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Heartbeat International (‘Heartbeat’)

Heartbeat International (‘Heartbeat’)
Founded in 1971 as ‘Alternatives to Abortion’, Heartbeat International has its origin in the anti-abortion activism that preceded the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, in which the US Supreme Court determined that the US Constitution protects the right to have an abortion.

Heartbeat’s influence on anti-abortion is evident in the fact that many state programs pushing anti-abortion messaging are named ‘Alternatives to Abortion’. Today Heartbeat International claims to support the world’s largest network of ‘crisis pregnancy centers’—centers posing as ‘neutral’ sources of support and information for women in need, often mimicking the appearance of abortion-providing centers, while in reality spreading harmful anti-abortion misinformation. According to its own numbers, over 3,000 anti-abortion centers operate worldwide with Heartbeat’s support and it is a member of the World Congress of Families. 

At its inception, Heartbeat distanced itself from the distinct Catholic veneer of anti-abortion activism in the 70s—positioning itself as ‘secular’ and simply part of an essentially Judeo-Christian American culture. In 1991, Heartbeat’s decision to rebrand as avowedly Christian responded both to the growth of Evangelical Christianity as a political force and a cultural shift towards stauncher secularism. Today, all of Heartbeat’s programs are infused with Christian evangelism. 

Heartbeat International’s approach relies on misleading women seeking accurate information on their options—abortion among them. OptionLine.org, a joint venture between Heartbeat International and Care Net, presents itself as a neutral 24/7 pregnancy helpline. Devoid of any religious language, OptionLine’s website provides information on abortions while continually prompting women to talk to OptionLine representatives—representatives who invariably counsel women against abortions and direct them towards Christian pregnancy centers. None of the centers OptionLine directs women to provide abortions. In Heartbeat’s own words, they use OptionLine to ‘reach those who are abortion-vulnerable’. More recently, Heartbeat’s Abortion Pill Reversal Network has advanced ‘abortion pill reversal’, an unproven approach to ‘reversing’ medication abortions. This Network is supported by many US states, sometimes explicitly referenced in state laws as a required part of abortion counseling. 

In-person centers affiliated with Heartbeat International purposefully don Planned Parenthood-esque masks. At Heartbeat conferences, crisis pregnancy centers are advised to have two websites: one avowedly evangelical site for donors and another with neutral information to attract women seeking abortions. They are advised to adopt names that are more attractive to women seeking abortion services. In the training Heartbeat offers to its affiliates worldwide, it teaches volunteers to tell women that abortion might lead to cancer, reduced fertility, their partner’s homosexuality, death, and post-abortion syndrome. None of these claims are backed by science. Domestically, Heartbeat has been subject to lawsuits for its affiliates’ misinformation.