Stopping Crisis Pregnancy Center Deception

Efforts to Protect Women and What You Can Do

Crisis Pregnancy Deception
Stopping Crisis Pregnancy Deception. Courtesy of S. Hertal

When facing an unplanned pregnancy, many unsuspecting women may find themselves seeking assistance from a crisis pregnancy center. Believing that she has sought out a place where she can receive unbiased support and accurate information about her pregnancy options, it may be too late for her to figure out that she has been deceived by false advertising. She has now become a victim to the CPC's specific marketing strategies designed to confuse an already overwhelmed pregnant woman.

Luckily, efforts are being taken to protect women and stop the crisis pregnancy center deception.

Stopping Deception at Crisis Pregnancy Centers: What Can You Do?

  1. For starters, you can help stop crisis pregnancy center deception by fighting bills or initiatives that fund these centers –- you can provide testimony about their danger and/or unconstitutionality. If you have had a personal, negative experience with a crisis pregnancy center, report and document your encounter. You can share your story with the National Abortion Federation's Patient Partnership -- accounts of actual encounters help tell the truth about crisis pregnancy center deception. According to Priscilla Smith, former acting director of the Center for Reproductive Rights Domestic Legal Program, "The fact that federal, state and local governments are subsidizing the anti-abortion agenda of crisis pregnancy centers sets a terrible precedent for women. The government needs to get out of the business of sponsoring groups that mislead and lie to women about their reproductive choices."
  1. Check your local Yellow Pages to see if the crisis pregnancy centers in your town are involved with false or deceptive advertising (such as listing themselves under abortion services or abortion). If you find that they are using false advertising tactics, you can inform the Yellow Pages and the Better Business Bureau to request a change in listing.

    "Choose Life" License Plates:

    Be mindful if you live in a state that has adopted a "Choose Life" specialty license plate scheme. This license plate program is one of the most successful fundraising activities for crisis pregnancy centers. The proceeds from the sale of these license plates are dispersed to crisis pregnancy centers across the state. Plus, the "Choose Life" scheme prohibits funds raised by the program from being distributed to groups that provide or counsel for abortion services. As of August 16, 2015, nationally, 984,885 "Choose Life" license plates have been sold/renewed and have raised over $21 million for to support adoption efforts and crisis pregnancy centers in those states. (See how much money has been raised in your state to fund crisis pregnancy centers).

    According to Choose Life, Inc., they are working with many groups and individuals to help them with their "Choose Life" license plate effort. These license plates are currently available in 30 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut*, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana**, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

    *Note: The state of Connecticut requires that you must be a member of The Children First Foundation (CFF) in order to display Ca "Choose Life" license plate. There is a $25 yearly CFF membership renewal fee that supports pro-life agencies in Connecticut that help women who choose life and adoption for unintended pregnancies.
    **Note: Montana sold these license plates from 1/19/2004 through 7/31/2014. As of 8/24/15, Montana Right To Life lost it's state tax exempt status, thereby losing the ability to receive plate funds, so "Choose Life" plate sales were cancelled (with the ignition of re-applying).

    Though not yet approved, 11 states have efforts underway towards adopting the "Choose Life" license plate scheme: Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

    The state of New York is waiting for legislative approval of these plates due to the presence of ongoing lawsuits. Application made under the administrative process. Plate denied by The New York Motor Vehicles Department denied the application to sell the "Choose Life" plates, citing that the plate design was "patently offensive." The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit (on behalf of The Children First Foundation) against New York for discrimination. The "Choose Life" plate won this lawsuit, but the state appealed and won. The CFF is appealing that decision.

    Efforts to Protect Women:

    • In April 2014, the search engine Google chose to remove web search ads for some crisis pregnancy centers after finding evidence that the ads violated Google's policy against deceptive advertising by using false and misleading language. An analysis revealed that 79% of crisis pregnancy centers advertising on Google claimed that they provided medical services such as abortions -- when, in fact, they only provide counseling and information about alternatives to abortion. These ads were appearing in search results for abortion centers, and Google put a stop to this.
    • In 2006, Representative Carolyn Maloney originally introduced the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act (H.R. 2030). This legislation would grant the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to protect women from crisis pregnancy center deception practices by declaring it deceptive to advertise as an abortion services provider if the entity does not provide abortion services. Maloney’s objective behind this bill is to protect women looking for accurate, neutral pregnancy options information from being subject to anti-choice propaganda and dishonesty about abortion and its effects. Under this bill, the FTC would have the power to enforce violations of their rules put forth to prevent unfair or deceptive practices on the part of pregnancy care centers. Carolyn Maloney reintroduced this bill in the House of Representatives on May 16, 2013, and it was assigned to a congressional committee. Senator Robert Menendez has introduced, Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act of 2013 (S. 981), the companion bill in the Senate.
    • Some crisis pregnancy centers have been sued based on various legal causes of action. Attorneys have successfully challenged these centers' use of public funds under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Additionally, plaintiffs have also been successful in requiring crisis pregnancy centers to change some of their deceptive advertising tactics in states such as New York, California, Ohio, Missouri, and North Dakota.
    • State attorney generals have also initiated legal action. Former New York Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, reached a settlement in 2002 with some crisis pregnancy centers requiring that these clinics clearly make it known that they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or contraception. These clinics must also reveal that they are not licensed medical providers qualified to diagnose or accurately date pregnancy, both verbally and in writing, before providing a pregnancy test and/or pregnancy counseling; they also need to inform women that only a licensed health-care provider can confirm a pregnancy and provide medical advice about pregnancy. The settlement also requires pregnancy care centers to tell people who call or visit the center that it is not a medical facility.
    • In 1994, a California trial court prohibited San Diego Pregnancy Services from advertising itself as a medical facility that provides pregnancy testing services or abortion counseling. The crisis pregnancy center was also prohibited from listing itself in phone directories under "abortion service providers" or "family planning information." The court further ruled that the center must tell women that it does not perform abortions, provide abortion referrals, dispense birth control, or provide written pregnancy verifications. It was also mandated that this crisis pregnancy center inform women that its volunteers counsel from a biblical, "anti-abortion perspective."
    • In 1993, Ohio Attorney General Lee Fisher was the first to charge crisis pregnancy centers with false advertising by identifying five centers that called themselves medical clinics. He stated that these centers "violate the law by advertising themselves as clinics when they are not medical facilities, provide no medical services, and have no doctors on staff. Some of the centers also promise additional services they do not provide, such as offering free pregnancy tests, when the center does not perform or interpret pregnancy tests for clients."

