Playing Doctor: How Fake Health Centers Hurt Patients

Imagine this scenario: you’ve recently discovered that you’re pregnant, and you have made the decision to get an abortion. You Google your local clinic and ask to make an appointment. You arrive there, ten minutes early as asked, but when you get there you realize there are actually two clinics at that location. When you get out of your car, a woman calls out to you and tells you that the entrance is this way. She looks nice enough. You follow her inside.

The waiting room looks normal. There are no obvious signs, like a big cross on the wall or religious pamphlets on the table. You browse a People magazine as you wait, like you would in any other doctor’s office.

But you aren’t in a normal doctor’s office. You’re taken back and the people you talk to are so excited you’re pregnant… which is weird. You came here for an abortion. They tell you about your options: parenting and adoption. You tell them you’re there for an abortion, but they tell you that you shouldn’t consider abortion. It’s too dangerous.

No, you’re not in an episode of Black Mirror—you’re at a Crisis Pregnancy Center, also known as fake women’s health centers.

These fake health centers are mostly religious, anti-choice organizations that disguise themselves as abortion clinics to lure women in and convince them, above all else, not to get an abortion.

They use a variety of methods to scam people into entering their clinics. They often set up right next door or across the street from real abortion clinics, and try to mimic the clinic’s name, or will be named “Real Choices” or “Options” to make people feel like they are being presented with a choice. They have modern looking websites that assure you that they are there to listen. Under “Services” there may even be an Abortion tab, but the content on that page is all anti-choice junk science about abortion-pill reversal (not supported by science), abortions causing breast cancer (not supported by science), and abortions causing infertility (again… not supported by science).

They do everything in their power to manipulate the most vulnerable people – those who have yet to decide if they want to continue their pregnancy. “Pregnant? Scared? Call us!” is something you’ve probably seen on a billboard before, and if you ever called that number you would have been calling one of these fake health centers.

What these clinics do that may surprise you the most is they often do not have a trained medical provider on staff or have a license to operate as a medical facility. Yes, that’s right: these people are literally playing doctor for unsuspecting patients.

If you’ve been hearing more about these fake women’s health centers lately, it’s likely because of the Supreme Court case NIFLA v Becerra, for which the Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week. NIFLA v Becerra came about when the State of California started requiring that Crisis Pregnancy Centers post either a.) that they are not a state-licensed medical facility or b.) that the state of California offers free prenatal, adoption, birth control, and abortion options. The CPCs argued that these required postings were a violation of their free speech, as they were being forced to “promote” abortion. Of course, for many of us that know about these fake health centers, that sounds like a lame excuse, considering we know that they prey on and lie to people seeking abortions. But to the Supreme Court? Well, it’s kind of their job to take freedom of speech really seriously. We’re not entirely sure how the Court will rule.

Jessica Mason Pieklo of Rewire (who will be our Champions of Choice guest speaker next month) attended the oral arguments and noted that the justices weren’t terribly interested in the harm fake women’s health centers cause for people seeking abortion care. Instead, most of the discussion seemed to focus on whether or not the required notices were causing undue burden, or were unfairly targeted towards, the CPCs. For many following the case, there isn’t much optimism that the court will rule in favor of reproductive health advocates fighting fake clinics. But that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Abortion providers are consistently targeted in legislation due to anti-choice politicians. In many states, abortion providers are required to provide mandatory counseling in which physicians are forced to lie to their patients and spread politically motivated deception about abortion. Six states require that patients be informed that life begins at conception during their appointment (Guttmacher). Additionally, five states require doctors to tell patients that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, thirteen force them to inform patients that pre-viable fetuses can feel pain, eight order doctors to tell patients that abortion causes serious long-term negative mental health consequences, and last but not least South Dakota makes doctors tell patients that abortion increases their risk of suicide (Slate).  If freedom of speech can permit fake women’s health centers to lie to patients, certainly it should also be able to protect abortion providers from having to lie to patients, right?

It’s all that we can hope for. While we likely won’t hear from the Supreme Court until June, in the meantime we can continue to #EndtheLies and expose fake women’s health centers to protect people from being shamed about their decisions and delayed in getting the abortion care they need. And this isn’t just a national issue- it’s a local one, too.

Previously, “Real Choices” pregnancy center sat right across the street from Boulder’s Planned Parenthood on Folsom. Luckily, we now have philly cheese steaks instead of pretend doctors, but they didn’t disappear entirely. The rebranded to “Marisol Health” and moved to Lafayette. In Longmont, Life Choices sits on Mountain View Ave and according to their websites, tells patients that abortion will cause PTSD and they offer counseling to help you “understand what is at stake before making a decision you may regret.” These fake health centers are all over Colorado and the Denver-metro area, and they are committed into lying and shaming women out of getting abortions.

Why are we telling you this? Because we feel that everyone deserves to know whether or not they are getting care that is truly professional, unbiased, and backed by science. Because we believe that fake health centers should be exposed for purposefully trying to confuse and coerce pregnant people. Because we know that these fake health centers mostly hurt low-income people and people of color.

And because, most of all, we trust you to make the decisions that are best for you.



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