Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have introduced a bill entitled the “Stop Deceptive Advertising in Women’s Services Act” (SDAWS), which would crack down on clinics (so-called crisis pregnancy centers) which falsely advertise themselves as a honest providers of information and services for women facing unintended and untenable pregnancies. Such clinics don’t provide either abortion or contraceptive services; instead they dispense medically-inaccurate and deceptive information about both abortion and birth control and often use intense pressure to get women to carry to term regardless of an individual woman’s circumstances or wishes.
The SDAWS Act directs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to promulgate rules declaring it an unfair or deceptive act for an entity, such as a crisis pregnancy center, to advertise as a provider of abortion services if the entity does not provide abortion services. Organizations that are not deceptive in their advertising or marketing will not be effected by this bill.
The bill has 11 cosponsors in the House. A similar bill was introduced in 2007, but never passed.
Introduction of the bill comes on the heels of a court decision this week granting an injunction halting implementation of a New York City law requiring CPCs to post signs disclosing the limited nature of their services, making sure women know for example what services and qualifications a particular center does and does not offer, and whether they have qualified medical staff on board.
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According to Maloney’s office, the Maloney-Menendez bill only applies to CPCs that engage in deceptive and misleading advertising, allowing a federal agency the ability to investigate reports on misleading claims in the same way it can for other products and services. The NYC signage requirement tackles this issue in a different way.
“An unintended pregnancy is an especially difficult time to encounter deception, and deceptive practices can and should be outlawed,” Rep. Maloney said.
“Women shouldn’t have to face the added stress of deciphering whether or not the clinic they choose offers legitimate medical services. Although I may disagree with their views, many crisis pregnancy centers are forthright and respectful– but some take a more underhanded approach to lure in women seeking abortions by using deceptive tactics that should be made illegal, and that’s what this bill would do.”
In a Fall 2010 article for Ms. magazine, investigative reporter Kathryn Joyce took an in-depth look at CPCs:
The deceptive tactics of many of the country’s CPCs— which are estimated to total between 2,300 and 4,000 centers nationwide—have been well-documented: They often mislead women about whether they perform abortions, mimicking the style or names of abortion clinics and operating in close proximity to them. Some provide misinformation about women’s pregnancy status or due date, or suggest unproven links between abortion and cancer, infertility or suicide. A 2006 congressional report requested by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) found that 87 percent of CPCs that receive federal funding provide false information—prompting both local and proposed federal legislation to mandate truth-in-advertising standards for CPCs.
Efforts to ensure “truth-in-advertising” by crisis pregnancy centers come at a time when funding for basic primary reproductive and sexual health care services are being slashed in many states.
“At a time when Republicans in New Jersey and Washington are slashing women’s access to reproductive health services, it’s more important than ever that women have accurate information about health services. It is simply unconscionable to interfere with women’s personal reproductive choices through false advertising,” said Senator Menendez.
At the same time that funds are being cut, in some states, funds taken from legitimate providers of primary reproductive health care are being re-routed by anti-choice legislatures to CPCs, not only diminishing access to actual medical services, but effectively shunting public funds to quacks.
Not surprisingly, reproductive health and rights groups applauded introduction of the bill.
“We applaud Rep. Maloney and Sen. Menendez’s continued leadership in making sure women are not misled about their health-care options,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “It’s time for Congress to step in and hold these fake ‘clinics’ accountable. Even though we may have differences of opinion on abortion, Americans value honesty in advertising. We should all agree that a woman should not be misled or manipulated when she’s facing an unintended pregnancy.”
“Crisis Pregnancy Centers have a long history of intentionally misleading women to prevent them from accessing abortion care,” said said Sharon Levin, Vice President and General Counsel of the National Abortion Federation.
“The Stop Deceptive Advertising in Women’s Services Act will put an end to their ‘false advertising’ and insure that women get accurate and complete medical information. Now more than ever, we need pro-choice leaders like Rep. Maloney and Sen. Menendez who work to protect women’s ability to make informed choices about their health care,”
As of this writing, no information was available on whether and when the bill might proceed to a vote.
For more information on CPCs, use the following links:
And use this link to hear the audio of a media conference call on crisis pregnancy centers featuring several experts: