Imagine that you are pregnant and scared. You read one of the ads in the New York City subway system that appears to offer help. When you go to the clinic, you find yourself in a so-called crisis pregnancy center (CPC) where there is no medical personnel and you are told that abortions can cause breast cancer, impact fertility or increase the risks of miscarriages. That's what many women experience when they walk into a CPC.
CPCs are a nationwide tactic of the anti-choice movement. Across the country there are at least 2,500 CPCs that see an estimated one million women each year. In order to maximize their effectiveness, some CPCs masquerade as legitimate health clinics to lure unsuspecting women through their doors. They were created for the specific purpose of persuading women not to have abortions.
A July 1, 2013 study by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia of CPCs in that state found that 71 percent of the 56 CPCs they surveyed provided inaccurate medical information. Most told women that abortion causes long-term psychological damage. Nearly half told women that abortions could cause infertility or other complications in subsequent pregnancies. And many told women that there is a link between abortions and breast cancer.
Similar misinformation is being offered in New York State. The director of New York's oldest and largest CPC, Expectant Mother Care/EMC, was recently quoted as saying that it is "absolutely true" that abortion causes breast cancer.
In Ohio, a young woman videotaped her interview at a CPC in which a counselor told her that emergency contraception, or the morning-after pill, was equivalent to an abortion and could cause dangerous hemorrhaging.
This is blatant medical mistruth. The National Cancer Institute conclusively found no correlation between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer. Further, when the anti-choice former Surgeon General of the United States C. Everett Koop studied mental health impacts, he found the psychological effects of abortion are "minuscule." His findings have been supported by the American Psychological Association and by a study of 13,000 women conducted in the United Kingdom by the Royal Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and of General Practitioners. As for future pregnancies, the Guttmacher Institute tells us that "The preponderance of evidence from well-designed and well-executed studies shows no connection between abortion and future fertility problems."
Women seeking information about their reproductive health should not be lied to or given inaccurate medical counsel.
In order to stop this trickery, I introduced the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women's Services Act (H.R. 2030). The crux of my legislation is simple: Tell the truth. The bill would allow the Federal Trade Commission to monitor the advertising and practices of CPCs, just like any other business. And it would require CPCs to clearly state that they do not offer comprehensive medical services or abortion.
The New York City Council has tried to regulate CPCs, passing Local Law 17 authored by Councilwoman Jessica Lappin in 2011 that would have required CPCs to have clear disclosure if they did not provide abortions, FDA-approved contraception or referrals for the services, or have a licensed medical professional on site. Unfortunately, the ordinance was struck down in federal court for vagueness and the appeal is still pending before the Second Circuit. I joined an amicus brief supporting the City's law. Oral arguments were held in September 2012 and I hope the court will overturn the lower court decision.
Recognizing that the City may not be able to regulate CPCs locally, in June the City Council passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to pass my bill, and a companion bill in the Senate. I was proud to stand with New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Council Members Lappin and Rosie Mendez, and several women's rights groups, to celebrate passage of the resolution.
This country has a long tradition of requiring advertising to be truthful. CPCs are commercial enterprises that often conceal their true purpose in order to persuade women to enter their doors. No business should be advertising with the intention of creating the impression that they provide abortion services if they do not provide such services. We can protect the freedom of speech while defending against dishonest advertising and my bill does just that.
The bottom line: No woman should be lied to or misled when seeking medical care, family planning services, or an abortion. These false clinics should be required to tell the truth. When women are deliberately lied to, their health is put at risk. It's time to pass the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women's Services Act and force CPCs to drop the mask and show themselves for what they are.