Anti-Abortion ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ Face New Accountability Post-Roe

Flooding the internet with misleading ads and abortion disinformation, thousands of fake clinics aim to confuse people seeking reproductive healthcare.

A sign outside Problem Pregnancy, a crisis pregnancy center, on Pleasant Street in Worcester, Mass. It is located near a Planned Parenthood center. (Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision revoking the constitutional right to abortion, advocates are shining new light on anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) and public officials are taking unprecedented actions to hold CPCs accountable for their deceptive practices and violations of people’s medical and data privacy.

CPCs seek to reach young and low-income women and girls facing unintended pregnancies to prevent them from accessing abortion and contraception, and convert them to evangelical Christianity. These fake clinics have been around for decades, operating without government oversight or consumer protections.

Now, post-Roe, the CPC industry is mobilizing to further expand to intercept people seeking abortion. But scrutiny and regulation of CPCs can protect people from their abusive practices.

CPCs often use deceptive advertising and masquerade as medical facilities to get women in the door, hiding their anti-abortion agenda. Some use non-medical ultrasounds to persuade women to carry to term and falsely signal medical legitimacy. CPCs also use unethical practices like “abortion pill reversal” to promote abortion disinformation and stigma. Many use sophisticated digital strategies to appear first in online searches for abortion, above real reproductive health clinics. Most use false medical claims about pregnancy, abortion and even contraception.

A web screenshot from the Worcester Women’s Clinic—a crisis pregnancy center at 495 Pleasant Street in Worcester, Mass. It falsely suggests they offer abortion healthcare by urging people to schedule a “consultation” to find out how much an abortion will cost.

A 2006 congressional investigation found 80 percent of federally-funded CPCs promoted inaccurate medical claims. Since then, scores of CPC studies—by advocates, watchdogs, journalists and scholars—have found the same thing: deception, disinformation and delay are cornerstone CPC industry tactics.

Moreover, while some CPCs provide diapers and other supplies parents need, a new report by Equity Forward revealed that the largest CPC network, Heartbeat International, boasted it provided baby supplies to nearly 1.85 million people in 2019—but it actually provided less than one pack of diapers per client, one stroller for only 1 percent of clients, and one carseat for 1.6 percent of clients.

Equity Forward found that CPCs often allocate more to salaries, marketing and anti-abortion counseling than to material goods, providing only “a sliver of the financial support parents truly need.”

Despite their branding, CPCs are, in fact, storefronts for the anti-abortion movement, which play a central role in advancing two key movement strategies: spreading abortion disinformation and collecting sensitive personal data about pregnant women.

Most CPCs are affiliated with large anti-abortion corporations and plugged into their digital infrastructure. Because they are not medical clinics that charge for services, CPCs are not obligated to follow data privacy standards, including under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, so any personal and health information they collect could be shared in pregnancy- or abortion-related criminal investigations.

The expanding CPC industry, as the eyes and ears of the anti-abortion movement, poses increasing legal dangers to pregnant women and girls in the post-Roe surveillance state.

Deception, disinformation and delay are cornerstone CPC industry tactics.

In response, elected officials at all levels of government are taking new actions to hold CPCs accountable and protect pregnant women, girls and people from their deceptive and unethical tactics.

This summer, attorneys general in three states issued consumer alerts about CPCs and published avenues for consumer complaints.

  • In June, California Attorney General Rob Bonta warned, “While crisis pregnancy centers may claim to offer comprehensive reproductive healthcare services, their mission is to discourage people from accessing abortion care. As reproductive freedom nationwide comes under threat, my message to Californians is simple: Know your rights. Do your research. Connect with programs that will provide you with truthful information and timely reproductive healthcare.”
  • In July, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued a statewide advisory warning, “CPCs do NOT provide comprehensive reproductive healthcare. CPCs are organizations that seek to prevent people from accessing abortion care.”
  • Then in August, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison tweeted, “You have a constitutionally protected right to abortion in MN … crisis pregnancy centers often do not offer the services they claim to offer & the info about abortion & contraception they offer may be inaccurate or misleading.”

Massachusetts officials have been especially pro-active against deceptive CPCs practices. A week after Attorney General Healey issued her consumer advisory, the Massachusetts Department of Health issued a “Warning About Crisis Pregnancy Centers,” advising residents to avoid CPCs, which “often look like medical clinics and sometimes use tactics to delay your access to care.” The state’s public insurance program MassHealth then posted its own warning that CPCs “are not MassHealth providers” and do not provide the reproductive health care services” covered by the program.

Crisis pregnancy centers are storefronts for the anti-abortion movement, which play a central role in advancing two key movement strategies: spreading abortion disinformation and collecting sensitive personal data about pregnant women.

Holding Fake Clinics Accountable for Disinformation

At the same time, a local movement is gaining ground to hold CPCs accountable for truth-in-advertising. In Massachusetts, Somerville City Councilor Kristen Strezo introduced an ordinance prohibiting deceptive CPC advertising, modeled on a 2017 Hartford law, which Somerville lawmakers passed unanimously in March, on International Women’s Day. Since then, Cambridge, Easthampton, Salem and Worcester have taken up deceptive CPC advertising proposals, and additional Massachusetts cities are exploring them.

