By: Alexandra Yellin
This is the first edition of the new CiVEC column, “The City We Live In”. Each month CiVEC (Civic & Voter Engagement Coalition) will cover a local issue and let you know how you can get involved.
Boro Pregnancy Counseling. Pregnancy Help, Inc. Good Counsel. These organizations might sound like the right place to turn if you are pregnant and in need of help. But what if the people in white coats wandering the halls of these facilities weren’t actually doctors? What if these self-professed clinics weren’t clinics at all?
This might sound like the set-up to a joke or an episode of The Twilight Zone, but in NYC and all across the United States, it is a reality. There are more than 3000 crisis pregnancy centers - otherwise known as fake clinics- across the United States. They outnumber actual abortion clinics by more than three to one. Twelve crisis pregnancy centers are located right here in NYC.
These fake clinics are united by a singular mission: preventing women from getting abortions. And, they are willing to stoop to whatever level is necessary to achieve this goal. They mislead, they intimidate and they lie to women about their bodies.
In 2010, NARAL deployed volunteers to these fake clinics to pose as pregnant women considering an abortion and released a report. Here are some highlights from the report:
“She said that abortion could cause breast cancer.” - Volunteer Investigator at Bridge to Life Inc., Queens
“50% of women who have had abortions report experiencing emotional and psychological problems lasting for months or years.” - website of Pregnancy Resource Services in Staten Island
“The condom’s biggest flaw is that those using it to prevent the conception of another human being are offending God.” - pamphlet called “The Flawed Condom: Spotting The Big Holes In Condom Propaganda” distributed at the EMC Pregnancy Center in Brooklyn
The report ultimately found that fake clinics across the city deceive women into believing these clinics are medical facilities by providing pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. They take women’s private health information, but are not bound by HIPPA. They mislead women by portraying abortion as painful and dangerous. In fact, two clinics in the survey flat-out lied to women about how long they could legally wait to get an abortion, deliberately delaying their decision-making. They emotionally manipulate women during in-person visits- where 73% of the counselors refer to the fetus as a “baby” or “unborn child” and to abortion as “killing.”
There are not many legislative options available. Crisis pregnancy centers are protected by our first amendment right to free speech. Local Law 17 in NYC requires fake clinics to disclose that they don’t provide medical services, but laws around fake clinics are notoriously difficult to enforce. It took the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs almost two years to issue their first fine for a fake clinic violating this law, and they haven’t managed it since.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
We in the SIPA Civic and Voter Engagement Coalition believe that taking action to improve your community is the best remedy for whatever ails you. So, below are a series of actions you can take, some from your couch at home, to combat crisis pregnancy centers in NYC and beyond.
Log on to #ProTruth + Share with Your NYC Friends
#ProTruth is the best resource for New Yorkers to find accurate information on fake clinics and real abortion clinics all across the state. Familiarize yourself with their website and share it with your friends and family in the area.
On Yelp or Google+, write an accurate, honest review of a fake clinic.
#ExposeFakeClinics has a guide for getting your squad together to make some calls, do some Google sleuthing, and write reviews on fake clinics in New York and beyond.
Click + "Like" Honest Reviews
Check out the Google Business, Yelp, and Facebook pages of fake clinics. When you mark honest and accurate reviews as helpful, it's easier for people to see what services a center provides. You can find a national map of fake clinics here.
Know Your Rights + Spread the Word
Former Public Advocate and current NY State Attorney General Letitia James partnered with the National Institute for Reproductive Health to create a “Know Your Rights” brochure for pregnant women. Learn it, share it, and encourage your school and local community service organizations to offer the brochure in their facilities.
Get Loud, Get Creative
#ExposeFakeClinics partnered with Lady Parts Justice League to create a bunch of posters and other materials to help you host your first protest! Get out there, hand out fliers, and make your voice heard.