By Rev. Terry Williams, Ohio RCRC Faith Organizer

From an early age, I was taught a simple truth from my religious tradition: You shouldn’t lie.

So imagine my amazement when I found out that there exists a whole industry of private businesses operating in our state that are literally built on lying in order to advance their ideological and fiscal agenda.

So-called “crisis pregnancy centers” operate in our state and across the nation targeting vulnerable pregnant persons who are usually impressionable and eager for a helping hand. Taking aim at young persons who are dealing with unwanted pregnancies, CPCs (or fake clinics, as they’re more appropriately called) promote themselves as a resource for people who are pregnant and in need of care. Often imitating the look and feel of legitimate health care clinics, these fake clinics exist for one purpose: to prevent people who are pregnant from accessing full medical care.

Unlicensed and unregulated, the typical fake clinic provides educational materials about pregnancy and abortion that are manipulative, misleading, and often downright false. Using any means necessary, these businesses try to scare pregnant persons and their families into continuing their pregnancy no matter the risk to the pregnant person or the possible adverse health outcomes for their families. Not interested in patient care or providing accurate information so that the patient can make an informed decision, fake clinic personnel use high-pressure tactics to accomplish their own predetermined goals, leaving both the will and the wellness of the patient entirely out of the equation.

These businesses are often religiously affiliated and operate all over our state, soliciting private donations and taking state grant money in order to fund their ideological, anti-science agenda. And yes, you read that right: these institutions take state taxpayer funds to keep their operations going. Fake clinics bear false witness to patients and use our tax dollars to do it.

In Ohio, while the legislature is poised to provide over $5 million in giveaways to these fake clinics in the 2019-2021 budget, we have legislators with vast personal interests in these companies who stand to reap huge profits from their own legislative appropriations earmarked for fake clinics in our state. (NOTE: The updated version of the Ohio state operating budget now includes $7.5 million allocated for fake women’s health centers.)

One state representative even serves as the executive director of one of these rumor-mill scare stations, making money off of frightening people with lies about cancer risks and other false claims about abortion healthcare procedures.

All of this begs the question: if these fake clinics are genuinely trying to help pregnant persons achieve the best outcomes for themselves and their pregnancies, why lie to them in the first place?

Lies are never told in order to support, inform, or empower other people — lies are only told in order to manipulate, control, and demean. These ideological fear factories lie to pregnant people precisely because they know that telling the truth wouldn’t get the desired manipulative outcome.

When operators of these fake clinics lie to vulnerable pregnant persons using guilt and shame cloaked in religious ideology, that should bother us all; but when they use our tax dollars to accomplish all of this, it should move us each to outrage. My religious values are clear: people deserve the truth, and using my tax dollars to lie to people about their pregnancies is just plain wrong.

Imagine what kind of excellent comprehensive sex education programming could be funded in Ohio by $5 million (now $7.5 million) in tax money. Imagine how much free birth control $5 million (now $7.5 million) in taxpayer dollars could buy for deserving Ohioans. Just consider how many doses of emergency contraception $5 million (now $7.5 million) in state funds could help distribute in the Buckeye state.

In Ohio, we already have clear, proven ways to positively impact the health and wellness of our population of pregnant persons. Through education, contraception, and a full offering of healthcare options (not an abbreviated listing of cash-cow, fake clinic programs designed to funnel money into private, legislator-operated businesses), we can positively impact the health of pregnant Ohioans and help improve reproductive health for every pregnancy in Ohio — and we never have to lie to get it done.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a healthy future that my religious values can be proud of.