Warning Communities About Fake Clinics, One Sidewalk at a Time

Armed with chalk, Southwestern Law School students like Haley Pollock are drawing attention to the dangers of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in their community—literally. Pollock and other activists are taking to the sidewalks and writing phrases like “End the Lies: and “Fake Women’s Clinic Ahead” in front of CPCs.

Haley Pollock (right) chalks the sidewalks near a fake clinic. (NARAL Pro-Choice California)

CPCs, which are often religiously affiliated and funded by anti-abortion extremists, purposefully mislead and deceive their patients, who are typically seeking out comprehensive health services, with medically inaccurate information in an effort to coerce them out of accessing a full range of services. CPCs lure in vulnerable patients by opening up in low-income communities and near high schools and community colleges—and sometimes even next-door to real abortion clinics—and publicly advertise using language like “Pregnant? Need Help?” while offering free diapers, pregnancy tests and ultrasounds to get people inside their doors.

“People are appalled when they learn about fake clinics,” Pollock said in an interview with California Healthline. She and other Southwestern students, motivated by a recent Supreme Court ruling which gave CPCs further license to manipulate and deceive their patients, are doing all they can to counter the misinformation.

The Court’s ruling this summer in NIFLA v. Bacerra struck down a law in California—the 2016 Reproductive FACT Act—that required CPCs to notify patients of state-funded health care options, including abortion care and STI screenings, and post signs alerting the public if they were not medically licensed facilities. Advocates across the country, motivated by the Court’s ruling, have stepped up their efforts in shutting down CPCs and raising awareness about their dangerous practices—utilizing pop-up alerts on mobile devices, bus-shelter ads and even billboards to warn women about the fake clinics in their communities.

“At this point our only tool is information,” Nourbese Flint, a program manager at Black Women for Wellness, told California Healthline. “We’re using ads to expose them and to let our communities know that these catfish clinics are out there.” Her group is investing approximately $15,000 to display bright-pink posters that show young black women next to messages reading “Catfished by a Clinic?” and “Stop Fake Clinics.” Similar ads have been scheduled to appear on buses and in bus shelters in south Los Angeles. Black Women for Wellness is also sponsoring pop-up ads for mobile phone apps that link people to more information on CPCs, which they estimate will reach approximately 250,000 people in San Bernardino, Riverside and Sacramento counties.

In New York City, an ordinance necessitates pregnancy clinics to post a sign if they’re not licensed—but according to Aviva Zadoff, the director of advocacy at the local office of the National Council of Jewish Women, many people fear that the ordinance will be challenged given the new California precedent. NCJW has created the “Pro-Truth” campaign which maps out fake clinics in New York City with plans to distribute brochures and flyers at community centers and colleges. “We’ve learned that we can’t rely on laws and policies,” Zadoff said. “We as advocates have to work hard to educate each other and do what the law won’t do to protect women.”

Students like Pollock, however, reacted to NIFLA by planning to paint the streets at night, guerrilla-style, so neighboring residents would see the powerful messages in the morning. The activists often remain near the CPCs after their work is done, toting signs and engaging in friendly conversations with locals. Pollock confirmed that these activists “abide by existing laws and do not harass or block patients.” Although an individual once called the police on Pollock and her group, she mentioned that the majority of folks are receptive to their messages.

The ruling, Pollock said, “inspires us to work harder, faster, more visibly than we were before.”

Carmiya Baskin is an editorial intern at Ms. and a third-year Feminist Studies major at UC Santa Barbara. Her work has appeared in The Bottom Line, a student-run newspaper at UCSB, and EqualTalk, a feminist blog she co-founded through a women empowerment and teen leadership organization, Girls Give Back. She is passionate about all things related to intersectional feminism, Harry Potter and Disney, and she enjoys eating peanut butter right out of the jar while binge-watching The Office.

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