Three cheers for Illinois, which is the fourth state to expressly prohibit deception and fraud from anti-abortion clinics. Holding anti-abortion centers accountable for their dangerous tactics is long overdue. Let’s break down what is happening and why this is a secular issue.
On July 27, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed “The Deceptive Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers Act.” Effective immediately, it bars anti-abortion centers from using deception or fraud when interacting with people who are seeking information and resources for abortion or other reproductive health care services. Pritzker explained that “women need access to comprehensive, fact-based health care when making critical decisions about their own health — not manipulation or misinformation from politically motivated, non-medical actors.”
Illinois is the latest state to pass such legislation, following Connecticut, Colorado and Vermont. These laws are sorely needed in every state across the country. However, the hurdle is that anti-abortion centers are largely fueled and funded by churches and Christian nationalist organizations — as well as tax dollars.
There are over 4,000 anti-abortion centers, sometimes referred to as crisis pregnancy centers, throughout the United States. In the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s home state of Wisconsin, there are more than 80 such clinics. At the same time, there have been no abortion services for over one year. Low-income individuals, people in rural communities, teenagers, and Black, Indigenous and people of color are especially targeted by predatory marketing.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization of more than 50,000 medical professionals, reports that 71 percent of anti-abortion centers use debunked misinformation in their marketing and 38 percent do not clearly state that they do not provide abortion care. Some of the misleading information that such entities utilize includes false statistics about abortion complications, claiming that abortion leads to cancer, infertility, and mental distress, and downplaying the complicatedness of pregnancy and childbirth.
This is not aligned with scientific research.
To start with, researchers have found that abortion complication rates are lower than that for wisdom tooth extraction. Second, research has discovered that nearly all women who have had an abortion do not regret it. Instead, they feel relief. Lastly, a landmark study found that when women are denied an abortion, they are more likely to experience mental and physical health complications, financial ruin and be tethered to abusive partners.
Meanwhile, the anti-abortion centers lack regulatory oversight. They masquerade as legitimate health care centers where employees often wear white lab coats, sport stethoscopes around the neck and ask for medical information. Ironically, it is common for such centers not to have a single medical professional on staff.
Most fake clinics are affiliated with evangelical Christian networks and national anti-abortion organizations. Instead of using medical language, staff use religious appeals to dissuade someone from receiving an abortion. One report found that nearly all anti-abortion centers have an explicitly Christian mission statement and a “Christians-only” hiring and volunteer policy.
For example, CareNet, one of the largest networks of fake clinics, requires all workers to pledge to spread the gospel, stating “The primary mission of the center is to share the truth and love of Jesus Christ in conjunction with a ministry to those facing pregnancy related issues. The pregnancy center is an outreach ministry of Jesus Christ through His church. Therefore, the pregnancy center, embodied in its volunteers, is committed to presenting the gospel of our Lord to women with crisis pregnancies — both in word and in deed.”
To add insult to injury, these centers reap millions of tax dollars while abortion clinics are routinely outlawed or defunded. In 2001, evangelical favorite President George W. Bush paved the way by redirecting $30 million of federal funds to crisis pregnancy centers. President Trump took it a step further and stripped Title X recipients such as Planned Parenthood, which provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, from funding in favor of anti-abortion centers.
A recent investigation found that $89 million went to anti-abortion centers in a dozen states in just the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Since 2010, state governments in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas have given $282.3 million to fake clinics. Furthermore, at least 10 states divert public welfare funds from low-income families to support anti-abortion centers. For instance, in 2019 North Carolina redistributed $650,000 to anti-abortion centers and Texas gave $6 million of welfare funds to crisis pregnancy centers.
This is a public health crisis. By using tax dollars to lie to pregnant people about their options, the health of millions is placed at risk. Anti-abortion centers may delay (or completely prevent) people from actually receiving abortion care or they may lie about pregnancy and outcomes.
Recently, an anti-abortion center in Massachusetts failed to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy in a pregnant woman. This led to a life-threatening emergency, and the patient is now suing the clinic. The lawsuit alleges that the nurse at the fake clinic did not take sufficient measures to ensure that the pregnancy was viable during the ultrasound.
After the appointment, the patient was subjected to messages from the clinic urging her to continue her pregnancy. One month later, the woman’s fallopian tube ruptured. The patient’s lawyer says that the nurse missed the ectopic pregnancy because she wasn’t qualified to provide pregnancy care.
Such actions are horrific and demonstrate why anti-abortion centers should be outlawed. In the meantime, legislation like Illinois’ can hold them accountable for their actions. However, crisis pregnancy centers are fighting back.
In Vermont, the Christian nationalist law firm Alliance Defending Freedom is suing over a law that restricts advertising and prohibits nonlicensed health care professionals from working in such centers. This extremist organization is no stranger to propping up anti-abortion centers and Christian nationalist groups, since it has worked to roll back LGBTQ-plus rights and represent religious charter schools.
Anti-abortion centers have no place in a functioning democracy. We need more legislation that holds them accountable for their harmful, religiously motivated practices. Abortion is health care and should be treated as health care. Fake clinics must go.
You can educate yourself about crisis pregnancy centers and even see if any operate in your own community here.
You can also counter deceptive practices by donating to your local abortion fund so that people can access comprehensive, quality care.