Their crisis is honesty: So-called crisis pregnancy center lure vulnerable pregnant women into a false choice

Before the Supreme Court weighs in on truth in advertising, fake clinics can be exposed through a crowdsourced campaign for the truth

Emily Loen, co-founder of Abortion Access Hackathon.

Emily Loen, co-founder of Abortion Access Hackathon.

Ever been to Adalberto’s? If you’re in Folsom, maybe you’ve been to Adamberto’s. Businesses choose names that sound alike to capitalize on name recognition. It’s just close enough so that, even if you’re from out of town, you know where to go for rolled tacos slathered with guacamole.

Now, imagine someone gives you a flier for a new joint called Albierto’s. It looks legit, so you head there for a three-piece of rolled tacos. But instead of handing over a weighty paper bag of greasy goodness, the cashier gives you a lecture about the dangers of guacamole. As you walk out with a fistful of anti-guac pamphlets, you read that this experience was brought to you by the USA Hummus Association. Um, WTF just happened?

This is the playbook of a crisis pregnancy center.

You’ve seen the ads: “Scared? Pregnant? We can help.” Designed to look medical, crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs, advertise to pregnant people looking for an abortion provider. Some CPCs are medically licensed, but many are not. Once inside, clients are given a home pregnancy test and told abortion leads to breast cancer. (Totally not true, says the American Cancer Society.) CPCs also claim that Plan B is the same as an abortion (not true), and that your boyfriend is just using you for sex (gee, thanks).

Why the lies? Because CPCs were created to prevent abortion, promote heteronormativity and spread the Pence lifestyle. Anti-abortion advocates began opening CPCs en masse in the late ’80s and early ’90s when violent clinic protests stopped working. CPCs outnumber all-option clinics by 5 to 1.

California is the first state to regulate CPCs. We passed the Reproductive FACT Act in 2015, requiring reproductive care centers to state whether or not they are medically licensed. They must also post a notice listing the free services the state provides, including birth control, prenatal care and abortion services. Representatives for CPCs sued the state, claiming their free speech was imposed upon. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. Still, most CPCs are not in compliance. Next spring, the case goes to the Supreme Court.

So here’s my question: Can you make up shit about guacamole to get people to eat hummus while keeping your professional hummus association secretive?

To the public, local CPCs pretend to be secular. Sacramento Valley Pregnancy Clinic states it is unaffiliated with any religious organization. Yet all Sacramento crisis pregnancy centers, including SVPC, are members of CareNet, a Christian industry association that “envisions a culture where women and men faced with pregnancy decisions are transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and empowered to choose life for their unborn children and abundant life for their families.”

Religious protesters do the work of direct advertising for CPCs. Each spring and fall, Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church launches 40 Days for Life. That’s six weeks of demonstrators on clinic sidewalks, holding signs that say “Abortion Hurts Women” or “Choose Life” with the SVCP’s phone number on them.

The Catholic family behind Leatherby Family Creamery took to Facebook to offer free sodas to anyone with a protest sign. Why does the business reward protesters? Because Marie Leatherby directs the Sacramento Valley Pregnancy Clinic.

As courts determine how best to regulate CPCs, how does a pregnant person navigate this murky landscape? We suggest crowdsourcing the truth.

With Lady Parts Justice League, the Abortion Access Hackathon created We ask people to call a CPC, ask for information and write an honest review. Think that a company trying to upsell you motherhood isn’t Yelp-worthy? It is. Your real review helps people make informed decisions. No matter what divine dip we choose, we deserve to decide without sneaky coercion. Can I get an amen?

Emily Loen is the co-founder of Abortion Access Hackathon, which coordinates three-day events across the country to provide pro-bono tech support to under-resourced abortion providers and develop creative solutions to overcome barriers to safe access.