Deceptive marketing by crisis pregnancy centers prompts bills, consumer alert
ChoiceOne in Lawrenceville, Mercer County, is one of 54 crisis pregnancy centers in New Jersey, according to New Jersey Right to Life. State and federation legislation has been introduced to outlaw deceptive advertising by centers like these. (Photo by Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
Google “abortion clinic near me,” and one of the first results is First Choice Women’s Resource Centers, which has five New Jersey locations between New Brunswick and Montclair.
But First Choice Women’s Resource Center is not an abortion clinic. It’s a crisis pregnancy center run by an evangelical ministry that asks volunteers to commit to sexual purity or marital fidelity, acknowledge their faith in Jesus Christ, and attest to their beliefs that human life is sacred and abortion is unacceptable.
Such sentiments are nowhere to be found on the center’s home page, though, which features a woman in medical scrubs and information about abortion procedures and pills, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy symptoms.
That’s why several state and federal lawmakers want to outlaw deceptive advertising by crisis pregnancy centers. It’s also why state Attorney General Matt Platkin issued a consumer alert last month advising people with unplanned pregnancies how to find an abortion provider, spot a crisis pregnancy center, and file a consumer complaint.
Action is especially urgent as more women seeking abortions head to New Jersey from other states that have restricted or banned the procedure since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, one advocate said. Garden State lawmakers codified abortion rights last year.
“Antiabortion centers totally rely on deceptive marketing tactics. They prey on people seeking information on abortion and other pregnancy-related health care and deceive people into their doors,” said Ashley Underwood, director of Equity Forward, a national reproductive rights group. “Clarity and transparency is super important as we’re thinking about havens for abortion access.”
Aimee Huber, the executive director of First Choice Women’s Resource Centers, declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.
Marie Tasy, who heads New Jersey Right to Life, blasted Platkin’s consumer alert as part of “an obsession by this administration to promote abortion.”
“The administration is using the force of the state to go after individuals and organizations that they don’t agree with,” Tasy said.
New Jersey has 54 crisis pregnancy centers, with at least one in every county, according to New Jersey Right to Life. Most are religiously affiliated.
While many look like doctor’s offices and offer things like free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, they typically don’t employ licensed medical professionals or follow medical ethics rules and standards of care, Platkin’s alert warns.
They also collect private medical information — but aren’t bound by health privacy laws because they’re not health care providers and face little to no oversight, Underwood said.
“So when we are thinking about abortion being criminalized, these sort of entities having this information about patients is a huge concern,” she said.
A bill introduced last February by Assemblywomen Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer), Mila Jasey (D-Essex), and Ellen Park (D-Bergen) would make it a crime under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act for crisis pregnancy centers to use deceptive or misleading advertising to lure pregnant people through their doors.
The bill would authorize the Attorney General’s Office to seek a court order prohibiting violators from advertising or providing services.
Women shouldn’t face misinformation and deception when they’re making personal health care decisions, Reynolds-Jackson said.
“Workers in crisis pregnancy centers often pose as medical professionals despite not being licensed to provide health care,” she said. “This can have serious consequences for vulnerable women who visit these centers seeking medical information and advice, delaying or preventing them from accessing legitimate reproductive health care.”
New Jersey Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, along with 14 other Senate Democrats, introduced federal legislation last summer that would direct the Federal Trade Commission to stop crisis pregnancy centers from engaging in deceptive tactics.
Nationally, the centers have caught criticism because at least 17 states spend taxpayer dollars on funding them, according to Equity Forward. In seven of those states, policymakers divert millions of dollars to crisis pregnancy centers from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, public assistance meant to help low-income families, the group found.
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