The Healey-Driscoll administration unveiled a public education campaign Monday warning residents about the “dangers and potential harm” of crisis pregnancy centers.

The campaign seeks to help people identify crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), also known as anti-abortion centers, and direct them to licensed clinics that offer comprehensive reproductive care. 

Critics of the centers say they use deceptive advertising and mislead people about reproductive health options, often pressuring people to avoid abortions.

The effort will take the form of advertisements on social media, billboards, radio programs, and transit, according to the Department of Public Health (DPH). It is a joint effort between DPH and the Reproductive Equity Now Foundation and is funded by a $1 million investment by the state legislature.

The campaign is the first of its kind in the country, according to DPH. 

“Anti-abortion centers exist to block access to full service, evidence-based, high-quality care offered by licensed providers. That is unacceptable,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh said in a statement. “[This] marketing campaign is designed to protect people, by urging them to seek safe and unbiased reproductive health care from caregivers who can provide the right care — the best care — free from coercion or misinformation.”

Several prominent politicians added statements of support for the campaign, including Senator Ed Markey, Democratic Minority Whip Representative Katherine Clark, and U.S. Representative Jake Auchincloss.

“In the wake of the Dobbs decision that stripped Americans of their constitutional right to abortion, it is more important than ever that pregnant people are aware of the dangers of anti-abortion centers that mislead and misinform patients, collect and share their most sensitive health data, and dissuade them from making the medical decisions that are right for them,” Markey said in a statement. “I am proud that Massachusetts is leading the nation in ensuring pregnant people and their families have access to medically accurate information and comprehensive reproductive health care.”

What are anti-abortion centers?

Anti-abortion centers are organizations that market themselves as reproductive health care clinics, often with websites that appear in online searches for abortion clinics, according to DPH. But most don’t offer abortion care or contraception, don’t have doctors or nurses on staff, and are not licensed by the state. 

The centers also often “spread disinformation about abortion care” and “fail to counsel patients about all their options,” delaying or dissuading people from seeking abortions, DPH said.  

According to state officials, there are about 30 anti-abortion centers in Massachusetts alone, outnumbering comprehensive reproductive clinics by more than two to one. Only four anti-abortion centers in the state are licensed by DPH.

The majority of anti-abortion centers are also not bound by federal privacy protections, which safeguard patients’ personal health information.

The state has been cracking down on the centers for years. In 2022, then-Attorney General Maura Healey issued a consumer advisory warning people facing unwanted pregnancy against seeking help from the centers. 

In January, DPH issued guidance about anti-abortion centers after receiving complaints about them. In that guidance, the department said the centers are usually affiliated with national advocacy and religious organizations and fund and support an anti-abortion agenda. 

Leaders of anti-abortion clinics push back against criticism

After Healey’s 2022 consumer advisory, a coalition of faith-based centers admonished the move and defended the services they offer in a letter to Healey. 

The letter, obtained by The Boston Globe, said the centers distribute baby care products like diapers, formula, and clothing, and provide parenting programs for new parents. It also said that some clinics provide counseling and mentors to patients. 

“Our clients emphatically deny and oppose your erroneous comments regarding the vital services they provide to their communities,” the letter, sent by the two conservative Christian groups, the Massachusetts Family Institute and First Liberty Institute, read. 

Kelly Wilcox, executive director of Clearway Clinic, told the Globe in 2022 that Clearway doesn’t intend to change people’s minds and tells patients abortions are an option for unwanted pregnancies. Leaders at Your Options Medical center in Revere — also considered an anti-abortion center — have expressed similar sentiments. 

“These facilities are masquerading as comprehensive medical providers”

But the problem stems from deceptive marketing of these centers, critics say. According to DPH, they often advertise in ways that “appeal to those who are considering abortion,” and many of them appear in online searches for abortion clinics. Some offer ultrasounds by unlicensed and unqualified staff and mislead people about how far they are into their pregnancy or delay appointments until people can no longer obtain an abortion, according to DPH.

The state’s new campaign warns people to look out for warning signs that a facility is actually an anti-abortion center, like indications it offers services like “abortion counseling” without saying it provides abortion services or referrals. Some may also require people to come into a center before telling them about services offered, delay appointments, or use various methods to pressure clients into continuing a pregnancy. 

“Every day, individuals in the Commonwealth walk into anti-abortion centers unaware that these facilities are masquerading as comprehensive medical providers and pose a significant risk to the health and well-being of those seeking help, support, and options,” Robbie Goldstein, MD, PhD, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “As a physician, I find this kind of deception and misrepresentation unconscionable, and as Commissioner, I feel compelled to push back as hard as possible against these shameful practices and blatant misinformation.”  


Original story HERE.