The Right to Lie?: Crisis Pregnancy Centers and House Bill 5416 - by Alexis Sher
On Monday, March 20, 2018, I sat in Hartford’s Legislative Office Building from 8:30 AM to 12:30 AM to testify in support of something that should not be contested: the right to transparency and honesty when seeking reproductive health care. Before Connecticut legislatures and the Public Health Committee, members and advocates of the NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut Foundation proposed legislation, House Bill 5416, that would limit the deceptive advertising practices of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in Connecticut. Crisis pregnancy centers are “faith-based anti-abortion counseling centers whose mission is to counsel people facing unplanned pregnancies away from choosing abortion.”1 The greatest danger, however, is that CPCs claim to be comprehensive reproductive healthcare clinics and under this guise, use deceptive advertising tactics and spew medically inaccurate information and unsolicited judgments on women’s moral character. The 2,500 crisis pregnancy centers nationwide are rapidly outnumbering comprehensive reproductive healthcare clinics, and the 25 CPCs in Connecticut are entirely unregulated by the state.
Have you ever seen an advertisement like “Pregnant? Need help?” or “Abortion? Pregnant and afraid?” online or on public transportation? Then you have come in contact with CPCs’ misleading advertising. When individuals follow up with these ambiguously-worded advertisements, they expect comprehensive reproductive healthcare, which is not offered by crisis pregnancy centers. Instead, CPCs use deceptive names, signage, and advertisements to target and attract women seeking abortions to then dissuade and frighten them from doing so. In the NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut Foundation’s 2018 report on crisis pregnancy centers, it was found that many CPCs provide inaccurate medical information about abortion and some staff members even wear scrubs and white lab coats to make it appear like licensed medical providers are present at the facility when they are not.
Crisis pregnancy centers are disturbingly smart: they operate tangent to licensed reproductive healthcare facilities, in communities of color, in low-income communities, and “more than 80% of CPCs in the state operate less than five miles away from college campuses.”2In our own backyard, ABC Women’s Center, many of whose advocates testified in opposition to H.B 5416, is located on East Main Street in Middletown. Further, in the greater Hartford area, St. Gerard’s Center for Life, under the guise of Hartford Women’s Center, opened mere feet from the door of Hartford GYN Center. Since its opening in the Spring of 2017, women seeking their appointments at Hartford GYN are often confused by the location and deceptive signage of Hartford Women’s Center and mistakenly enter the wrong facility.
The logic is simple: no one should be deceived or misled when seeking legitimate medical care. As Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin echoed at the hearing, crisis pregnancy centers have a “clear intent to mislead and lure.” It is vital to understand that reproductive healthcare is time sensitive and with CPCs’ deceptive advertising and delay tactics, women’s reproductive health is at enormous risk. Women have the right to know what services they are being provided with and it is deceptive when a CPC advertises for abortion yet does not provide it, or has the appearance of a comprehensive medical facility when it is not. It is challenging enough to seek out reproductive health care: it can be expensive, daunting, and emotionally taxing. It becomes even more burdensome when women and families are deceived and criticized in the pursuit of these services. This is not a question about one’s stance on abortion; it is about the right to transparency and honesty when seeking medical care. All patients deserve the truth. It is an uphill battle to face the attacks on women’s reproductive rights. However, the state of Connecticut has the awesome power to confront crisis pregnancy centers. H.B. 5416 will be a consequential step in reversing the tide; in insisting that all women are entitled to reproductive healthcare free of deception and judgment. We will not be lied to. We will not waiver.
If you would like to get involved with the NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut Foundation, join Wesleyan’s Clinic Escort Student Group by contacting Allison Silverstein (firstname.lastname@example.org), Emma Frohardt (email@example.com), Erica Crowley (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Organizer & Volunteer Coordinator at NARAL Pro-Choice CT and Hartford GYN Center, or myself (email@example.com).
1. NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut Foundation, “Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Connecticut: A Threat to Reproductive Freedom,” February, 2018.