The National Abortion Federation supports efforts by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to curb deceptive advertising by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). The "Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women's Services Act," (H.R. 2478/S. 2793) would help protect women from the deceptive advertising practices of CPCs. The bill authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the advertising practices of CPCs so they could not be confused with legitimate abortion providers or providers of abortion referrals.
CPCs, which greatly outnumber abortion clinics across the country, are often designed to look like legitimate reproductive health care clinics but generally do not provide women with their full reproductive health options, provide full medically accurate and unbiased information, or make referrals. CPCs have a well documented history of misinforming and intimidating women in order to prevent them from accessing abortion care.
CPCs have engaged in any number of deceptive activities, including their advertising practices. CPCs have intentionally placed advertisements in the "abortion services" heading of phone and internet directories. They choose names that are similar to nearby abortion clinics to confuse women about what types of services they provide. Once a woman calls to obtain information about their services, CPCs may not disclose that they do not provide abortion or birth control in order to lure women into their facilities.
These tactics are not only used by many CPCs, they are encouraged. A manual produced by the anti-choice Pearson Foundation directed CPCs to use deceptive practices to attract women to their business - from the name of the CPC to its location - and even what women are told when they call.
- The manual advised that the building chosen to house the CPC should "look like a medical office or an abortion clinic."
- The best location for a CPC according to the Pearson Foundation was "office space at the entrance of the [abortion clinic]."
- The manual suggested that the question, "Do you do abortions there?" be answered with "Anything you need we do here."
- CPCs are told to assure women that they can give them all the information they need about abortion.
CPCs' advertising practices have not gone unnoticed. Several CPCs have been sued for false advertising and deception.
- In 1989, a teenager in Missouri successfully sued a CPC for intentional infliction of emotional distress for forcing her to watch a movie depicting mutilated fetuses that had allegedly been aborted, and making her listen to religious messaging while she waited for the results of her pregnancy test.
- In 1986 a Fargo, North Dakota court ruled that a CPC engaged in deceptive advertising practices, since they were listed in the phone book under the word abortion and asserted to offer "advisory services." The court demanded that in all future advertising listed under "abortion" the organization state that they support and offer abortion alternatives.
- New York's attorney general, for example, concluded an investigation of CPCs in 2002 by reaching a settlement with some CPCs including requirements that they clearly disclose that do not provide abortions or abortion referrals, and that they are not a licensed medical provider.
Although these are examples of successful lawsuits, they are isolated victories and CPCs continue to deceive women. The agenda and motives of CPCs are clear. However, they should be prohibited from manipulating women into believing that they provide services they clearly do not. Women need access to accurate medical information, and the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women's Services Act is a major step towards preventing the types of practices CPCs use to deceive women.