Fake Abortion Clinics Are Deceiving People, So Why Is The Government Helping Them?

Ever since Roe was overturned, Google, media outlets and even the FBI have actively supported these anti-abortion centers.
Abortion rights supporters call out anti-abortion tactics at a Planned Parenthood clinic in New York City.
Abortion rights supporters call out anti-abortion tactics at a Planned Parenthood clinic in New York City.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

In the fall of 2021, Maria (whose name has been changed for privacy) walked into a clinic near her home in Texas to ask about her options for abortion care. The clinic staff told her that her pregnancy was too far along to get an abortion in Texas and handed her a bag of baby clothes on her way out. Desperate, Maria called the National Abortion Hotline for help finding care outside the state. Based on the information Maria provided about her last menstrual cycle, the hotline caseworker determined that the clinic had lied to her about how far along she was and that it was still early enough in her pregnancy to obtain an abortion under Texas state law.

The “clinic” Maria went to was not a real abortion clinic. It was one of the more than 2,500 “crisis pregnancy centers” in the U.S. — fake clinics, or anti-abortion centers, often subsidized by taxpayer dollars, that use deceptive names and practices to confuse patients seeking abortion care in order to force them into carrying their pregnancies to term. By comparison, abortion rights group Reproaction found that there were only about 790 operating abortion clinics in 2021 in the U.S., and that number has declined since the fall of Roe v. Wade last year.

At the National Abortion Federation (NAF), we regularly hear from people calling our hotline with stories like Maria’s — about anti-abortion centers either lying to patients about how far along they are in their pregnancies or tricking patients by trumping up false complications that delay their care until it is too late or too difficult to obtain an abortion.

Instead of helping people seeking abortions navigate the increasingly complex and confusing landscape we’re in since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling protecting abortion rights was overturned, Google, media outlets and even the FBI have actively supported these anti-abortion centers, or at the very least given them a boost.

In August 2022, Bloomberg News exposed Google Maps for directing people who search for an “abortion clinic” to anti-abortion centers. Their analysis found that across all 50 states, between a quarter and half of the top 10 search results for abortion clinics were in fact anti-abortion centers.

And earlier this year, the FBI announced a $25,000 reward for anyone with information about attacks on “reproductive health clinics.” But 9 of the 10 organizations that the agency listed in its announcement were anti-abortion centers — not abortion clinics. The FBI’s misleading label diminishes the well-documented history and ongoing extreme violence targeting actual abortion clinics and providers, and causes real harm.

NAF has been tracking violence against abortion providers for over 45 years. Since 1977, there have been 11 murders, 42 bombings, 200 arsons, 531 assaults, 492 clinic invasions, 375 burglaries and thousands of other incidents of criminal activity directed at patients, providers and volunteers. The newly released 2022 report shows major incidents, including arson and invasions, increased at clinics across the country the year Roe fell — particularly in states that are protective of abortion rights — as anti-abortion extremists emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision crossed state lines to target the remaining clinics.

Anti-abortion centers not only deceive patients like Maria but are also part of the coordinated efforts by those in the anti-abortion movement to intimidate patients and providers and ultimately block access to abortion care. NAF members have reported extreme incidents of harassment from anti-abortion centers — including parking vans outside of clinics with staff dressed in scrubs who trick people into having ultrasounds by telling them that they’re part of their appointments for abortion care. Anti-abortion centers also commonly buy property next to real clinics and mimic their names in order to mislead patients looking for abortion care.

In the United States today, it is already hard to access abortion care with the chaos and confusion of rapidly changing abortion bans. The last thing patients and providers need is an anti-abortion center masquerading as a full-service health clinic.

Anti-abortion centers have become central to the extreme right’s war on bodily autonomy and reproductive justice, and we can’t let this continue. People will always need abortions, and we must help them get the care they want and deserve. The government, major companies like Google and mainstream media outlets have a responsibility to use their reach and their platforms to help patients access the unbiased information and health care they need, not amplify fake clinics with little to no medical expertise trying to trick people they don’t agree with.

The anti-abortion movement has been emboldened enough by the onslaught of attacks on reproductive rights. Let’s not do them any more favors.

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