California Cracks Down on Fake Clinics

California has just launched the first statewide legislation requiring “crisis pregnancy centers” to tell the truth. The truth is most of these clinics are fake.

Across the United States, legitimate and comprehensive reproductive health care facilities are vanishing while religiously based centers claiming to provide reproductive health care services flourish. In California alone, only about 40 legitimate clinics exist that provide abortion services, compared to about 170 fraudulent clinics that operate for the purpose of denying abortion services, and more are on the way.

Leading the crusade to end abortion across the globe is the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. They call their clinics pregnancy resource centers, or PRCs. The reproductive freedom movement and most media refer to fake clinics as crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs. Many centers use the CPC term to refer to themselves. However, these labels are vague and misleading, as none of them provide comprehensive reproductive health care or resources.

Counterfeit clinics have existed for decades, but have recently become more ruthless. Most are purposely located near valid clinics and copy similar signage, décor and advertising to trick unsuspecting women into thinking they are a reliable health care brand, such as Planned Parenthood. Staff members in these fake clinics often wear professional looking white lab coats, but have no medical training. The East County Pregnancy Care Clinic of El Cajon, CA even uses a misleading web address, unplannedparenthood.net, while Planned Parenthood uses plannedparenthood.org.

Investigations into the day-to-day practices of these phony clinics reveal an alarming trend of using scare tactics and giving false information to pregnant women who seek help. Women are often told that abortion causes breast cancer, infection, depression and even death, when in fact, none of these claims are true.

Legitimate clinics are run by licensed organizations like Planned Parenthood and Progressive Health Services. Illegitimate clinics are run by anti-abortion extremists whose primary intent is to prevent abortion – at any cost, whether monetary or moral. Few of these clinics provide medical services and most staff “counselors” are only trained to dissuade those that enter their doors from choosing abortion services or acquiring contraceptives. Although some of these bogus clinics in California are technically licensed, most provide no pre-natal care or real medical diagnostics, but advertise as if they do. Most provide free pregnancy tests, the same kind sold over-the-counter. Some provide free ultrasounds, but with limited scope and no medical supervision.

California legislators are aware of the problems these fake clinics pose and to help curtail the tide of clinics masquerading as medical facilities they’ve passed the new Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency) Act. The law went into effect January 1, 2016. It requires all licensed health care facilities to openly post or distribute a notice that explains: “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. To determine whether you quality, contact the county social services office at (insert telephone number).”

All unlicensed facilities must now disclose to clients the following notice: “This facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.” The law is designed to ensure that accurate information is available to pregnant women who need assistance.

About 700,000 California women become pregnant every year, and half didn’t intend to. Time is of the essence in these cases. But, already, several religious groups have filed lawsuits opposing the Reproductive FACT Act. They claim it violates their 1st Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. Their intention is to keep the law from going into effect.

With about 3,500 counterfeit pregnancy clinics spanning the United States, this is a national issue. Make no mistake, if our CA law is struck down, other states will think twice before enacting similar laws to protect the rights of their pregnant populations.

Contact Rebecca Griffin, Assistant Director of California Programs of NARAL Pro-Choice California at (415)500-8123 and rgriffin@prochoiceamerica.org to receive information about the lawsuits and events that support the Reproductive FACT Act.   The time has come for California to lead the way for truth in reproductive health care – in every clinic here and across the United States.