Massachusetts AG warns consumers about crisis pregnancy

With the right to an abortion overturned nationwide, Massachusetts is warning patients to stay away from crisis pregnancy centers — centers that look like abortion clinics but whose primary purpose is to dissuade women from having abortions.

Massachusetts’ attorney general issued a consumer warning on Thursday, saying these centers often don’t provide the reproductive health services of the clinics they mimic.

“CPCs may appear to be reproductive health care clinics, but do NOT provide abortion care or abortion referrals, contraception or other reproductive health care, despite what they may advertise,” the office of Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said in a stark warning. 

In bold letters, the office warned that crisis pregnancy centers are often not medically licensed and don’t provide medical services.

“Most CPCs are NOT licensed medical facilities,” the announcement warned. “CPCs are NOT typically staffed by licensed doctors or nurses, even though some people who work at CPCs may try to look the part, for example, by wearing a white coat,” it said.

The AG’s warning also pointed out that, because pregnancy centers are not medical facilities, they are not required to abide by patient privacy laws to keep records private, or “follow codes of ethics or standards of care that govern health care professions.”

The Markup, a publication that investigates technology companies, found that these centers have managed to “amass highly personal information, including medical histories, details about prior pregnancies and even ultrasound photos,” and can “store and share that information with networks of anti-abortion partners.”

Privacy advocates are concerned that anti-abortion lawmakers may seek to use troves of data that anti-abortion centers collect on their visitors in order to track or criminalize those seeking to end a pregnancy.


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Medical falsehoods

Crisis pregnancy centers have often been found to mislead woman, for instance by claming that a pregnancy is farther along than it really is or lying about the medical effects of having an abortion, the Massachusetts AG noted in the notice. A common — false — claim from crisis pregnancy centers is that having an abortion will make a woman infertile or cause mental health problems. These centers also often claim that it is possible to reverse a medication abortion — a claim not backed up by evidence.

Pregnant people should note warning signs of a crisis pregnancy center, which is often listed as “pregnancy resource center, pregnancy help center, pregnancy care center, or women’s resource center,” the AG noted.

Such centers can advertise “free pregnancy tests, abortion counseling, pre-abortion screenings [or] abortion education,” but do not refer patients to abortion providers. Many are located near abortion clinics and use similar-sounding names, the AG found. More recently, crisis pregnancy centers have created a sophisticated online presence by targeting keywords on Google and using Facebook identifiers.

There are nearly 30 crisis pregnancy centers in Massachusetts and more than 2,500 across the U.S., where they outnumber abortion clinics 3 to 1. Much of their funding comes from taxpayers: A dozen states have allocated nearly $90 million to crisis pregnancy centers this fiscal year, the Associated Press found.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, has also called for cracking down on crisis pregnancy centers, such as by requiring they identify themselves upfront as anti-abortion organizations.

“We have in all places in our country a notion of truth in advertising — that deceiving people in order to provide services is wrong and, in most contexts, outlawed,” Warren told MassLive last month. “The idea that centers have grown up to prey on people who are pregnant and vulnerable and seeking help is fundamentally wrong.”

Massachusetts’ attorney general issued a consumer warning on Thursday, saying these centers often don’t provide the reproductive health services of the clinics they mimic.

“CPCs may appear to be reproductive health care clinics, but do NOT provide abortion care or abortion referrals, contraception, or other reproductive health care, despite what they may advertise,” the office of Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said in a stark warning. 

In bold letters, the office warned that crisis pregnancy centers are often not medically licensed and don’t provide medical services.

“Most CPCs are NOT licensed medical facilities,” the announcement warned. “CPCs are NOT typically staffed by licensed doctors or nurses, even though some people who work at CPCs may try to look the part, for example, by wearing a white coat,” it said.

The AG’s warning also pointed out that, because pregnancy centers are not medical facilities, they are not required to abide by patient privacy laws to keep records private, or “follow codes of ethics or standards of care that govern healthcare professions.”

The Markup, a publication that investigates technology companies, found that these centers have managed to “amass highly personal information, including medical histories, details about prior pregnancies, and even ultrasound photos,” and can “store and share that information with networks of anti-abortion partners.”

Privacy advocates are concerned that anti-abortion lawmakers may seek to use troves of data that anti-abortion centers collect on their visitors in order to track or criminalize those seeking to end a pregnancy.


State abortion laws in flux since Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade

06:04

Medical falsehoods

Crisis pregnancy centers have often been found to mislead woman, for instance by claming that a pregnancy is farther along than it really is or lying about the medical effects of having an abortion, the Massachusetts AG noted in the notice. A common — false — claim from crisis pregnancy centers is that having an abortion will make a woman infertile or cause mental health problems. These centers also often claim that it is possible to reverse a medication abortion — a claim not backed up by evidence.

Pregnant people should note warning signs of a crisis pregnancy center, which is often listed as “pregnancy resource center, pregnancy help center, pregnancy care center, or women’s resource center,” the AG noted.

Such centers can advertise “free pregnancy tests, abortion counseling, pre-abortion screenings [or] abortion education,” but do not refer patients to abortion providers. Many are located near abortion clinics and use similar sounding names, the AG found. More recently, crisis pregnancy centers have created a sophisticated online presence by targeting keywords on Google and using Facebook identifiers.

There are nearly 30 crisis pregnancy centers in Massachusetts and more than 2,500 across the U.S., where they outnumber abortion clinics 3 to 1. Much of their funding comes from taxpayers: A dozen states have allocated nearly $90 million to crisis pregnancy centers this fiscal year, the Associated Press found.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, has also called for cracking down on crisis pregnancy centers, such as by requiring they identify themselves upfront as anti-abortion organizations.

“We have in all places in our country a notion of truth in advertising — that deceiving people in order to provide services is wrong and, in most contexts, outlawed,” Warren told MassLive last month. “The idea that centers have grown up to prey on people who are pregnant and vulnerable and seeking help is fundamentally wrong.”

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