A crisis in advertising

Safiya Bridgewater
Guest Contributor

As we begin spring semester with hopes of upping our GPAs, being more organized, creating new memories and perhaps seeking out more beginning-of-semester activities with free food, don’t forget to stop by the Commons to pick up your complimentary copy of the VCU student handbook.

But don’t look at listings in the advertisement section or the inside back cover for that matter. Inside, there are a couple of ads purposefully set out to hurt and manipulate you. How can that be if there is a section in the front of the handbook that is adamant about keeping students safe?

Innocuous at first glance, there are two ads if you are pregnant, need help and “just don’t know what to do.” Next to a photo of a forlorn, college-aged student, a website and a 24-hour hotline are listed in order to “learn more about your options.”

It is quite unfortunate that these seemingly helpful advertisements are for a local crisis pregnancy center.

According to NARAL’s Virginia website, crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are “limited-service fake ‘clinics’ run by anti-choice organizations that advertise free services to women facing unintended pregnancies. Many CPCs are run by or affiliated with national networks, such as CareNet, Bethany Christian Services, Birthright and Heartbeat International.” Sure enough, at the bottom left-hand corner of these ads in the student planner, in the finest of fine prints, it reads “Bethany Christian Services.”

The issue with these organizations is not that they are faith-based, but instead use faith as justification to push their agenda in a dangerous way, with people’s health at stake. CPCs intentionally prey on young adults and people of color by offering health services like free ultrasounds and STD tests just to get them in the door. They know that this vulnerable population is most likely to be unaware of their tactics and can be easily manipulated. These offered services include child-rearing resources, adoption referrals and abstinence-only programs.

Many of these “clinics” have no real medically licensed staff, but volunteers who are just as medically uninformed as the people coming in for the services they offer, as reported by Time magazine reporter Nancy Gibbs in 2007. But this isn’t all they lie about.

According to Planned Parenthood’s website, CPCs may also avoid giving patients complete and correct information about all options — abortion, adoption and parenting; try to frighten with misleading films and pictures to keep from choosing abortion; lie about the medical and emotional effects of abortion; discourage the use of certain methods of birth control; and may even lie about pregnancy, fooling patients into continuing their pregnancy without knowing it. If a decision is delayed, it could make abortion more risky. It could also keep patients from getting early prenatal care.

Regardless of how deep you care to tread into the endless anti-abortion, pro-abortion rights debate, what you just read should be alarming at the very least. It should shock you to the core that these not-yet-illegal organizations have free reign to manipulate the minds and bodies of college-aged students and young people of color. It should be illegal to pose as a licensed medical professional and lie to any pregnant female seeking legitimate health care and consultation, regardless of what they want the outcome of their pregnancy to be.

At the very least, an institution like VCU, a university with 40 percent of its student body from underrepresented populations, a university in the center of a city populated primarily by people of color, a university that has crafted a five-year diversity plan and supposedly has a “commitment to equal opportunity and nondiscrimination,” should not have ads in its student handbook that prey specifically on these marginalized populations.

CPCs are heavily funded by both federal and state governments and thus have plenty of money to put toward manipulative advertising campaigns and though the printing of the handbook relies on the paid advertisements in back of it, handbook planners should take more consideration.

By taking money from CPCs in exchange for ads in our handbook, VCU is not only exposing its student body to dangerous forms of fake healthcare, but is helping to fund their endeavors. We should not condone what CPCs do, and knowing what they do, we should not condone any of their advertisements on our campus.

I urge VCU to remove the advertisements from any future issues of the student handbook and to prevent them from existing elsewhere on campus. I also encourage the student body to be aware of this issue and to speak up in regards to this or in any instance when our health and safety is compromised.

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