By Ali Sullivan
A five-minute trolley ride from UVA Grounds, ThriVe Women’s Healthcare occupies a refurbished, blue and white house on West Main. Judging by its sign, and its marketing materials (there are fliers at the public library, among other spots), ThriVe appears to be a women’s health clinic—one you’d expect to offer a full array of reproductive health services. A Google search for “abortion services Charlottesville” yields a sponsored link from ThriVe among the first results.
But while ThriVe offers free pregnancy tests, STI testing, and ultrasounds to determine “pregnancy viability,” it does not provide birth control, emergency contraception, or abortions. And unlike Planned Parenthood, it also doesn’t offer basic women’s health services, like physicals and cancer screenings. In fact, ThriVe is a crisis pregnancy center, which NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia defines as “facilities that often advertise free services to women facing unintended pregnancies while promoting an anti-choice agenda.” In Virginia, CPCs have outnumbered abortion providers by nearly two to one in recent years, and all share the same goal: dissuading women from abortion care.
A recent visit to the West Main location began like any other medical appointment, with a patient intake form and medical history questionnaire. But a closer look around the clinic made its differences clear: In addition to cozy touches like lit candles, sofas, and an abundance of tissues and mints, religious pamphlets were everywhere. Once my forms—one of which inquired about my religion and parents’ marital status—were complete, my counselor quickly turned the conversation to Christianity. I left the facility with a ThriVe-branded pamphlet filled with Bible quotes.
Formerly known as The Pregnancy Centers of Central Virginia, the organization first opened its doors in the city in 1984, and is run by D.J. Carter, an ordained minister from Chatham. It rebranded as ThriVe last year, swapping the blues and grays of its website for neon pink and green, with stock photos of young women and glowing testimonies from “Actual ThriVe Patients.” There’s even an Instagram page.
“The way that they use language that seems broad and inclusive, and it’s only the very fine print that it’s like ‘this is not medical advice,’ or ‘we do not provide abortion,’ is a purposeful way to draw people in—oftentimes people at a very vulnerable point in their life,” says Sally Williamson, vice-president of the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund.
A tab on ThriVe’s website features directions to the facility from 18 nearby high schools and universities.
While the building that houses the West Main location is currently for sale, a ThriVe representative said the center is planning to relocate. It also operates three other locations in Albemarle County, Orange, and Culpeper.
Virginia state law requires an ultrasound prior to an abortion, and in Orange, ThriVe is the only women’s health clinic with an ultrasound machine. However, that ultrasound may not be used for an abortion referral.
“We’re starting to see more of these centers like ThriVe that do offer very limited medical services, so perhaps ultrasounds or pregnancy tests or even STI testing, but essentially the goal is the same: to scare and manipulate and drive people away from seeking abortion care,” says Caitlin Blunnie, a board member for the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund.
In a December 2018 interview on “The Schilling Show,” Carter said ThriVe’s ultrasound services seek to give women “the most truthful information” about their pregnancy: “The ultrasound…is the way that individuals can actually see that thing, that blessing, that we recognize, and for the first time, consider what it would be like to choose life.”
In October, Carter delivered a lecture titled “Abortion & Race: A Personal Story” at UVA’s Center for Christian Study, which featured descriptions of the “abortion industry” as a profit-seeking business. The event was publicized through Facebook and fliers posted around UVA grounds.
“It was on a flier on a bulletin board in Alderman [Library],” said Noah Strike, president of the UVA chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action. “I was like ‘Oh this is interesting. Oh, it’s sponsored by ThriVe, that’s not good.’”
Multiple attempts to interview Carter for this article were unsuccessful.
While ThriVe offers some physician services (a family medicine doctor splits her time among the four locations), many of the thousands of CPCs in the U.S. do not. And that national movement is what concerns Williamson and Blunnie.
“The very effective lobbying of anti-abortion folks is hand-in-hand with crisis pregnancy centers,” Williamson says. “So it’s not even so much what’s happening in that building; they are part of a network that is working to reduce or eliminate people’s ability to make the right choice for themselves in their family.”