In Pennsylvania this summer, Pittsburgh passed a deceptive advertising ordinance and Allentown lawmakers introduced a similar proposal. The City of Seattle has unanimously passed a law barring CPCs from false advertising and the Los Angeles City Attorney sent his City Council a proposal to ban deceptive CPC advertising. In addition, New York City passed an ordinance requiring the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to implement an outreach and education campaign on CPCs, and Columbus passed a measure authorizing an examination of the activities of CPCs by Pro-Choice Ohio to determine whether “residents of the City of Columbus have access to medically accurate and legal reproductive health information.”

State-Level Actions to Check Fake Clinics

State lawmakers and governors are acting to address a range of CPC abuses.

  • The New York State Assembly has authorized the Health Commissioner to investigate the impact of CPCs.
  • The Massachusetts legislature has proposed $1 million for a statewide public awareness campaign. California’s Future of Abortion Council has called for meaningful state action “to combat and mitigate harmful and misleading information perpetuated by CPCs.”
  • A member of the Pennsylvania State Assembly has introduced a bill to bar CPCs from sharing personal and health data gathered without client permission.

State officials are also working to stanch the flow of taxpayer funding to CPCs.

This summer, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer used her line-item veto power to strike $1.5 million the Republican-led Legislature had allocated for CPCs, as well as $700,000 they had earmarked for Real Alternatives, a CPC network that has faced scrutiny for misusing taxpayer funds in both Michigan and Pennsylvania. Whitmer’s office stated she could not send “millions in taxpayer dollars to fake health centers that intentionally withhold information women about their health, bodies and full reproductive freedom.”

In nearby Minnesota, lawmakers have expressed interest in amending their state program funding CPCs to require that organizations receiving grants under the program provide medically accurate, unbiased information and support, free of preconditions and harassment.

And in Indiana, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states where Republicans are diverting state and federal funds to CPCs, Democratic lawmakers are increasingly calling out CPCs for failing to provide any information about the quality of services they provide, and for mounting reports of fiscal malfeasance and misuse of public funds.

National Action Against CPCs

On the federal level, lawmakers are advancing proposals to hold CPCs accountable for how they advertise and how they handle sensitive information they collect about pregnant people.

In June, Democratic senators introduced the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation (SAD) Act, directing the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit deceptive or misleading advertising related to abortion. Because the SAD Act explicitly applies to non-profit providers of free services, which are not typically governed under state consumer protection statutes, it would hold CPCs accountable under consumer protection laws for the first time.

Members of Congress are also supporting critical new data privacy protections. The bipartisan American Data Privacy and Protection Act—the first federal consumer privacy bill to advance out of committee—would increase Federal Trade Commission power to regulate and enforce how companies can use sensitive health data.

In the U.S. House, Democratic representatives have introduced the My Body, My Data Act prohibiting companies and nonprofits from collecting, keeping, using or sharing anyone’s reproductive or sexual health details without written consent, and the Fourth Amendment Is Not for Sale Act to prevent law enforcement and intelligence agencies from buying a person’s location records and other personal details from data brokers.

Congressional leaders are also demanding action by both the CPC industry and the tech industry to protect pregnant women’s privacy.

In September, Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey sent a letter to the largest CPC network, Heartbeat International, questioning how it handles personal data it collects from pregnant women that could be used in abortion-related prosecutions.

Under pressure from Democratic leaders in Congress and in the states, Yelp will start flagging CPC listings to distinguish them clinics providing abortion, and even Google is taking new action to label clinics that provide abortion and block CPCs in its Maps app.

The actions above by elected officials, and more in development, are critical steps to protect women and girls from the deception, disinformation and data collection tactics of the CPC industry. CPCs still often appear at the top of Google searches for abortion and pregnancy tests, above Planned Parenthood and local providers of comprehensive reproductive healthcare, because Google continues to allow CPCs to violate its policy prohibiting ads that “deceive users” by “providing misleading information about products, services, or businesses.” CPCs are accessing more and more public funding, with no accountability for their use of taxpayer dollars.

An increasing number of CPCs are promoting “abortion pill reversal” (APR) to purportedly stop a medication abortion underway, which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has denounced as “unethical” and “not supported by science.” Many CPCs are sending women to a Heartbeat International website that is linked directly to the data collection operation Sens. Warren and Markey are investigating.

Post-Roe, the anti-abortion movement is funneling more resources to CPCs that use these tactics in order to block pregnant women’s access to abortion healthcare, both in states with gestational bans and in states that protect reproductive rights. By flooding the internet with misleading ads and abortion disinformation, they aim to confuse people seeking reproductive healthcare and divert them to CPCs.

Aggressive action by public officials on the national, state and local levels, to hold CPCs accountable and address inequities in healthcare access that CPCs exploit, is crucial to protect women and girls from this stealth attack on our health, safety and privacy.

A version of this piece was originally published by the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

Up next:

About and

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.
Jenifer McKenna is co-founder of California Women's Law Center and co-author of the 2021 report, "Designed to Deceive: A Study of the Crisis Pregnancy Center Industry in Nine States." She can be reached at