    Bottom Line... Be an Advocate and Report Crisis Pregnancy Center Deception:

    Many concerned activists, in addition to legal challenges, are also working to make sure that any pregnancy care centers that receive state or federal funds be required to provide women with accurate abortion information.

    Women deserve to know the truth about their health care options and not be deceived or intentionally misled. State consumer protection laws can also provide protection. The National Woman’s Law Center advises, "If you or someone you know has been harmed by deceptive CPC practices, you can file a complaint with your state's consumer protection agency."

    It is important to advocate for honest business practices. Make sure to support affirmative bills that are based on medically accurate information and serve to keep abortion safe, legal, and accessible. And don’t forget to contact your elected officials and let them know how you feel -- part of their job is to protect the needs of the people they serve. Many legislators have publically announced their feelings towards crisis pregnancy centers:

    • US Senator Robert Menendez: "No one should ever be subjected to misleading information when they are seeking health care, especially during pregnancy. ...We have worked too hard to expand the availability of women’s health care services to have any confusion created by those who would deliberately deceive a woman to suit their own purposes."
    • US Senator Frank Lautenberg: "It is outrageous for any health center to actively deceive patients about the medical services they offer, and falsely advertising as an abortion provider is absolutely shameful. ...we'll keep fighting to make sure no woman is drawn into a facility only to find out it refuses to offer the advertised services she needs."
    • San Francisco Board Supervisor Malia Cohen: "One of the most serious threats to reproductive rights today comes from so-called 'crisis pregnancy centers,' which misrepresent themselves as non-political medical providers, but that push anti-abortion propaganda and mistruths on unsuspecting women."
    • US Senator Richard Blumenthal: "Deceptive practices that prey on women at pregnancy centers are particularly repugnant and reprehensible – and should be strictly punished and stopped."
    • Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: "The necessity of [a] consumer protection ordinance was demonstrated by serious and compelling public testimony and evidence of deception by CPCs in their offers of services. For example, CPCs in Baltimore advertise that they offer, ‘abortion and morning-after pills’ when they do not provide or refer for those services. ...Women and girls seeking pregnancy and contraception services should be allowed to make informed choices about where to go. Having accurate information about what services a center offers is key."
    • US Representative Carolyn Maloney: "Although I may disagree with their views, many crisis pregnancy centers are forthright and respectful. Unfortunately, some take a more underhanded approach to lure in women seeking abortions by using tactics that should be illegal. An unintended pregnancy is an especially difficult time to encounter deception, and deceptive practices should be outlawed. Women shouldn’t have to face the added stress of deciphering whether or not the clinic they choose offers legitimate medical services."

    (Used in this article as well as general sources attesting to the truth about pregnancy care centers.)

    Brendel, P. (2011, July 25). "Alternatives to Abortion subcontractor records show history of violations." Accessed 8/24/15.

    Center for Reproductive Rights. (2002). "Special report: Crisis pregnancy centers seek public funds and legitimacy." Reproductive Freedom News, Volume XI, Number 7/8.

    Choose Life America. (2015). "Everything you need to know about the choose life license tag: Newsletter." Accessed 8/24/15.

    Cooperman, A. (2002, Feb. 21). "Abortion battle: Prenatal care or pressure tactics? 'Crisis pregnancy centers' expand and draw criticism." Washington Post.

    Gibbs, N. (2007, Feb. 26). "The abortion campaign you never hear about. Crisis pregnancy centers are working to win over one woman at a time. But are they playing fair?" Time Magazine.

    Gross, J. (1987). "Pregnancy centers: Anti-abortion role challenged." New York Times. Accessed 8/24/15.

    Maloney, C. (2010, July 15). "Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney's E-Newsletter." Vol VI; Ed XII. Accessed 8/24/15.

    Maloney, C. (2013). "Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act: H.R. 2030." Accessed 8/24/15.

    Menendez, R. (2013, May 17). "Senator Menendez and Rep. Maloney introduce the 'Stop Deceptive Advertising For Women’s Services Act'." Accessed 8/24/15.

    NARAL Pro-Choice America. (2007). "The truth about crisis pregnancy centers." Accessed 8/24/15.

    National Network of Abortion Funds. (2003). "Legal but out of reach: Six women's abortion stories (4th ed.)."

    National Women's Law Center. (2013, May 21). "Bill introduced to curb crisis pregnancy centers' deceptive practices." Accessed 8/24/15.

    Office of NY State Attorney General. (2002). "Spitzer reaches agreement with upstate crisis pregnancy center." Accessed 8/24/15.

    Office of SF City Attorney. (2011, Aug 2). "Cohen, Herrera take on S.F. 'crisis pregnancy centers' for deceptive marketing tactics." Accessed 8/24/15.

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