problem. My problem happens when forced-birther efforts utilize lies and deceptions to strong-arm women into continuing pregnancies–and of course when those efforts center around making abortion care hard to access, stigmatized, or needlessly burdensome.

See, here’s what I think more and more people are realizing: if these forced-birther groups really had a case, they wouldn’t need to do any of that stuff to get their way. They’d be able to win honestly and with facts. But they can’t, which is why they’re using lies and deceptive tactics. We should be holding them more accountable for their dishonesty. And indeed we are starting to do so–thanks to the people speaking out about those lies.

Crisis Pregnancy Center Hearing in New York
Crisis Pregnancy Center Hearing in New York (Photo credit: WeNews)

A long time ago, I wrote “How I Became the Only Pro-Choice Pentecostal I Knew,” wherein I talked about how I discovered just what a huge pack of lies the CPC tells to women and just how deep their deceptiveness goes. That turned out to be a really popular blog entry, and I’m not surprised; I really don’t think people talk enough about the CPC’s deceptive and manipulative tactics, and there is this as well: insider perspectives are rare in that world.

I was not a “counselor” for them myself–scare quotes because their “counselors” are not actually formally trained at all in counseling and generally know almost nothing factual about biology or pregnancy, but are rather recruited for their forced-birther leanings and their desire to proselytize to terrified, vulnerable young women who either don’t realize that pregnancy tests are cheap nowadays or are so desperately poor they can’t afford $10 for the exact same one the CPC uses. But I was married to a preacher who was one of their fake “counselors.” I saw firsthand how the organization worked. And Biff didn’t even hesitate to tell me all about how he lied to women and manipulated the truth to get women to go through with their pregnancies.

That’s why I wasn’t really surprised to learn that the CPC had turned down an atheist who wanted to volunteer. Though atheists may sometimes subscribe to the idea of forcing women to undergo hugely painful and traumatic procedures and face medical risks against their wills and consent, the CPC does so for a very specific reason: to advance the cause of Christianity. Their manual, when I read it so many years ago, was filled with crosses and Christian imagery; Biff used to tell me with the biggest Jesus-smile you can imagine about how every single shift they ran began with a Christian prayer. These “counselors” think of their shifts as spiritual warfare, no lie, no kidding, no exaggeration.

The CPC isn’t just trying to force women to gestate, but to also convert them. Even if they aren’t pregnant, the CPC will still try to get these young women to repent and join a church if they aren’t already in a church (and if they are, well, they obviously were having unapproved sex, so obviously they need a little extra Jesus help, right?). Their mission is first, to convert people by any means possible, and second, to strong-arm and manipulate women into gestating by any means possible.

If they didn’t need fetus-worship to bring women to Jesus, if they weren’t using pregnancy as a culture war to bring back their wistfully-misremembered “good ole days,” you can bet they wouldn’t care about fetuses any more than they care about women or actual children (or fetuses past 20 weeks’ gestation). Unwanted pregnancies are just a means to an end. And they take their real mission so seriously that they are willing to do anything–absolutely anything–to fulfill them, even lying to women. Honesty, integrity, these are just collateral damage. They are the first thing sacrificed by zealots in what they very seriously perceive as a war. You remember that silly thought game about how far you’d go to prevent Hitler’s rise to power? About which of your values you’d discard if it meant saving lives? A life? Ten lives? A million? Well, these zealots play it out every single day.

So you can imagine I’m really tickled pink to hear that there’s now a whole Tumblr devoted to women telling their first-hand stories about having been lied to by the CPC.

A long time ago I decided that I’m not a “means to an end” person. If a moral position depends upon me lying to people, manipulating them, or strong-arming them, then probably that’s not the best moral position to have. At the time I was actually a forced-birther myself, I thought my position was actually correct–that it had facts and figures behind it, that it was the best position to have because obviously it was the highest virtue of all: saving lives.

Little did I realize that no, actually, it doesn’t have facts or figures behind it–that in fact many of its positions are flat-out factually incorrect, like its assertions about how dangerous or unreliable safe, reliable birth control methods are, and that what it considers the highest virtue collided smack-up against other high virtues like freedom, self-ownership, and personal sovereignty. Of what value is “life” if it was gotten at the cost of enslaving another human being? Of what value is life when very clearly the women forced to gestate don’t feel their own lives have value, and if children themselves get the short end of the stick so often from these same “pro-lifers”?

