Four ways fake clinics harm women and undermine abortion access

Four ways fake clinics harm women and undermine abortion access

Imagine you’ve just found out you are unexpectedly pregnant and don’t know what to do. You decide to go to a clinic for help; you’d like to talk through your options with a health care professional. You search online and find a clinic that sounds perfect, but realize shortly after you get there that you’ve been deceived.

Instead of providing you with supportive, affirming health care services based on science and evidence, the clinic personnel try to shame and scare you away from choosing abortion. This scenario is familiar to too many pregnant women across the country.

This spring, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, a challenge by abortion opponents to a California law that requires unlicensed centers in the state to tell the truth about their licensure.


The law also requires clinics that offer pregnancy-related care to provide women with factual information about the availability of free and low-cost government health care services, including contraception, prenatal care and abortion care.  

The centers at issue in NIFLA v. Becerra — often called “crisis pregnancy centers” or CPCs — are anti-abortion organizations posing as comprehensive health care clinics, many of which intentionally lie to and mislead women to dissuade them from obtaining abortion care.

This is the first time that the Supreme Court will weigh in on a law that curbs the harmful practices of CPCs.

As the court prepares to hear this important case, we’re calling out four key ways that fake clinics harm women.

1. Fake clinics deceive women

The deception starts before women walk through the door, as many of these clinics use online advertisements in which they imply that they offer comprehensive reproductive health services. In addition, fake clinics are often camouflaged as health care facilities and located near abortion clinics in an effort to lure women away from facilities that can actually meet their needs. Additionally, some states provide free advertising for fake clinics by including them in materials that doctors are required to give to women.

The deception often continues once a woman enters a fake clinic, which may be designed to mimic a comprehensive health center, complete with ultrasound rooms and urine collection procedures.

2. Fake clinics mislead women

When a woman enters a fake clinic for any type of service, she may be forced to undergo biased counseling or religious seminars. Often, she hears false claims about fetal development and the health effects and safety of abortion care (which is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States). Personnel at fake clinics regularly peddle lies that have been repeatedly discredited by extensive scientific research and the country’s most prominent medical associations.

During an ultrasound, staff and volunteers at fake clinics sometimes compound the dishonesty by presenting inaccurate medical information, providing erroneous readings or even misrepresenting how far along a woman is in her pregnancy.

3. Fake clinics shame women

Some staff at fake clinics use cruel strategies to try to emotionally manipulate women, even describing their attempts to “protect” women from abortion as similar to how “an adult tells a child not to touch a hot stove.”

They may pray for the woman and fetus or ask for an invitation to the baby shower while administering an ultrasound. A 2015 investigative report by Cosmopolitan describes a needlepoint in a center bathroom that reads, “You will live with the guilt for the rest of your life knowing you made the choice to kill the precious life God placed in your womb for you to love."

4. Fake clinics delay abortion care

In an effort to delay abortion care, some fake clinic personnel inflate the miscarriage rate to make a woman believe that her pregnancy will end before she has to decide about abortion. Convincing women who are considering abortion to wait often means the cost of the care increases while the ability to access it decreases.

In addition, the (often untrained) people administering ultrasounds at these centers may misrepresent gestational stage, either leading women to believe they have more time to obtain abortion care than they do or falsely suggesting they are too far along to access care.

Deceiving, misleading, shaming or delaying care for pregnant women is just plain wrong. We urge the Supreme Court to make clear that women have the right to transparent, truthful information from entities claiming to provide health care services.

Sarah Lipton-Lubet is vice president for reproductive health and rights at the National Partnership for Women & Families in Washington, D.C.