In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, President Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to consider ways to protect abortion access. Three weeks later, at the first meeting of the new Interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access, he announced another executive order aimed at assisting patients who travel out of state to obtain abortions. That same week, Kansas soundly defeated an effort to remove abortion protections from its state constitution.
For those who support access to abortion care, these are positive steps. But they ignore an important threat: the thousands of fake abortion clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that are operating across the country. These centers divert, delay, and deceive people seeking abortion care, exploiting their personal information while accepting millions of dollars in public funding….
Here’s what the Biden-Harris administration should do next to counter the impact of crisis pregnancy centers:
Educate the public. Every federal effort to blunt the damage done by the Dobbs decision should explicitly warn people about crisis pregnancy centers. The administration has a powerful tool in the public-facing website reproductiverights.gov. That website should include links to the privately created maps and databases designed to warn consumers about the CPCs in their communities.
State attorneys general in California and Massachusetts already have issued consumer warnings about the limited and misleading nature of the services provided by crisis pregnancy centers; the federal government could and should do the same. If the FBI and the Department of Justice can warn consumers about Covid-19 scams, they and other agencies can do the same for fake health clinics.
Close the CPC loopholes. Federal powers should be deployed to prevent crisis pregnancy centers from impersonating medical providers, deceiving consumers, and using personal information for surveillance, harassment, and prosecution. Fake health clinics should not be able to share and exploit the personal health information of people who contact them. The federal Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Civil Rights, which enforces the privacy and security provisions of HIPAA, understands why this is essential, having recently issued guidance for consumers on how to protect health information on a cellphone or tablet.
Federal agencies should explore other possible avenues as part of protecting abortion access. For example, recently introduced legislation would direct the Federal Trade Commission to prescribe rules prohibiting disinformation in the advertising of abortion services. Laws on the books protect the personal information of people receiving benefits through public programs: those protections could be strengthened to prevent CPCs from abusing taxpayer funds.
Provide the actual support that CPCs only pretend to deliver. It is not enough for policymakers to simply defend practical access to abortion. As reproductive justice leaders say, every human being deserves “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” That human right feels increasingly elusive to many Americans. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people in the U.S. experience disproportionate harms and death related to pregnancy because of societal and health system failures. Crisis pregnancy centers add to both the systemic failures and the harms….
The above comes from an August 22 posting in StatNews.