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Monday, June 20, 2016

Oakland Councilmembers and City Attorney propose ordinance banning false advertising by anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers”

OAKLAND, CA – On June 16, the City Council’s Rules Committee considered an ordinance that would make it illegal for so-called crisis pregnancy centers to misrepresent themselves as medical clinics or objective health care counselors when in reality they are fronts for anti-abortion activists.

The Rules Committee scheduled the ordinance for the June 28 Life Enrichment Committee meeting.

Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington, City Attorney Barbara Parker and City Councilmembers Abel Guillen and Rebecca Kaplan co-sponsored the Pregnancy Information Disclosure and Protection Ordinance.

In recent years, it has become common for anti-choice activists to establish facilities – often called crisis pregnancy centers or limited services pregnancy centers – as a ruse to counsel women against abortion, instead of providing balanced counseling or medical services. 

Some of these facilities are licensed to provide some medical services to pregnant women, and some openly acknowledge their anti-abortion mission. However, many are not licensed to provide medical treatment, and seek to mislead potential clients into believing that their facilities offer abortion services and unbiased counseling. This misleading of pregnant women seeking medical advice and/or care has the potential to be extremely harmful, as even slight delays can have serious impacts on a patient’s health care options.

“Across our country, many efforts are focused on limiting women’s reproductive health choices,” City Attorney Parker said. “However, misleading pregnant women who are seeking health care is a particularly fraudulent and deplorable practice, and can cause serious harm.”

 “When a woman is misled into believing that a clinic offers services that it does not in fact offer, she loses time crucial to her decision-making process,” Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington said. “Under these same circumstances a client may lose the option to choose a less invasive procedure, or her right to terminate the pregnancy at all.”

Crisis pregnancy centers often purchase "pay per click" ads on online search services such as Google for terms such as "abortion," so that women searching for abortion services will see a link and advertisement for the center at the top of the results page.  Many crisis pregnancy centers advertise on billboards, bus stops and the Internet. Some use logos or names that are similar to legitimate health care providers, leading to confusion about the nature of their services.

The State of California recently recognized this problem and passed the Reproductive FACT Act. Proponents of the centers’ ability to mislead women seeking health care services have filed suit for their right to withhold information from clients. In addition, cities including San Francisco have passed similar laws.

The City of Oakland respects the right of crisis pregnancy centers to counsel against abortion if they are honest about the services they provide – and don’t provide. Under the proposed law, the centers will be prohibited from making false, misleading and/or deceptive statements in order to confuse women who are seeking critical health care services. This law will give the City Attorney the power to sue violators and collect civil penalties and attorney’s fees, helping to put an end to these injustices against women.

“There's no excuse for lying to women seeking time-sensitive health care," said Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California. "Oakland is setting an example for the rest of the state and the country by taking proactive steps to protect women's health and hold crisis pregnancy centers accountable.”

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