Imagine going into a hospital for knee surgery and once you’re on the operating table you are told that the hospital actually doesn’t perform knee surgeries, and doesn’t even have a medical license or a licensed medical professional on staff. This is the tactic anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) use to mislead pregnant people wishing to terminate their pregnancies into continuing their pregnancy. CPCs prey on pregnant people, giving them false information and instilling guilt to discourage them from exercising their constitutional right to abortion.
In the United States, CPCs greatly outnumber abortion clinics. In Mississippi alone, there are 38 CPCs and only one abortion clinic — to put that into perspective, there is 1 clinic per 3 million people. CPCs actively mislead and even flat-out lie to patients about reproductive health care in order to dissuade them from having an abortion. These centers have claimed that condoms do not prevent STDs, lied to patients about being too far along to receive an abortion, guilt tripped patients into keeping their pregnancies, and claimed that there are harmful, long-lasting effects of abortion, none of which have been proven by medical professionals.
Two of the most notable ways that CPCs deceive patients into believing that they provide abortion care is by coming up in online searches for abortion clinics and setting up their facilities to look like medical practices. CPCs offer free pregnancy testing and ultrasounds (often conducted by people with no expertise in ultrasound technology) and have deceptive names like Her Choice or Center for Pregnancy Choices. These sham clinics do not encourage women to “choose,” and patients have exposed their anti-choice agenda in Google reviews. Often CPCs are located next to abortion clinics, hospitals and schools, and some CPCs have even gone as far as sending their unlicensed staffers out in medical garb to meet pregnant women that may have been on their way to an appointment at an abortion clinic or hospital.
On March 20, 2018, the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the NIFLA v. Becerra case. Xavier Becerra is the California attorney general defending the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency) Act, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) represents over 1,400 anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers which argue that the California Reproductive Fact Act is a violation of these centers’ freedom of speech. The FACT Act requires that licensed covered facilities post a notice or directly tell patients that there are public programs available that provide low-cost or free access to family planning and abortion services. The FACT Act also requires that unlicensed or nonmedical facilities that counsel women about reproductive health must post or distribute the same notice, and must disclose that they are not licensed as medical facilities by the state of California. The Act was put into place in 2015 to prevent pregnant individuals from being taken advantage of and being misled into believing that anti-choice CPCs will provide them with the family planning or abortion services they are seeking.
I stood in the freezing rain outside the Supreme Court alongside more than 100 advocates fighting to end the lies and require transparency around CPCs. Advocates shared experiences they’ve had at CPCs and the harms they cause.
One woman’s story stuck with me long after I left the Supreme Court: She had taken a pregnancy test that came back positive and, knowing that she was not financially prepared to care for a child, she searched for an abortion clinic. She ended up at a CPC that she believed was an abortion clinic. She received an ultrasound from an unlicensed staff member who determined that she was not pregnant because there was no gestational sack visible on the ultrasound. She was sent home. A few weeks later, she found herself with unbearable pain and bleeding and was rushed to the emergency room where doctors diagnosed her with an ectopic pregnancy—a potentially life threatening situation in which a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus. She was rushed into surgery to remove her ruptured fallopian tube, which saved her life.
The deception and lies of CPCs have caused harm to too many patients. To repeal the FACT Act would be regressive in the fight for reproductive rights. The FACT Act is crucial to protecting individuals seeking to exercise their constitutional right to birth control and abortion. I hope to live in a world where women are not taken advantage of in times of uncertainty and desperation, and I hope that every state adopts a law requiring transparency around the services that the state provides, similar to California’s FACT Act.