More … than 60 of these centers across the country have been vandalized — several even burned — since the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning constitutional abortion protections was leaked in May, according to advocacy organization Catholic Vote. A local group called Mass feminist struggle committee recently picketed a crisis pregnancy center in Chinatown, calling for an eviction by the owner and personally criticizing staff members online.
“Rather than protecting these faith-based organizations providing professional reproductive health services, as is the duty of your office, your letter has placed them in further danger,” said the letter, obtained by The Globe.
“We’ve been here since 1998 and now for the first time we’ve had to buy security cameras,” said Teresa Larkin, executive director of Your Options Medical, a crisis pregnancy center. at Revere. “It’s disheartening and a little worrying that we don’t know what to expect because something like ‘if abortions aren’t safe, neither are you’ is a direct threat.”
Such messages have been spray-painted in crisis pregnancy centers across the country and attributed to a shadowy group called “Jane’s Revenge.” A member of the group who recently picketed Chinatown would not discuss the vandalism but did not disavow it.
“Our goal is less to do things like this and more to involve more people in the organization,” said the member, whom The Globe contacted on social media and interviewed by phone, and who would only identify herself. as Isabella.
Crisis Pregnancy Centers are anti-abortion organizations that offer free pregnancy tests and counseling, as well as donations, including car seats, to people facing unwanted pregnancies. What they never offer is abortion – though they use the word liberally on their websites – prompting politicians and activists to warn that their business model relies on luring people who ask an abortion and dissuades them. In a collective interview with The Globe last month, the directors of several of the centers forming the coalition challenged this image and defended their work.
“We don’t change people’s minds. We’re not even here to change people’s minds,” said Kelly Wilcox, executive director of Clearway Clinics, which has centers in Worcester and Springfield. “We are here to give them very good quality informed consent.”
Although they don’t offer abortion, Wilcox said centers like hers approach it as one of the options considered and present information relevant to decision-making, including an ultrasound.
“She must know how far [the pregnancy is] make a good decision,” Wilcox said. “And then if they choose abortion, we provide post-abortion care.”
She and other directors took offense to Healey, who said crisis pregnancy centers “often provide inaccurate and misleading information about abortion” and “often mislead people about progress of their pregnancy. Healey also indicated that “pregnancy crisis centers staffed by unlicensed staff are not required to keep your medical records private.”
It would be “unconscionable for us to lie about medical information,” Wilcox said. “We are licensed physicians, licensed nurses who practice to all standards of medical ethics.”
Similarly, during an interview with Your Options Medical in Revere, Larkin praised the clinic’s license and the medical staff at his center.
But their centers are rare, according to a Globe review. Most crisis pregnancy centers in the state are unlicensed, as Healey noted. in its consumer advice. Massachusetts has more than 30 crisis pregnancy centers, according to an online directory; only five of them are on the state Department of Public Health’s list of approved medical clinics. Two other centers managed by Your Options Medical are not accredited.
A spokeswoman for the coalition said Wilcox and Larkin could not speak on behalf of all pregnancy centers in crisis, but were speaking “individually but united against the charges against all of us”.
Still in the planning stages, the alliance is inspired by the Connecticut Pregnancy Care Coalition, which stepped up last year when the state enacted a law banning misleading advertising by crisis pregnancy centers. One of the Connecticut centers is now suing the state through the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization that successfully argued against a similar California law in the Supreme Court in 2018. California had demanded that the centers crisis pregnancies post warnings that they were not licensed and provide information on how to find abortion and contraceptive services.
The Connecticut law did not mandate any contested speech, but was drafted to target only advertising from particular organizations, said Mark Lippelmann, the group’s lead attorney, who suggested it was discriminatory.
“If you’re a pregnancy service center and you offer abortions, there’s no limit to your misleading advertising in law,” he said. “They only care about and target pregnancy centers that are pro-life.”
Massachusetts Crisis Pregnancy Centers now appear to be making a similar argument as they challenge Healey’s advice.
“Your law enforcement actions threaten to discriminate against facilities that hold an anti-abortion stance,” they wrote in their letter, noting the recent Supreme Court ruling that ruled it unconstitutional for Boston to refuse to fly a Christian flag at City Hall.
And even though the Connecticut law is disputed, it has been replicated by communities in Massachusetts, including Somerville try to suppress false advertising. Cambridge and Worcester are trying to outright ban the centers.
Critics suggest that crisis pregnancy centers’ approach to clients is inherently and intentionally duplicitous, especially online. A director of the Texas Crisis Pregnancy Center recently told the Washington Post on optimizing its Google advertising strategy to reach more “abortion-conscious women”.
Wilcox and his peers have suggested that such confusion is unintentional.
“Google is the Wild West,” Wilcox said. “We come because we talk about post-abortion trauma, we talk about a medical examination before an abortion.”
“We don’t advertise abortion,” she added. “We are absolutely, categorically not.”
But Clearway Clinic shows up in a Google search for “abortion” and “Worcester,” with text that reads: “Consider abortion in the Worcester-Springfield area? Call Clearway Clinic for free help. The center’s webpage lists “abortion” among its option tabs, along with “abortion pill reversal,” a procedure the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not support and calls “unproven”. Anti-abortion groups promote it as a way to stop a two-stage medical abortion before it’s completed.
A disclaimer appears low on the Clearway Clinic’s main website: “We are not an adoption agency, abortion physician, or midwifery practice.”
Faced with a backlash since the Supreme Court decision, Google recently announced it would begin to clearly differentiate on searches and maps whether clinics actually perform abortion. But that’s not yet apparent for Clearway or the other crisis pregnancy center in Worcester, Problem Pregnancy, whose website says: “Problem Pregnancy provides free pregnancy tests, limited ultrasounds and abortion consultations. “
Pregnancy Problem did not respond to requests for comment. Coalition members said they could not speak on behalf of problematic pregnancies. But they argued that politicians had unfairly painted all crisis pregnancy centers with the same brush.
Some centers would never be mistaken for a medical clinic – some even operate from church property – and their main role is to give free maternity and baby supplies to those who come for pregnancy tests.
“We distribute diapers! We distribute clothes! said Larkin. “We just try to help women find support, help and resources. And we’re going to be criticized for that?
Stephanie Ebbert can be contacted at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.