California cracked down on fraudulent Crisis Pregnancy Centers, shouldn’t your jurisdiction?

Posted on January 6, 2016

Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are facilities that purport to offer women comprehensive and unbiased reproductive health care information and services, but their mission is to say whatever it takes to prevent women from obtaining abortions.

“CPCs are generally staffed by volunteers committed to [their interpretation of] Christian beliefs but who lack medical training,” explains an article in the Cardozo Law Review. Nevertheless, CPC staff and volunteers, sometimes dressed like doctors and nurses, counsel and serve women as if they were medical professionals.

There are about 2,500 Crisis Pregnancy Centers across the United States, and in some parts of the country, CPCs outnumber legitimate abortion clinics by far. For example, while 95 percent of Minnesota counties do not have an abortion provider, there are over 90 CPCs in the state; crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion providers by almost 15 to 1. In North Carolina, CPCs outnumber abortion providers by 4 to 1. Many CPCs are intentionally located near actual abortion providers, display misleading signage, and use false advertising to deceive women about their mission.

According to a report by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform Minority Staff, “the vast majority” of CPCs investigated “provided information about the risks of abortion that was false or misleading. In many cases, this information was grossly inaccurate or distorted.” Other reports reach similar conclusions.

Five lies are particularly common:

  1. That having an abortion can raise a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. But in fact, this claim has been refuted by a meta-analysis by the American Cancer Society, which also cited medical journal articles; by a workshop called by the National Cancer Institute; and by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
  2. That having an abortion can increase a woman’s risk of infertility. But in fact, a Guttmacher Institute survey of scientific studies found that abortion poses “virtually no long-term risks of future fertility-related problems such as infertility…”. And as the medical director of Physicians for Reproductive Health explains, this myth is based upon long-outdated data.
  3. That having an abortion can increase a woman’s risk of negative emotional or mental health problems or increase her risk of suicide ideation. But in fact, an American Psychological Association Task Force found there is no such evidence. The same conclusion was reached by the Medical Royal Colleges, a comprehensive study in the New England Journal of Medicine, and an analysis by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
  4. That most women regret having an abortion. But in fact, a recent peer-reviewed study found that nearly all women having an abortion believed they had made the right decision. Another study by the University of California, San Francisco found the same result; actually, it is women who are denied an abortion who feel more regret and anger, and less relief and happiness.
  5. That abortion is more dangerous or poses greater health risks than the average medical procedure. But in fact, the Centers for Disease Control found that legal abortion is significantly safer than childbirth, and a study in the American Journal of Public Health reported that first-trimester abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in America.

There are three good ways that legislation can address fraudulent activities by Crisis Pregnancy Centers:

The first is to require CPCs to disclose to patients when they are not licensed medical facilities and are not run by licensed medical professionals. In 2015, the state of California enacted what was called the “FACT Act,” which in part mandates that unlicensed CPCs put up signs and mention in advertising that they are, in reality, not licensed medical facilities. For a model bill, see the Pregnancy Center Disclosure Act.

The second is to prohibit CPCs from making false claims in advertising and signage about the services they provide. This approach was successfully adopted by the City of San Francisco in 2011. For a model bill, see the Crisis Pregnancy Center Fraud Prevention Act.

The third is to prohibit public money from flowing to any organization that knowingly lies about the five specific matters listed above. For a model bill, see the Truth in Medicine Act.

Women who seek health care or counseling during pregnancy require and deserve accurate information, not propaganda.