I also had to concede that if I became pregnant against my will, I would quite literally sooner die than give birth or be forced into pregnancy or motherhood. There was simply nothing any society or person could do for me, give me, or assure me that would ever make forced gestation or parenthood palatable. But this was a quiet little thought I only thought in the most quiet part of my mind; I never spoke it aloud. The dogma overrode truth and reality–for a little while.

It would never have occurred to me, at that time in my life, that my side would need to lie to women or manipulate them. That manual I snuck out to read was quite the eye-opener, in that respect, because it showed me in undeniable black-and-white that yes indeed, my side was doing exactly that. But surely we were the ones in the moral high ground, right? Then why did we even need to manipulate women? Why did we need to lie about birth control’s safety and reliability? Why did we need to ignore the very real social dysfunctions and failures that lead so many women to need to seek abortion services? Even when Biff “won” one of what he called his nightly “spiritual battles,” even before I’d read the CPC manual he operated by and considered second only to his own Bible, part of me always knew that this victory was pyrrhic; I knew Biff was only ushering in a new and really awful part of a woman’s life when she agreed to keep her pregnancy–that the miniscule and piddling bits of here-and-there help he and his group were offering were nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the realities she would now face (but Biff didn’t care at all about those after the woman had hit her 20th week; as I wrote then and still feel now, once a woman was legally forced to continue a pregnancy, his interest in her vanished like morning mist and she dropped out of the story like a pin out of a wall-map).

In the same way, my thoughts lurched without any controlling toward the undeniable impression that my religion was also lying to me–constantly, shamelessly. Why did it need lies? Why did we not seem to have any true, verified miracles–but tons of frauds and scams and exaggerations? Why did we revel in urban legends when we had a living god who supposedly truly lived and breathed among us? Why did we get angry when someone outed a liar or revealed a scam, when we had the real and most stupendous truth that ever was in the world?

That’s the reason I’m talking about abortion today–not because of abortion itself, but because the lies forced-birthers tell led me straight into the lies that my religious leaders and peers told. Wondering why the CPC needed to lie so much made me wonder why Christianity had to lie too. That the CPC and other forced-birther groups are so utterly and crazily Christian just adds a bit of extra bacon flavor to the discussion, but the two organizations are wound around and around each other like snakes on a staff. They use the same exact tactics, and often the same sorts of lies. And they are both based on positions that would rapidly unravel if their members valued truth and honesty more than they value dogma and wishful thinking.

Why do forced-birthers need to lie?

For that matter, why do Christians need to lie?

Why is the truth not enough on its own for these groups?

Why can’t people like forced-birthers and zealous Christians live in the truth and still have a compelling position? Why is the truth so unglamorous? Why is it so plain and boring compared to these jazzed-up lies? I mean, religious zealots even have a Bible verse about building a house on a bad foundation, and they ignore it to build their house on a foundation of lies and corruption. Infuriating!

When one uses a lie to prop up a position, then that person is admitting that the position does not deserve propping-up. It is based on lies, not the truth, not on reality, and so it does not deserve my time or energy. The second I learn that a person has lied about a testimony or a statistic, then I know to be very wary indeed of that person’s position.

No, we need a position that is based on reality and the truth–one that does not require us to daily sacrifice our integrity and our honesty. Whether that position involves forcing women to gestate or pushing religion on a daily-more-secular society, it falls upon us as moral and good people to reject a position that cannot stand upon facts and the truth.

And I am thankful, very thankful, that more and more people are standing up for the truth and rejecting dogma based on lies.

We’re going to talk next time a little more about this idea I’m chewing on lately–about how Christians as well as conservative right-wing Republicans have these ideological conceptualizations that they must lie about to maintain those conceptualizations’ integrity. The idea’s spinning together with science denial, with the constant gaffes about pregnancy and abortion Republicans do, with Christian misogyny and “complementarianism,” with all sorts of things, and it’s starting to make an alarming amount of sense. I’m not much of a philosopher, but this idea is starting to make my head feel like it’s exploding! We’ll talk about it on Sunday after I’ve had a bit of time to chew on this idea a little more. Please join me.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...