At the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, a few dozen people gathered on June 24, 2022 to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. | Photo by Andrew Roth
Abortion advocates say that so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” are spreading misinformation and they hope Michigan lawmakers can step in to end the deception.
House Bill 6530, introduced by state Rep. Jeff Pepper (D-Dearborn) last month, precludes unlicensed pregnancy information centers from providing false information to people who seek their services.
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are nonprofit organizations that present themselves as health care clinics while providing counseling intended to discourage and limit access to abortion.
Planned Parenthood of Michigan president and CEO Paula Thornton-Greear said these centers often use tactics like spreading deceptive misinformation, using shame or lying about the gestational age of a pregnancy.
She added that these tactics make it harder for someone to access abortion care by delaying their decision-making process.
Many of the CPCs in Michigan are part of the Heartbeat International network, which states on their website that their “life-saving vision is to make abortion unwanted today and unthinkable for future generations.”
The services the network offers include providing free pregnancy tests, diapers and formula, “limited” ultrasounds and sexually transmitted infections (STI) tests. Their website also lists services that have been criticized by abortion advocates, including pregnancy consultation; post-decision support, such as parenting education and abortion recovery groups; consultation with a licensed medical professional; and a medically unproven procedure known as abortion pill reversal (APR).
CPCs also use location to their benefit, commonly opening close to legitimate health care centers and often in Black, Latinx, Indigenous or low-income communities.
“These communities already face tremendous systemic barriers to accessing health care information, which is just a blinding travesty,” Thornton-Greear added.
HB 6530, which was referred to the Judiciary Committee and wasn’t given a hearing, doesn’t include any criminal penalties for these CPCs if they were to continue deceiving pregnant people, but it sets up a process by which the attorney general can seek an injunction to stop it.
If the bill is reintroduced next term, it will likely have a better shot of making it through the Legislature with a Democratic-led House and Senate — especially because lawmakers said expanding abortion access is a top priority in the new year.
“What it doesn’t do is attack their right to exist or operate, or it doesn’t in any way limit or infringe upon their ability to make good faith efforts to support pregnant women and their choice to keep their baby,” Pepper said.
Pepper said he is hopeful that the 102nd Legislature will reintroduce this bill next term.
Michigan has 95 CPCs, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, a Washington, D.C.-based abortion rights group. That is more than triple the number of abortion care providers in the state.
According to various CPC networks, there are between 2,500 to 4,000 CPCs across the United States. Thornton-Greear said the ratio of abortion care providers to CPCs will likely continue to widen as more states move to ban abortions or limit access to abortion after the fall of Roe v. Wade.
Michigan is one of 23 states to have laws supporting CPCs and, up until recently, was one of 11 states that has funded CPCs directly, according to NARAL.
These communities already face tremendous systemic barriers to accessing health care information, which is just a blinding travesty.
– Planned Parenthood of Michigan President Paula Thornton-Greear
For the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed more than $20 million of anti-abortion line items, including $10 million for an adoption-over-abortion marketing program and $3 million for anti-abortion pregnancy resource centers.
This isn’t the first time she has vetoed millions of state dollars allocated to CPCs.
For the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, the Republican-led Legislature had allocated $1.5 million for CPCs and another $700,000 for Real Alternatives, a Pennsylvania-based chain of CPCs that previously received state funding to run the Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program (MPPSP). Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed those line items, putting an end to funding for the MPPSP for the first time since 2013.
In 2019, a watchdog group, the Campaign for Accountability, flagged Real Alternatives for misusing state funding by withholding 3% of MPPSP funding intended for the service providers for its’s own private use, failing to serve the target number of Michigan women and spreading misinformation that abortion causes breast cancer.
According to reporting from CNN, Real Alternatives said the watchdog report was “riddled with inaccuracies, distortions, half-truths and defamatory statements.”
While Michigan still has laws on the books supporting CPCs, other states have put in place efforts to regulate CPCs. In July, after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued a consumer advisory warning patients seeking reproductive health services about the misleading nature of crisis pregnancy centers.
“[CPCs] need to be more regulated,” Thornton-Greear said. “The fact that they are allowed to lie and deceive patients and attempt to push their personal political ideology is a travesty. It should not be allowed. All people deserve to have access to full and accurate information about their health care options without deception or coercion.”
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