When it comes to abortions, the culture of shame and taboo around the medical procedure does not just keep women quiet, it also threatens their lives. For Latinas, whose access to fact-based, comprehensive information about prenatal care options is particularly underserved, a lack of information can unwittingly lead them to “crisis pregnancy centers.” The locations are typically state-sponsored and created by religious and conservative organizations with strident anti-abortion agendas. They also often work to present themselves as actual medical health clinics.
In October 2015, the state of California passed Assembly Bill No. 775, or the Reproductive FACT ACT, in an effort to ensure that state-licensed clinics provide visitors with information about abortion.
The law requires pregnancy crisis centers to provide information to patients about state-funded or reduced-cost abortions.
(Photo Credit: Valentina Argueta)
Crisis pregnancy centers typically promote anti-choice agendas with the intention of preventing women from pursuing or accessing abortions. In 2015, NARAL Pro-Choice California recruited a 19-year old from San Francisco to pose as a pregnant teen in order to collect information about 43 crisis pregnancy centers located in impoverished regions of California. During her visits, she found that many of the clinics did not inform her that having an abortion was safe or that time was of the essence to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
In a separate research report conducted by NARAL, the pro-choice non-profit found centers providing grossly inaccurate information. The report concluded that “60 percent of CPC clinics advised that condoms do not work to prevent pregnancies/ STDs and 85 percent of CPCs in [the] study advised that abortion leads to mental health problems.”
Despite the passage of the 2015 bill, the battle for access to information about abortions is not over.
Anti-abortion groups have taken the issue to the Supreme Court. In 2017, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) challenged the Reproductive FACT Act in the highest court of the land. In the case of NIFLA vs. Berecca, the anti-choice group claims that the law violates their first amendment right to freedom of speech. NIFLA argues that they should not have to disclose their unlicensed status and that the government should not control the information that they give to their patients. “It is a classic example of compelled speech in violation of the Free Speech Clause,” the organization claims.
On Tuesday, March 20, 2018, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case.
In oral argument, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized NIFLA for supporting anti-abortion clinics who present themselves as medical facilities.
(Photo Credit: Flickr Gage Skidmore)
During the oral argument that took place on Tuesday, March, 20, 2018, Sotomayor underlined her belief that the language featured on one of the crisis pregnancy centers’ promotional materials is deceptive. “There is a woman on the homepage with a uniform that looks like a nurse’s uniform in front of an ultrasound machine. It shows an exam room,” the justice said of an advertisement for California’s Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center.
A report conducted by NARAL in 2018 highlighted the ways in which employees at a series of clinics present themselves as medical professionals by wearing scrubs, lab coats or both in as many as 50 percent of cases.
For some women making a decision about the future of their pregnancies is one of the most impactful decision they will ever make in regards to their mental and physical health.
(Photo Credit: Flickr AAL)
A 2017 study conducted by JAMA Psychiatry found that women who are denied abortions experience anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression at similar rates to women who received abortions. The study concluded that “4-5 years after the abortion women who terminated their pregnancies were not at a higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety than those denied abortions.”
Despite Justice Sotomayor’s criticism of crisis pregnancy centers, there is still a chance that the Supreme Court will rule against the California law. They have taken similar action in the past. According to the New York Times, similar laws were struck down as recently as this past January. In these cases, second and fourth circuit judges felt as though the states could find other methods to share information about abortions with women.
The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision about AB 775 in the summer of 2018.
Supporters of the 2015 law are hopeful that they will require all clinics to ensure women have every resource available so that they can make the best informed personal decisions for themselves. There are pregnancy clinics out there that do give accurate medical information.
To learn more about reproductive rights, especially in California, visit California Latinas of Reproductive Justice.