Fake Women’s Health Centers Are Co-Opting Feminist Language to Lie to Women

The morning of March 20th was marked by frigid winds and torrential downpours, but it didn’t stop pro-choice activists and organizations from standing up and speaking out to defend the somehow controversial idea that women deserve to be given accurate, evidence-based information about their health.

That day, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments for NIFLA v. Becerra, a landmark case that will determine whether fake women’s health centers — also known as crisis pregnancy centers — can intentionally mislead women into believing they are real healthcare facilities. These centers use deceptive tactics to lure women into their “clinics” in order to disseminate false, incomplete, or inaccurate medical information about abortion.

The sidewalk outside of our nation’s highest court was loud — loud with fervent pro-choice chants, loud with colorful signs, and loud with the amplified music that anti-choice activists strategically blasted over each speaker at our rally. Among all of the noise, there was one image that stands out as so piercingly, unamusingly demonstrative of the core issue at the heart of NIFLA v. Becerra that it can’t be ignored.

From far away, the signs I spotted were held by several women and looked like any of the others being held high by many of the pro-choice activists in front of the Court. This particular sign was pink and decorated with the Venus planetary symbol, a mainstream representation of the pro-choice, feminist movement since the 1960s. The signs read “Feminism: Equality for All,” language we might expect to assert that we all deserve access to quality health information, including the women of color and low-income women that are often targeted by fake women’s health centers. Close up, however, a tiny, but crucial detail in the ‘O’ on the pink sign became more apparent — a human fetus wearing a bow. The women holding them weren’t pro-choice; they were pro-lie. The signs, much like the language that fake women’s health clinics put on their billboards and website headers, were designed to trick passers-by into believing that anti-choice extremists were supporters of our right to reproductive freedom and to medically accurate information.

A quick look at the websites of fake women’s health centers — who name themselves with pseudo-feminist titles, such as “A Woman’s Choice,” “Your Choice Family Resource Center,” and “Real Choices Clinic” — shows that their fake feminist language doesn’t stop at picket signs. The centers use names like these to trick pregnant women into believing that they offer accurate health information that many are accustomed to receiving from actual medical clinics. The anti-choice activists behind fake women’s health centers aren’t shy about this deception. In celebrating the success of a Virginia fake health center’s new-found capacity to lie to its patients, the prominent anti-choice news site Pregnancy Help News quoted a staff member of “Choices Women’s Center” on the center’s rebrand from its former name “Fredericksburg Pregnancy Center” as having stated, “[The women who come into the center for help] don’t want to be pregnant, many of them, so we took the word ‘pregnancy’ out of our name and put in ‘choices.” The center, which provides no abortion care and includes demonstrably false information about abortion on its website, intends to lure women in by making it appear as if it offers assistance with the full range of reproductive health options.

The websites of these centers go beyond fake clinic names to trick women into believing that they are in a space that trusts them to make their own decisions. These websites consistently emphasize they are there to “empower” women. One fake women’s health center in Texas covers its homepage with images of young, cheerful women and brands itself with the seemingly comforting assurance that, “Our trained, caring team is here to help you every step of the way so that you feel educated and empowered to make informed decisions that are your own.” Similarly, another center in Colorado asserts that it “believes in the empowerment of women through informed choices, as they carefully and confidentially weigh each and every option.” Neither of these clinics — like the thousands of others who utilize these same tactics — provide comprehensive reproductive health information or services.

We know why anti-choice extremists use feminist language because they’ve told us in their own words. Anti-choice activist Abby Johnson summarized the general strategy of fake women’s health centers at an anti-choice conference in 2012: “We want to appear neutral…the best client you could ever get is one who thinks they’re walking into an abortion clinic.” Brian Fisher, president of the anti-choice organization Human Coalition, reiterated this strategy when he emphasized that, “The abortion-determined woman will not walk into [a fake women’s health center] voluntarily. They must be outreached to and brought in [by targeting them with ads].” The anti-choice movement is willing to say whatever is necessary to entrap a vulnerable audience for its lies.

From their signs and their websites to their online ads and brochures, fake women’s health centers deliberately appropriate feminist language to spread their extremist agenda. If these centers truly wanted to offer choices and empowerment, they would offer evidence-based and medically-accurate information about abortion.

But they don’t.

They lure women in with clinic names that make them feel safe and then coerce them with false narratives about women’s empowerment — just to spread lies about reproductive health and effectively deny women their right to self-determination and control over their own bodies. Fake women’s health centers know all too well that, as NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue often says, “When they tell the truth, they lose.” It’s time for the California fake women’s health centers at the heart of the NIFLA v. Becerra case — and the more than 2,700 others who are continuing to deceive women across the country — to end the lies.

By Hayley Farless, NARAL Pro-Choice America Social Media and Advocacy Associate

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