Targeting the Vulnerable: Crisis Pregnancy Centers Deceive

Vicki Saporta

It's April Fool's Day and the National Abortion Federation is urging activists to take action to "stop deceptive advertising practices" by Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Read on to see what you can do to help!

Imagine you are a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. After careful consideration, you decide to obtain an abortion and schedule an appointment at a clinic listed under "abortion services" in your local phone book. When you arrive for your appointment you are forced to listen to a religious lecture, given misinformation about the risks of abortion, and refused referrals to actual abortion providers. Imagine your surprise when you realize you are not at a legitimate reproductive health care clinic, but rather have been fooled into visiting a Crisis Pregnancy Center. This sounds like an April Fool's Day prank, but this scenario happens to real women seeking reproductive health care every day and it's no laughing matter.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) have a long history of intentionally misleading women to prevent them from accessing abortion care. The first CPCs were established in the 1960s after state legislatures repealed their laws criminalizing abortion. Today there are as many as 4,000 CPCs in the United States, compared to the less than 2,000 facilities that actually provide abortion care for women.

Many CPCs use deceptive advertising practices to fool women into thinking that they are legitimate medical clinics that provide a variety of reproductive health care services, including family planning and abortion care. In reality, most CPCs do not provide full options counseling and generally will not refer for abortion care or birth control.

These fake clinics use deceptive advertising practices such as intentionally placing advertisements under the "abortion services" heading of phone and Internet directories and choosing names that are similar to abortion clinics to confuse women about what types of services they provide. Many CPCs are connected with religious organizations, but few disclose that fact in their advertising. Additionally, CPCs often locate themselves in close proximity to legitimate reproductive health care facilities. We have heard from many patients who mistakenly visited a CPC because it was on the same street-or even next door-to the actual abortion provider where they had an appointment.

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CPCs target young and low-income women. They lease buildings near colleges and universities, advertise in school newspapers, and lure women into their facilities with the offer of a free pregnancy test and options counseling.

Once they get women inside their doors, CPCs often force women to watch graphic, misleading videos; pressure women with religious sermons; and provide medically inaccurate information about a false link between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer, the effects of abortion on future fertility, and the mental health effects of abortion. Some CPCs further mislead women by giving them false pregnancy test results so that they will postpone obtaining abortion care. Others have been known to give women ultrasounds depicting gestational ages more advanced than their actual pregnancies in order to make them think that they are too far along to access abortion services. In some cases CPCs even promise to provide financial assistance to women if they carry their pregnancies to term, but this assistance usually doesn't last once a woman's pregnancy has advanced past the legal termination limit in her state. Even after women leave CPCs, they sometimes continue to be mistreated. In a clear violation of patient confidentiality, many CPCs call women and harass them about their decision to obtain abortion care for weeks after they visit the center.

Many CPCs even receive federal funding. Under the Bush Administration, CPCs have received more than $30 million in federal funding, and legislators frequently attempt to fund CPCs at the state level through state-sponsored programs, specific grants, or tax credits. In 2006, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a study, which found that 87% of the federally funded CPCs provided inaccurate and misleading information including the false link between abortion and breast cancer, the effects of abortion on future fertility, and the mental health effects of abortion. It is reprehensible that federal taxpayer dollars are being used to support fake clinics that deliberately deceive women with false medical information.

CPCs should not be allowed to threaten women's health through deception and mistreatment. Last year NAF worked with Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) who introduced the "Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women's Services Act" in the U.S. House of Representatives. Specifically, this legislation authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the deceptive advertising practices of CPCs, which regularly advertise that they provide abortion care when they in fact do not provide such care. We congratulate Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for taking the lead in the Senate to introduce companion legislation today on April Fool's Day-to prevent women from being further fooled and harmed by these fake clinics.

Today is a day of action, and we are calling on activists to contact their Senators and ask them to co-sponsor the "Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women's Services Act." Members of Congress need to understand how women are harmed by fake clinics masquerading as reproductive health care facilities. To learn more about ways you can take action against CPCs and to find contact information for your elected officials, visit our website www.prochoice.org.

Women facing an unplanned pregnancy deserve accurate and complete information. For unbiased information about pregnancy options, referrals to providers of quality abortion care, and funding assistance, contact the toll-free NAF Hotline at 1-800-772-9100.

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