One of the most powerful things the anti-choice movement has done in the past few years is start opening so-called “women’s pregnancy clinics” or “health centers” all over the country. Their purpose is to counter actual health centers that will also offer to provide a woman with an abortion. After a long fight in the California courts, the fake women’s health center case is headed to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments about it on Tuesday.
The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, began back when California passed the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (known as the Reproductive FACT Act) in 2015. The legislation required a couple of things from these clinics that pose as “women’s health centers,” which are often unlicensed and don’t offer any actual medical service at all, though some are and do. California required that if the clinic is unlicensed or doesn’t offer Medicaid services like prescribing birth control, it has to put a sign up that says so and lists the services they do offer. The state also legislated that these clinics, since they don’t offer abortion due to their religious beliefs, have to inform women of the state-run facilities that will provide an abortion, which, remember, the Supreme Court says is a woman’s right to get if she wants or needs one.
The clinics took issue with this, saying that the requirements were overly burdensome, “that it is difficult, if not impossible, for unlicensed centers to advocate their own pro-life message in most media,” and that putting a sign up telling women where they can actually get an abortion is a violation of their freedom of speech. A federal district court rejected the centers’ arguments, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit backed that decision up.
Now, the case is heading to the Supreme Court, where the justices will decide, no later than June, if the clinics can continue operating as they are or be forced to comply with California’s state laws. California is not the only place where these clinics have been popping up, so the ruling would set a precedent that other states could use to make these clinics stop misleading women.
Here are a few things to know about this particular case:
1These clinics actively deceive women.
It’s not like California’s laws came out of nowhere. The more you learn about what happens in these clinics, which you might know from the “Pregnant? Scared?” billboards in some parts of the country, the creepier it gets. As mentioned, these “women’s health clinics” or “crisis pregnancy centers” are often not licensed medical centers, despite the fact they call themselves “clinics.” Often, the staff wear scrubs to look like actual nurses and have “patients” fill out medical forms. According to NPR, it’s not clear how many of the 2,700 in the country are unlicensed, but they often also give pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. One woman reported that a crisis pregnancy center told her that her IUD was a fetus. Wouldn’t you want a sign in the window informing you that the ultrasound tech might have no training?
All these centers are really there to do is to convince a woman not to terminate her pregnancy, which wouldn’t be so bad, again, if they were upfront about it or if they had any boundaries when it came to what kind of lies they would employ to achieve that goal. It’s kind of odd to play dress-up and pretend your office is a medical facility, when it’s really a religious outfit that gives women inaccurate information about abortions. There are reports of some clinics giving women brochures linking abortion to cancers, infertility, and substance abuse, despite the fact that there’s absolutely no evidence to those points. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is defending the law, said in a statement, “We’re simply trying to make sure the recipient of health care information or advice understands exactly what he or she is entitled to in terms of services and that the information is accurate.”
2The clinics don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.
NIFLA, which represents and counsels crisis pregnancy centers, is arguing that forcing an organization that doesn’t believe in abortion to direct a woman to go get one is a violation of their freedom of speech or religion. It’s worth noting that the Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the centers, too. The ADF is the organization behind other big “religious freedom” cases, like backing the Colorado baker who wouldn’t make a same-sex couple’s wedding cake and fighting on behalf of religious non-profits who don’t want to provide birth control in their insurance plans.
Kristen Waggoner, one of the anti-choice pregnancy centers’ lawyers, told NPR that in addition to the California law forcing people to go against their religion, there’s just no need for unlicensed centers to inform women they’re not licensed, which is very rich considering all of the burdensome requirements that states make actual women’s health clinics adhere to that are totally unnecessary and often put the woman’s safety in danger. Many of the clinics also accept taxpayer money, adding insult to injury, given all the laws prohibiting federal and state money funding actual women’s health care.
3It’s not *just* about abortion.
It’s particularly fitting that this case is coming up during Trump’s aggressively anti-choice administration. These clinics not only spread lies about and refuse to offer women abortions, but they also teach women that abstinence is the “only way” to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy. They tell women that they don’t need birth control or that condoms break (which they very rarely do, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be handing them out to sexually active people). Really, these clinics are the physical manifestation of “fake news.”
The crisis pregnancy centers are skirting the real issue at play with their arguments about speech and religion. They are actively deceiving women. And it’s often low-income women who have no other place to turn to and don’t know that they’re not in a safe place when they sit down and start telling an extremist pretending to be a doctor or nurse about their sexual health.
Since there’s no science to back up any of the anti-choice movement’s claims or arguments against abortion, they’re resorting to using taxpayer money to lie to women. It’s sad, really. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will make the right choice and not legalize groups who lie to women about their health care. We all deserve so much better.