Fake Clinics Play the Long Game by Targeting Schoolchildren

| Reproaction

By: Shireen Shakouri

Getting “the talk” from parents or taking an awkward but informative sex ed class in school is a solid comedy trope. The parent fumbles around searching for words, the teacher is usually stern and alarmist – either way it serves as a break for some awkward humor and the characters come out uncomfortable, but mostly unscathed and equipped with information they can use later (before the end of the episode, even!).

This unfortunately isn’t the case for so many youth in this country who go through abstinence-only education in their public schools, subsidized by state and federal programs. These curricula have been proven to not only be ineffective at delaying sex and preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teen pregnancy, but they’ve been associated with psychological harm. [1, 2] These programs frequently uphold heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable path, and push narratives that women are gatekeepers of sexual activity, while men are aggressors, which feeds rape culture and intimate partner violence. [2]

According to Advocates for Youth, the federal government has funded abstinence-only programs with over $1.5 billion between 1997 and 2007, [3] and a great deal of that goes to anti-abortion fake clinics which run programs in public schools and in their centers. [4] Advocates for Youth has a richly-sourced and comprehensive report on national sex education programs and funding, which you can read here.

Human Coalition is an organization that employs especially shady tactics at fake clinics they operate across the country. They have a variety of names to mask their true intent and separate them from their aggressively anti-abortion national brand, using “Cura Women’s Care” or “The Women’s Clinic,” for their centers nationally, and the Pittsburgh location also goes by “Pregnancy Resource Center of the South Hills.” Whatever name you’d like to use, this fake clinic runs an abstinence education program in Pittsburgh-area public schools. [5] We protested Human Coalition’s creepy tactics outside their center in Atlanta Cura clinic late last year, and people noticed. On a recent radio appearance, Human Coalition’s President Brian Fisher described our action, lamenting the spotlight we focused on him and his fake clinic. He then described their work in Pittsburgh-area schools, which rightly shocked the host, who exclaimed, “They let you into the public schools?!” [6]

It is hard to believe that Pennsylvania public schools not only allow but are paying groups like Human Coalition to come in and push their skewed views of sexuality. But what does this “education” actually entail? The Human Coalition “IN THE KNOW” program is run out of their Pittsburgh Cura clinic, and most of their course materials are guarded behind a paywall on their website or are strictly prohibited from leaving from the classroom. [7] One of their YouTube videos, however, contains lines such as:

“Whenever you have sex, you’re giving a piece of your heart away. You’re breaking a piece of your heart and giving it to whoever you’re having sex with, and you can never get that back.”

“No matter what, if you do it, there will always be an emotional toll.” [8]

This type of language not only shames sexuality, it’s a scare tactic that should not be used on anyone, let alone in a classroom. I remember being 13 years old in an abstinence-until-marriage seminar, which was required for everyone seeking the sacrament of Confirmation at my Catholic church. We were barely teens, in a full-day mandatory workshop where people older than our parents were telling us not to have sex until we were married. One of the “educators” did a demonstration to show how sex bonds couples: she took a piece of tape, which was meant to represent a young woman. She stuck it to the arm of one of our male classmates, saying they were a teenage couple who decided to have sex. Then, they “broke up,” and she ripped the tape off. She stuck the tape to another two boys’ arms and, noted how the tape was now covered with hair and skin cells. She passed it around so we could marvel at how gross the tape had become and how it wouldn’t stick to anything. Then, she said that that’s how we would be if we had sex before marriage: dirty, used, and unable to form emotional bonds, because we lost our “bonding power.” I was repulsed even then, but my anger over what passed for sex education grew over time. I chalked it up to a weird church thing, not knowing some kids had to deal with that in their public schools.

Luckily, this seminar didn’t impact my self esteem or how I have approached relationships – even before finding out I had to take this class at church, I was armed with real sexual health facts because of New York public schools’ comprehensive sex ed curricula, supplemented by robust personal research in women’s magazines and online forums. But not all young people in the U.S. have access to comprehensive educational resources to make informed sexual health decisions. Instead, they’re subject to shaming, lies, and a system that sets them up for trouble in the future, possibly landing them in an anti-abortion fake clinic just like the ones Human Coalition runs.

Fake clinics market to teens outside these programs, too, often using edgy graphics and pictures of cool-looking young people on skateboards in front of graffiti-style art, and IN THE KNOW’s social media tries really hard to look and sound like they totally get teen culture. They also direct their followers to their fake clinic on top of a list legitimate rape crisis and domestic violence resources, using one of their more benign names, “Women’s Care Clinic of Pittsburgh” – a place that doesn’t actually exist.

We’re in a moment where adults at long last are listening to teens’ demands for safe and supportive school environments. I look forward to a movement that tackles the forces working through public schools to keep young people in the dark about their sexual and emotional safety.

And in the meantime, there are quality open-source educational tools for young people in need of reliable sex education information. One great place to start looking is amaze.org, which is a project of our friends at Advocates for Youth.


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