Crisis Pregnancy Centers: A Legislative Crisis
Often getting women in the door of their facilities under the guise of free pregnancy tests and free ultrasounds, crisis pregnancy centers, on their face, don’t look all that bad. However, inside those doors, women are often faced with highly anti-choice propaganda from people who they may have mistakenly misunderstood to be medical professionals or doctors who could help them in their times of need. Crisis pregnancy centers are facilities that often set up close to abortion clinics with the primary goal of discouraging women from seeking abortions. These centers often mislead women into thinking they are a medical center to get them in the door, then overwhelm them anti-abortion pro-life discussion and information that is often even medically inaccurate and emotionally jarring. These centers have a tendency to target low-income or otherwise marginalized women by often setting up in minority communities where individuals have less access to quality healthcare. Yet, despite their apparent shortcomings, some of these centers are federally funded and sponsored. There is currently a plethora of pending legislation and court cases surrounding these centers – some in favor and some against.
A California case will appear before the Supreme Court in March called National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. This case concerns the Reproductive FACT Act, which requires licensed facilities (whether they perform medical services or not) to inform patients about access to family planning services, including abortions. It would also require unlicensed centers to include disclaimers on printed and digital ads stating they’re not a licensed medical center. This act forces crisis pregnancy centers to be more transparent about what they really are and what they are not. It also requires more holistic and less-biased information to be provided to patients. The issue before the court is whether or not this would violate First Amendment free speech protections. Anti-abortion pregnancy centers are claiming that this would inhibit their free speech and dilute their message. A law of this kind seems favorable for those that oppose crisis pregnancy centers in that it would both a) increase transparency from the crisis pregnancy centers and b) decrease the amount of abortion-shaming they are likely able to do, given they will have to give information about the procedures and its potential benefits. It is unclear how the Supreme Court will decide the case, but a similar law is being contested in Illinois and is seen to be consistently favoring the pregnancy centers.
There is also legislation currently pending that would increase the visibility and prevalence of crisis pregnancy centers. One example is in Florida. In 2017 lawmakers proposed a bill called the Florida Pregnancy Support and Wellness Services Bill, which would force the Department of Health to contract with a nonprofit that currently runs over 100 crisis pregnancy centers in the state. The bill limits subcontractors to “exclusively those who promote childbirth,” meaning they cannot provide services like contraceptives or abortion. This bill thus not only provides funding for the crisis pregnancy centers, but also legitimizes them by the state. The bill has already passed through the house and the senate and is pending only approval from Republican governor Rick Scott.
Although many states, like California and Illinois, are proposing legislation that would limit the harmful impacts of crisis pregnancy, anti-abortion activists are fighting back, both through the courts and with legislation of their own. While in each individual case it is too early to say how the cases will shake out, what we can predict is that the battles of crisis pregnancy centers are not going to end anytime soon. In the meantime, we recommend that you call your legislators, monitor the courts, and in the case that you may need to, know your rights regarding abortions and contraceptives, because crisis pregnancy centers sure aren’t ready to share them with you.
By Claire Kueffner
Claire is currently a senior at Tulane University pursuing a degree in Legal Studies in Business and Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Four cases to watch when the Supreme Court returns this week (February 19, 2018)
Florida Wants to Spend More Money to Talk Women Out of Abortions (February 9, 2018)
The Truth About Crisis Pregnancy Centers (January 23, 2018)
Federal court judge halts enforcement of Illinois abortion notification law (August 4, 2017)
New Law Hasn’t Stopped Anti-Abortion “Pregnancy Centers” From Misleading Women (September 13, 2017)
Our Perspective contributions are written by the interns from Tulane University working with Lift Louisiana to advance reproductive health, rights and justice.