The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments this month in a case which could determine the future of fake clinics and their ability to spread misinformation to patients nationwide. In response, hundreds of activists gathered in D.C. to demand that so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers #EndTheLies.
National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra is a case challenging a California law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in late 2015 that required unlicensed facilities, like crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), to inform their clients that they are not licensed medical organizations recognized by the state. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, California has over 200 crisis pregnancy centers; while they look like licensed health providers, CPCs are often instead politically organizations funded by religiously-affiliated, anti-abortion groups. Some go so far as to open their doors next to real abortion clinics in their efforts to steer patrons away from choosing abortion; others traffic in misinformation to delay abortion procedures or otherwise make accessing abortion care more complicated for the women they serve.
To combat this, the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency) Act required CPCs to post a notice stating that “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care and abortion for eligible women” alongside a phone number for the county social services office to see if a patron qualified. It also required unlicensed facilities to provide information for their visitors on how to find a licensed medical facility.
“It would be a very different conversation if CPCs were saying exactly who they were up front,” Nourbese Flint, director of the reproductive health program for Black Women for Wellness, an organization that helped pass the FACT Act, pointed out to Ms. “It looks like a clinic, walks like a clinic, with people in doctor gear and uniforms on. If you were really in the business of helping women, you wouldn’t need to do all that.”
For women seeking medical advice, access to accurate healthcare information can be the difference between life and death. CPCs lies to their patients, provide them with deceiving and misleading medically inaccurate information and sometimes even purposefully frighten or coerce women into making decisions about their reproductive health. To make matters worse, many women go to such clinics thinking they are comprehensive reproductive health care providers who offer abortions—and they are often targeted by CPCs because they are from low-income communities, attending nearby colleges or from communities of color.
“[This is] about the simple proposition that women seeking health care deserve the truth,” Debra L. Ness, the President of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said in a statement. “Women deserve unbiased information about their health care options. We have the right to transparent, truthful health information.”
NIFLA claims that the FACT Act violates the freedom of speech rights of CPCs. A federal appeals court disagreed in October of 2016, when a judge ruled in favor of California’s government’s right to enforce it. Now, the anti-abortion organization is taking its challenge to the Supreme Court—and advocates greeted them outside on March 20 to demand that CPCs #EndTheLies with a protest and rally that featured a slew of abortion rights leaders from organizations like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, ReproAction and Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF).
“I was thrilled to see that even in the freezing rain, that even after having to leave NYC at three and four a.m., that so many activists from New York and across the country showed up last Tuesday for truth,” Nicole Moore, Director of Communications for Lady Parts Justice League, told Ms. “It says a lot that in 2018 we have to stand at the steps of the Supreme Court for an #EndTheLies rally to demand an end to the intentional deception of women. And it’s absurd that we have to have a public demonstration to let the Supreme Court understand that lying to women about our healthcare options is wrong and unacceptable, but it was so awesome to see so many of us there taking that stand. It’s a day I will long remember.”
As The Atlantic’s Emma Green notes: “this case is about the way abortion-debate opponents wield information and regulation as weapons.” A lack of access to reproductive resources in low-income communities is already glaring, and wildly disparate rates of infant and maternal mortality between women of color, especially black women, and white women have already been well-recorded. Laws like the FACT Act take on those disparities directly—and the impact of this Supreme Court case could hamper future challenges to fake clinics and put women at more risk.
“It is unacceptable in our democracy that fake women’s health clinics plague college campuses and under-resourced communities across the country while comprehensive, compassionate and legitimate women’s health care providers are under attack and continue to close,” Director of the National Clinic Access Project for the Feminist Majority Foundation, duVergne Gaines, JD, said after attending the rally. “This must end.”
Natasha Piñon is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a junior at the University of Southern California, where she studies political science and journalism. She also writes for The Daily Trojan.