Since the Dobbs decision, crisis pregnancy centers have come under increased scrutiny because they have taken on a more prominent role in the anti-abortion movement. Despite the increase in government grants in red states, most of their funding comes from private donors. According to the Post, The Charlotte Lozier Institute, a research arm of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said in a 2020 report that “at least 90 percent of total funding for centers is raised through private donations.”
Andrea Swartzendruber, a leader of the Georgia mapping project, which supports abortion rights, told The Post that her group has identified the location of more than 2,500 crisis pregnancy centers across the U.S. “We have seen that the states that have worked the hardest to either totally ban or severely restrict abortion have also worked to fund crisis pregnancy centers in new ways,” she said.
But it’s not just abortion-rights advocates who have raised the alarm about the crisis pregnancy centers. The American Medical Association urged “that public funding only support programs that provide complete, non-directive, medically accurate health information to support patients’ informed, voluntary decisions.”
And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published an issue brief that urged people “to recognize and avoid facilities, such as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), run by people who operate unethically and with the intention to dissuade, deter, or prevent them from seeking certain reproductive health care options,” including “abortion care and even contraceptive options.”
ACOG said that crisis pregnancy centers “endanger public health” by causing delays in accessing legitimate health care; spreading medical misinformation about so-called abortion pill “reversal”; lacking privacy, security, and accountability; and targeting marginalized and vulnerable populations.
The group’s policy recommendations included holding crisis pregnancy centers “accountable for deceptive practices by … enforcing and strengthening consumer protection laws” and ensuring that “government funding goes only to legitimate health care organizations that provide comprehensive, medically accurate, and nondirective counseling and referrals.”
Democratic-led states have been adopting such policies by cutting funding to crisis pregnancy centers and passing laws creating penalties for misleading women to discourage them from seeking an abortion, the Post reported.
Even before the Dobbs decision, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used a line-item veto in 2019 to cancel $700,000 of funding for Real Alternatives centers in her state, and she has vetoed spending on similar centers in the years since, calling them “fake health centers.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation in July to apply the state’s consumer protection statute to crisis pregnancy centers if they disseminate misleading or untruthful information. The law allows a judge or jury to award up to $50,000 in civil penalties for each act of fraud or deception proven in court.
“Women need access to comprehensive, fact-based health care when making critical decisions about their own health—not manipulation or misinformation from politically motivated, non-medical actors,” Pritzker said. He added the law means “ensuring Illinoisans can make their own decisions about their bodies using accurate and safe information.”
Vermont and Colorado have also passed laws giving state attorneys general the power to investigate complaints and levy fines against crisis pregnancy centers that use deceptive or fraudulent practices, according to the Post.
But these efforts to tighten regulations on the centers are now being challenged in court by anti-abortion groups on First Amendment grounds.
Last month, a federal judge granted an injunction to block the new Illinois law from going into effect, in response to a lawsuit brought by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a national network of crisis pregnancy centers.
Attorney Peter Breen, executive vice president of the Thomas More Society who is representing the centers, called the injunction a victory for free speech.
“And so the judge recognized that we had also argued that these are not uncontroversial topics when you’re talking about abortion. That is the most controversial topic in our country today. And the government has no place in saying, well, this has been misinformation or this is true or this is false,” Breen said.
Pritzker, interviewed on CNN, defended the law:
“I’m confident this is constitutional. It’s legal. Remember what they’re doing. They’re putting their crisis pregnancy centers next door to abortion rights centers, and they’re directing people to go in their front door or telling them things that aren’t true, often.
“And when that’s the case, they ought to be held liable. They – there ought to be a private right of action for anybody that’s dissuaded or told, you know, something that’s false. That’s the important thing.”
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