NESCAC coalition launches petition against crisis pregnancy centers

Gabe Miller and David Wignall

More than 700 community members across all 11 NESCAC schools have signed a petition that calls for the schools to ban crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) from advertising — and otherwise operating — on their campuses. The NESCAC Coalition to Ban CPCs, an organization that Middlebury students started this past summer, wrote the petition and began distributing it on June 29.

Crisis pregnancy centers are unlicensed organizations that often purport to be medical facilities but instead seek to prevent people from accessing abortion care. Several studies found that many CPCs share false and misleading information about abortion procedures, and that CPCs often fail to disclose that they are not licensed to provide professional counseling or medical care.

CPCs have been a recent concern among Middlebury students, who have protested against the college’s decision to allow The Women’s Center — a local Middlebury CPC — to participate in the college-run Student Involvement Fair. Many other NESCAC schools and their surrounding communities have also taken action against CPCs.

Elissa Asch, the founder of the NESCAC Coalition to Ban CPCs and a second-semester senior at Middlebury, spoke with the Record about what inspired the petition. Last summer, as Roe v. Wade was overturned, Asch served as a Public Feminism Fellow at Middlebury where she learned about CPCs and the risks they pose to pregnant people who may need medical abortions.

Asch said that one of the most important ways students can help ensure equal access to abortion services is by participating in activism against crisis pregnancy centers. “[CPCs] are the branch of the pro-life movement that gets the most volunteer hours and donations,” Asch continued. “They’re incredibly dangerous and [are] a huge risk to public health and to our campus communities, especially because people don’t know what they are.”

This past summer, Asch created the Coalition and drafted the petition to help organize for abortion access in the wake of the Dobbs decision.

“We are currently gathering statements of support and signatures from alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff, student organizations, academic departments, and student governments at ALL NESCAC schools,” the petition reads. “Every signature and statement will then be sent to the top administrators of all NESCAC schools with a demand that they implement policies banning CPC advertising and involvement on their campuses.”

Since the Dobbs decision, CPCs have captured increasing attention from college towns within and beyond the NESCAC. In 2018, Hartford, Conn., the home of Trinity College, passed an ordinance that required CPCs to disclose that they did not have licensed medical professionals on site. In 2022, Somerville, Mass., where Tufts’ main campus is located, banned CPCs entirely. And Cambridge, Mass. — home of Harvard — voted to ban CPCs from spreading misinformation in September.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Democratic senators have proposed the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act, which “directs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue rules to prohibit deceptive or misleading advertising related to the provision of abortion services.”

Even though there are no CPCs in Williamstown, three operate in the surrounding area, according to the Berkshire Doula Project: Pregnancy Support Services and the New Direction Women’s Center, both in Pittsfield, Mass., and the True North Pregnancy Resource Center in Bennington, Vt.